Do you need to backup Office 365 data?

Yes, here is why.

Many people take backup for granted when using Office 365.  They think Microsoft must surely be thoroughly protecting the data on Office 365 – I don’t have to worry about it! Think again.

Office 365 lacks the daily backup and archiving capability that may be needed after data is automatically removed and deleted from the recycle bin, or if a user intentionally deletes their data!

Let’s take a look at a few facts:

Deletions – Maybe it’s accidental, maybe it’s purposeful, maybe it’s malicious, but users delete data. Office 365 has a default retention of 14 days, but can be expanded to 30. After that, the data is gone. Intentional deletions (and deleting from the recycle bin) are unrecoverable. Also, if a user account is deleted – the data is gone.

Ransomware/Malware – While Microsoft does have anti-malware protections in place, it does not guarantee that a user does not corrupt their data if infected by malware/ransomware. Recovery from this scenario could be very painful and time consuming if just using built-in data protection measures, and ultimately there is no guarantee of recovery.

Liability – Microsoft contracts have strict limits on liability. In the case of Office 365 the liability is limited to $5000 total. It would cost more to walk into court, so effectively this is the same as no liability of your data.

Compliance – If you have strict compliance requirements (like keeping backups for 7, 10 or more years) then Microsoft is not providing what you require for data protection. Even private companies without legal obligations often have lengthy retention policies.  Even requiring more than 1 month of history may exceed what Microsoft is providing you.

Industry Analysts Recommend Backup – Organzations such as Gartner, Forrester, ESG and others recommend that clients review their own backup data retention requirements and determine if additional Office 365 backup solutions are needed to meet your objectives.

Recommendation:

Ensure you can always easily recover your critical Office 365 emails, files and Sharepoint sites by using a 3rd party backup tool to backup Office 365 data.

 

 

 

 

Considering a low cost cloud backup solution?

Ouch, Carbonite is not having a good day.  I see some people choose these low cost cloud backup providers without realizing they are not the same as enterprise-class backup providers like Managecast. It would seem you get what you pay for.

Carbonite Forces Password Reset After Password Reuse Attack!

https://www.databreaches.net/carbonite-forces-password-reset-after-password-reuse-attack/

 

Tape is not dead, and why I finally bought a tape library

Backup tapesBeing the “Cloud Backup Guy” I’ve made a living off replacing tape. Tape is that legacy media right? It’s true that for most small to medium businesses, tape is hard to manage, expensive to rotate offsite, and has virtually been replaced by disk-to-disk (or disk-to-disk-to-cloud) technologies. However, I am finally willing to say tape definitely has it’s place.

Related article: Is Tape Dead?

Given that I have been so anti-tape for many years, I thought it was news to share when I finally decided that tape had it’s place. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had nearly 30 years of IT consulting experience. In the old days I used nothing but tape as it was the only real option for data protection. I’ve also had my share of bad experiences with tape (mostly the old 4mm and 8mm drives and tapes). I hated the stuff and never wanted to rely on it. Like many seasoned IT professionals of the past, many of us had nightmares to tell about tape backup. When I got into the Cloud Backup business, the passion I had for disliking tape really helped me convince folks not to use it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think for most SMB’s tape is dead. However, as your data volume grows, and I am talking 50TB+ of data, you can not ignore the efficiency and cost effectiveness of good old tape. Tape has also come a long, long way over the years. Gone are the days of 4mm and 8mm DAT tapes.  LTO, the clear tape standard for the modern era, boasts LTO-7, now with a native capacity of 6TB+ (15TB compressed) per tape cartridge. LTO offers a reliable and cost effective method to store huge quantities of data at a much lower cost than disk storage technology.

What brought about this decision to finally embrace tape? Backup Blue Marker

The decision to choose tape became apparent as we were gobbling up more and more disk space for cloud backups. Our growth rate has been significant and trying to keep up with backup growth meant buying more and more disk. It’s not just the cost of disk we had to buy, but the rack space, the power, cooling, and other costs associated with hundreds of spinning disks, plus the cost of replicating the data to another data center with more spinning disks!  A significant segment of our backup storage was consumed by long-term archival storage of older data that continued to grow rapidly as data ages.

