In the digital age, losing valuable data can be a fatal blow to any organisation. Gone are the days of filing cabinets and storage boxes – today, so much as a power outage can do damage if your business doesn’t have a robust data recovery solution in place.

Depending on what data is lost, a company may suffer anything from a brief period to rebuild to a setback so severe it signals the end of the line.

This in mind, there’s no question that data recovery is a critical component to a reliable business continuity plan. In discussions with suppliers, your IT team or when acting as a liaison between the two, there’s a good chance you’ve come across two key terms relating to data recovery: back-up and redundancy.

As interchangeable as they may seem, backup and redundancy have two distinct meanings, and both play an important role.

We’ve put together the following guide to help you navigate these conversations with ease and equip you with the knowledge you need to make the best call for your business.

What is redundancy?

Redundancy is a practical tool that can make all the difference in a disaster. Through this failsafe system, data is stored in two places, so that if one element fails, data can still be used by supplementing from another location.

Think of it as the reserve parachute: if a skydiver jumps from a plane and the mechanism of their first parachute fails for whatever reason, they can use the reserve chute to glide down safely.

Breaking down the complexities

Within IT, most redundant systems are referred to using “N” terms. The “N” here stands for “Need”. Against the need are typically different numbers – these cover the redundancy and signal how much of a certain component is required.

Common options are N+1 – this represents how many you need, plus one spare – and 2N, which effectively means 2 times the amount needed.

So, in terms of power, N+1 power would mean that you have enough generators to create peak power needed to run a facility, with an additional spare. 2N would mean you have twice the number of generators needed to run a facility.

What is RAID?

Another term you may have heard but may not be familiar with is RAID. In the world of IT, this stands for ‘Redundant Array of Independent/Inexpensive Disks’

Simply put, RAID is designed to allow storage to span across multiple drives with the aim of increasing performance and boosting redundancy. When a disk fails, a RAID volume enters what is known as a degraded state. At this point, system administrators are notified of the issue so that the failed disk can be replaced in the background while the computer is still running. As such, the failure becomes transparent to end users.

While most RAID volumes can provide a high level of protection in the event of hardware defects and errors, they don’t tend to be as effective in recovering data from disasters such as fire or water damage or even soft errors such as software malfunction.

For that reason, RAID is only one component of a comprehensive data recovery strategy – it cannot, alone, act as a backup plan for your digital assets.

What is Back-up?

Unlike redundancy that attempts to prevent failure, back up processes treat failure as an inevitability; they work on the premise that things will go wrong, and therefore prepare a back-up plan for when (not ‘if’) this happens. This type of system is ideal in preventing against human error such as accidental deletion or overwriting of data.

On-site or off-site?

A back-up can be hosted on-site and/or off-site. As with most IT solutions, there are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.

For instance, on-site back-ups are much quicker to make and far quicker to restore. They are also generally more cost-effective to run as they do not need to be transferred to an off-site location. This can be particularly beneficial in high-volume environments where the time to complete a back-up can be considerable.

The key drawback to on-site back-ups is the lack of protection they offer in the event of total facility failure or extreme scenarios such as a terrorist attack.

Off-site back-ups are advantageous insofar as they offer a higher level of protection since they contain the same information but are placed in an entirely different location, mitigating the risk of facility failure or attack.

Generally speaking, off-site back-ups aren’t used to restore day-to-day data that is accidentally deleted, since it’s much quicker to restore this information from an on-site back-up. However, in the name of continuity and effective protection, they are of equal importance in preventing against data loss should the worst happen.

Conclusion: what’s the difference between redundancy and backup?

While both terms are often used in the same conversations, this isn’t an either/or decision. Both back-ups and redundancy offer two different and equally as valuable solutions to ensuring business continuity in the face of unplanned accidents, unexpected attacks or system failures.

Redundancy is designed to increase your operational time, boost staff productivity and reduce the amount of time that a system is unavailable due to a failure.

Back-up, on the other hand, is designed to kick-in when something goes wrong, allowing you to completely rebuild no matter what caused the failure.

In short, redundancy prevents failure while back-ups prevent loss. In a modern business environment that is inherently dependent on access to large volumes of data, it’s clear that operational redundancy and back-ups are both critical elements that comprise an effective continuity strategy.

For more information about data recovery or to learn how Capture can support your business, get in touch with us today.

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