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Backup and High Availability: How Do They Compare?

When it comes to your infrastructure and making sure that an outage isn’t catastrophic, there are two terms to be aware of—backup vs. high availability. There are similarities between the two, but also some differences that are worth noting. 

The price of not understanding these concepts can be steep. According to Statista, outages cost businesses on average anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000 an hour. 

An Overview of Backup

First, it’s good to have an idea of what backup and high availability are on their own before comparing them. 

Your data is essentially the core of your business, and this holds true regardless of industry or your customer base. 

You need data backup to protect your business on almost every level. 

That means, in most cases data redundancy. Data redundancy refers to having your essential data stored in more than one location.

The term data backup refers to copying your current dataset to another location. 

The most fundamental way to backup data is to have a second server, but a lot of businesses will use cloud-based solutions. 

Data should backup frequently—usually anywhere from every few hours to once a day. 

Backing up your data is necessary, but that step alone isn’t enough for business continuity

You have to think about the possible disruption and downtime that comes from restoring the data from the backup. 

The longer it takes you to recover, the more expensive the entire situation is. That’s where high availability becomes something to look at. 

An Overview of High Availability

High availability is something that goes along with data backup, rather than being an either-or situation. 

High availability offers three big advantages. First, there isn’t one single point of failure. Second, there’s a more reliable and faster crossover rate, and the third benefit is the increased backup frequency it brings. 

High availability is an IT model where every storage location is of equal importance in the overall chain. This is achieved through continuous backups at each location.

The general idea is that if you were to have more than one server, and one of those then wasn’t working, then you could easily transfer operations to another. You have minimal data and data loss as a result. 

Then, if each of your physical servers stops working under this model, you could transfer operations to your cloud-based machines and so on. You’d keep this up until you fully restored service to where your primary data is stored. 

The effectiveness of high availability is largely driven by the use of what are called replication technologies. 

Defining What High Availability Is NOT

Sometimes having an understanding of what high availability isn’t can be as important as knowing what it is. 

First, high availability isn’t a data backup. 

High availability relates only to what’s happening at any given moment. High availability is in no way a substitute for backups. 

It’s also not a disaster recovery plan. 

High availability isn’t returning you to normalcy—instead, it’s like a stopgap to prevent worse consequences. 

It’s also not a business continuity plan. A business continuity plan is more comprehensive and all-encompassing than high availability. High availability can instead be thought of as one part of a modern business continuity plan. 

High availability is not a risk management plan either. It’s part of one, but it’s not the plan. 

What About Disaster Recovery?

A third term that does come into the equation when discussing backups and high availability is disaster recovery. 

Disaster recovery picks up where high availability leaves off. 

It involves two key concepts. There’s recovery time objective. This is the maximum period of time a system can be down before operation is restored. A recovery point objective is the amount of data loss that can be tolerated in a disaster. 

These metrics are essential parts of disaster recovery

High availability and disaster recovery both work toward addressing the same problem, which is keeping systems up and running in a state of being operational. However, high availability aims to deal with problems that occur during the running of a system. Disaster recovery is what happens after a system fails. 

The biggest takeaways from all this?

High availability is a method to minimize downtime through the design of your storage system. 

Disaster recovery is a plan to deal with the worst-case scenarios in your business and get your storage up and running as fast as possible with the least impact. 

The focus of high availability is getting rid of single points of failure, and high availability can protect you from a failure of your hardware, but not data loss.