Related: Archiving – Align the value of your data with the cost to protect it

Our cloud backup solution allows tiering of the data so that older, less frequently used data could be pushed to longer-term archival storage. Once I faced the decision to have to buy even more disk versus the cost of a tape solution to store the ever growing mountain of archive data, it became a no-brainer. Tape was the clear winner in that type of scenario.

Allow me to stress that I am not a proponent of tape except for all but the largest of companies or others who required long-term archive of a large amount of data. It still introduces manual labor to swap and store tapes, take them offsite, etc. For near and medium term data, we still keep everything stored on disk for quick and easy access. However, for the long-term archival data, we are using tape and love the stuff. The nice thing is that our customers still don’t have to worry about using tape as we manage everything for them.

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The requested operation could not be completed due to a file system limitation (Asigra)

On trying to backup an Exchange database using Asigra we were seeing the message “The requested operation could not be completed due to a file system limitation” after about 4 hours of backing up. This was an Exchange database backup (non VSS), and it was copying the database to the DS-Client buffer.  The Exchange database was 1TB+.  The DS-Client was running on Windows 8.1.

The message:

The requested operation could not be completed due to a file system limitation  (d:\buffer\buf\366\1\Microsoft Information Store\database1\database1.edb)

Solution:

There is a default limitation with the Windows file system for supporting large files. We had to reformat the buffer drive on the DS-Client using the command:

format d: /fs:ntfs /L /Q

After making this change we no longer experienced the error message and backups completed successfully.

Is Backup Tape Dead?

I just had someone contact me and ask my opinion if I thought backup tape is dead.

Maybe 6 years ago I would have enthusiastically said “Yes!”, and did so many times. However, after spending the last 6 years dedicated to cloud backup and immersed in the backup industry, my views have evolved on tape.

Instead of asking “Is tape dead?”, the proper question is “Has the use of tape changed?”. While tape is far from dead and very much alive, it’s use has substantially changed over the past 5 to 10 to 15 years. In the past, tape was the go-to medium for backups of all types. However, disk has certainly displaced a lot of tape when it comes to near line backup storage of recently created data. Many modern backup environments consist of disk-to-disk backup and then backup data is written to tape after some period of time for longer-term storage and archive.

Disk storage is significantly higher cost than tape storage, but for near term backup data the advantages of disk outweigh the cost penalty. For long-term archive of older data, where quick access is not needed, tape is the clear winner.

[Read about aligning the cost of data protection vs the value of the data]

In my experience, many SMBs have shifted to a disk-to-disk-to-cloud solution with no tape. So, in the SMB one could argue that tape has largely died (or at least diminished greatly). However, at the enterprise-level or those organizations who require long-term retention of backup data, there is no better alternative to storing large amounts of data on tape, and this will probably be the case for the next 10 years or beyond. So, no, tape is not dead, but it’s use has changed.

 

 

 

 

Asigra reporting “cannot allocate memory” during seed import

We have DS-Systems running on Linux and we connect the Windows Seed backups to a Windows 7/8.1 machine and then use CIFS to mount the Windows share to Linux. The command we use on Linux to mount the Windows share is:

mount -t cifs //<ipaddress of windows machine>/<sharename> -o username=administrator,password=xxxxxx /mnt/seed

We were importing some large backup sets with millions of files and started noticing “cannot allocate memory” errors during the seed import process. When the import would complete it would indicate that not all files were imported.

At first we thought this was an Asigra issue, but after much troubleshooting we found this was an issue with the Windows machine we were using and was related to using the CIFS protocol with Linux.

A sample link to the issue we were seeing is: http://linuxtecsun.blogspot.ca/2014/12/cifs-failed-to-allocate-memory.html

That link indicates to make the following changes on the Windows machine:

regedit:

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\MemoryManagement\LargeSystemCache (set to 1)

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\LanmanServer\Parameters\Size (set to 3)

Alternatively, start Command Prompt in Admin Mode and execute the following:

reg add “HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management” /v “LargeSystemCache” /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f

reg add “HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\LanmanServer\Parameters” /v “Size” /t REG_DWORD /d 3 /f

Do one of the following for the settings to take effect:

Restart Windows

Restart the Server service via services.msc or from the Command Prompt run: ‘net stop lanmanserver’ and ‘net start lanmanserver’ – The server may automatically restart after stopping it.

After we made these changes the memory errors were resolved!

Asigra slow seed import

We recently discovered that Asigra DS-System v13.0.0.5 seems to have a serious problem with importing seed backups. This problem exposed itself as we attempted to import 5.5TB of seed data. We then performed additional testing by backing up a small Windows 2008 server. The seed backup was a little under 3GB. On v13.0.0.5 the seed import took 55 minutes. On the same infrastructure, the same server seed backup imported into a v12.2.1 DS-System in less than 3 minutes.

In addition we are also seeing the error “cannot allocate memory” during the seed import process even though we have tons of free RAM and disk space.

We have notified Asigra and they are attempting to reproduce the problem.

Update 12/4/2015

In testing, and working with Asigra, we have found that if you create the seed backup without using the metadata encryption option then the seed import speed is acceptable and imports quickly.

Update 12/8/2015

Asigra released DS-System v13.0.0.10 to address this issue. Testing shows it does indeed solve the speed issue. Thanks Asigra!

Zerto backup fails unexpectedly

We had a recent issue with Zerto backups that took some time to remedy. There was a combination of issues that exposed the problem, and here is a run down of what happened.

We had a customer with about 2TB of VM’s replicating via Zerto. We wanted to provide backup copies using the Zerto backup capability. Keep in mind Zerto is primarily a disaster recovery product and not a backup product (read more about that here: Zerto Backup Overview). The replication piece worked flawlessly, but we were trying to create longer-term backups of virtual machines using Zerto’s backup mechanism which is different from Zerto replication.

Zerto performs a backup by writing all of the VM’s within a VPG to a disk target. It’s a full copy, not incremental, so it’s a large backup every time it runs, especially if it’s a VPG holding a lot of VMs. We originally used a 1Gigabit network to transfer this data, but quickly learned we need to upgrade to 10Gigabit to accommodate these frequent large transfers.

However, we found that most of the time the backup would randomly fail. The failure message was:

“Backup Protection Group ‘VPG Name’. Failure. Failed: Either a user or the system aborted the job.”

To resolve the issue we had opened up several support cases with Zerto, upgraded from version 3.5 to v4, implemented 10Gigabit, put the backup repository directly on the Zerto Manager server.

After opening several cases with Zerto we finally had a Zerto support engineer thoroughly review the Zerto logs. They found there were frequent disconnection events. With this information we explored the site-to-site VPN configuration and found there were minor mismatches in the IPSEC configurations on each side of the VPN which were causing very brief disconnections. These disconnections were causing the backup to fail. Lesson learned: It’s important to ensure the VPN end-points are 100% the same. We use VMware vShield to establish the VPN connections and vShield doesn’t provide a lot of flexibility to change VPN settings, so we had to change the customer’s VPN configuration to match the vShield configuration.

Even though we seemed to have solved the issue by fixing the VPN settings, we asked Zerto if there was any way to make sure the backup process ran even if there was a connection problem. They shared with us a tidbit of information that has enabled us to achieve 100% backup success:

There is a tweak that can be implemented in the ZVM which will allow the backup to continue in the event of a disconnection, but there’s a drawback to this in that the ZVM’s will remain disconnected until the backup completes. As of now, there’s no way to both let the backup continue and the ZVM’s reconnect. So there is a drawback, but for this customer it was acceptable to risk a window of time that replication would stop to make a good backup. In our case we made the backup on Sunday when RPO wasn’t as critical, and even then the replication only halts if there is a disconnection between the sites which became even more rare since we fixed the VPN configuration.

The tweak:

On the Recovery (target) ZVM, open the file C:\Program Files (x86)\Zerto\Zerto Virtual Replication\tweaks.txt (may be in another drive, depending on install)
In that file, insert the following string (on a new line if the file is not empty)
t_skipClearBlockingLine = 1
Save and close the file, then restart the Zerto Virtual Manager and Zerto Virtual Backup Appliance services

Now, when you run a backup, either scheduled or manual, any ZVM <-> ZVM disconnection events should not cause the backup to stop.

I hope this helps someone else!

Zerto Backup Overview

Zerto is primarily a disaster recovery solution that relies on a relatively short-term journal that retains data for a maximum of 5 days (at great expense in disk storage). Many Zerto installations only have a 4-hour journal to minimize the storage needed for the journal. Zerto is a great disaster recovery solution, but not as great as a backup solution.  Many customers will augment Zerto with a backup solution for long-term retention of past data.

Long-term retention is the ability to go back to previous versions of data, which is often needed for compliance reasons. Think about the ability to go back weeks, months, and even years to past versions of data. Even if not driven by compliance, the need to go back in time to view past versions of data is very useful in situations such as:

  • Cryptolocker type ransom-ware corrupts your data and is replicated to the DR site
  • Legal discovery – for example, reviewing email systems as they were months or even years ago.
  • Inadvertent overwriting of critical data such as a report that is updated quarterly. Clicking “Save” instead as “Save As” is a good example of how this can happen.
  • Unexpected deletion of data that takes time to recognize.

For reference and further clarification, check out the differences between disaster recovery, backup and business continuity.

Even though Zerto is primarily a disaster recovery product, it does have some backup functions.

Zerto backup functionality involves making an entire copy of all of the VM’s within a VPG. We sometimes break up VPG’s with the goal to facilitate efficient backups. One big VPG can result in making one big backup which can take many hours (or days) to complete. Since it’s an entire copy of the VPG it can take a significant amount of time and storage space to store the copy. Each backup is a full backup and currently no incremental/differential backup capability exists within Zerto.

It is also advisable to write the backups to a location which support de-duplication, such as Windows 2012 Server. It still takes time to write the backup, but the de-duplication will dramatically lower the required storage footprint for backing up Zerto VPG’s. Without de-duplication on the backup storage you will see a large amount of storage consumed by each full backup of the VPGs.

Zerto supports the typical grandfather-father-son backup with daily, weekly and monthly backups for 1 year. Zerto currently does not support backups past 1 year, so even with Zerto backups, the long-term retention of data is not as good as with other products designed to be backup products. However, Zerto really shines as a disaster recovery tool when you need quick access to the latest version of your servers. It’s backup capabilities will get better with time.

 

 

 

 

The difference between disaster recovery, backup and business continuity

I sometimes see words like backup and disaster recovery used interchangeably, and sometimes in the wrong context. I see a customers asking for a DR solution when they need backup and DR. Some refer to it in the industry as BDR (Backup & Disaster Recovery).

So what’s the difference? Why should you care?

Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery is about restoring critical IT functions quickly after a disaster. Disasters can be small from a critical server failing, to natural disasters like fire, flooding, tornado, hurricane to manmade disasters such as construction accidents, theft, sabotage, chemical spills, that may render your entire site unusable. The idea of DR is to restore critical IT services as quickly as possible after a disaster. Obviously this can encompass much more than just data recovery. A comprehensive DR plan might include alternate sites, spare hardware, etc.

Backup

Backup, on the other hand, can include the ability to perform a rapid recovery – yes Disaster Recovery, but it can also provide you access to the past history of your backed up data. That is a big distinction between backup and disaster recovery. There are some really great disaster recovery products that provide a very quick recovery to a very recent copy of a server in the case of disaster, but were never designed to provide data even 2 weeks ago, much less 6 months ago or even years ago.

In addition to restoring the most recent file, backup allows access to older, past versions of files. Older versions of files allow to recover from data loss that occurred in the past, but is noticed in the present. A cryptolocker ransomware type infection is a good example in that the latest backups may be of infected files and a restore is required from before the infection. It’s also very easy to bring up a monthly report in Word and select “Save” instead of “Save As”, overwriting the original document. Without keeping copies of past versions, we could potentially lose valuable data.

Some organizations are mandated by law to keep copies of their older data as well. Think medical providers who need to keep past patient data for years.

Legal requests are also a common reason to restore past data. A former employee sues their former employer and attorney’s subpoena email and other records.

Backup data can be current data used for DR, but it’s also the past versions of data and being able to reproduce data as it was back to a certain point in time can be of enormous value.

Business Continuity

Business Continuity is generally defined as the process by which an organization can continue essential business functions despite a disaster. A comprehensive business continuity plan is far more than just restoring servers and data, and often includes things that are not IT related at all.

The business operation needs of every organization can be different. Some business are highly dependent on phone service to take calls from customers for instance, while some businesses require specialized equipment that is not easily replaced, or replaced quickly. Who are the critical employees and what functions do they perform? Where will employees work if the office is unavailable? There are many, many questions to ask in order to create an effective business continuity plan, and data recovery is only one of many areas of concern.