5 tips for finding the best backup solution for higher ed

With a little due diligence, you can navigate the treacherous waters of backup solutions and find the right one for your institution.

data-backup-cloudOne of the more challenging trench-level problems for our institution, Fuller Theological Seminary (FTS), to overcome has been endpoint backup.

At FTS, we support faculty and staff using more than 500 devices. Some devices are institutionally-owned, some are not, but all are fully managed by our team—so we can provide a good balance of security and usability. Our users are spread across eight campuses: the main campus in Pasadena, CA, plus seven regional campuses across the western U.S. With such a geographically dispersed group of cross-platform users, we need a reliable, yet platform-agnostic backup solution.

Over the last six years, our IT team has setup (and been disappointed by) no less than three separate backup solutions: one that was outmoded years before we stopped using it, another that required so much babysitting that it would have made the perfect plotline for Adventures in Babysitting 2 (yep, child of the 80’s here), and a third solution that experienced such a catastrophic server meltdown that it ate itself out of sheer embarrassment. Clearly, we needed something better.

(Next page: The 5 must-haves in a backup solution)

Then we found CrashPlan from Code42, and it was love at first sight. Finally, we have a solution that is both easy to set up and has proven supremely reliable to use. Most importantly, knowing that we now have a secure and stable solution for recovering data when our users inevitably lose it, relieves a lot of anxiety and stress for them and us.

During our search, we developed a short list of must-have features. In the spirit of generosity and goodwill, we offer you the five criteria we recommend for the right endpoint backup solution for your institution of higher learning:

1. Notification capabilities

How do we love email notifications? Let me count the ways. With automatic email notifications, our IT department gets regular status updates and is alerted when backups aren’t running as expected. In addition, end users get regular notifications informing them of their successful backup. It’s warm fuzzies all around.

2. Ease of use

Don’t tell my wife, but I’m hopelessly in love with the CrashPlan admin console. With features like the at-a-glance dashboard for critical info, a one-button upgrade for client devices, and just-enough detail provided on the devices, its lusciousness must be experienced to be appreciated. I mention this because you’ll want to consider the UX for both IT and end users when you’re buying backup.

Pay attention to configurability as well. Some solutions require a lot of handholding during and after setup, and frequently don’t operate as promised. Storage points will lose connection or data filters may require a Ph.D. in mathematics to configure correctly, making them all but useless. Choose a backup solution that’s easy to configure and doesn’t leave your IT team feeling like they should offer a sacrifice to the IT gods in order to ensure its success. Also, for those times when a faculty or staff member needs to recover lost data, look for self-service data recovery features that are truly easy-to-use for the average person.

3. Cost

You’ve heard it said, “You get what you pay for.” Well, never has that been truer than when choosing a backup solution. Let’s be honest, CrashPlan is not the least expensive player on the block. But because it works so well and so effortlessly, it decreases administrative overhead and IT workload, and cut costs for your institution in the long run. I’m no math whiz, but I’ll bet you come out ahead in that equation.

And, if you’re like me and you measure savings in the amount of Grecian Formula you need to buy (less stress = less gray hairs = less Grecian Formula. Come on people, keep up!), then my friend, your savings will be pouring down like sweet, sweet rain. In all seriousness, think about efficiency, effectiveness and the value of self-service solutions.

4. Deployment options

Varying security requirements and legacy infrastructure are synonymous with higher ed. These are key considerations when choosing how to deploy an endpoint backup solution. The right endpoint backup vendor should support a variety of options, including private cloud, public cloud and hybrid cloud, as well as on-premises storage of encryption keys. At FTS, we chose a solution that works with our on-premises private cloud infrastructure, allowing us to leverage our existing hardware investment.

5. Self-restore

While IT administrative needs are paramount, empowering your users goes a long way to making you an IT rock star. A backup solution with DIY restore gives the user some control over their own destiny and reduces the number of backup-related IT calls. I know this almost never happens, but for the sake of argument let’s say one of your users “accidentally” deletes the Ph.D. dissertation they’ve just spent the last decade of their life crafting to perfection. He or she can quickly and easily do a self-restore without any assistance from IT; thereby keeping the potential stress-induced heart injuries to a minimum.

Let’s face it: it’s not easy picking a technology solution that meets all of your institutional needs. And data backup is a foundational part of any organization’s endpoint security suite; so getting it right is critical.

But with a little due diligence you can navigate the treacherous waters of backup solutions and find the right one for your institution. For us, CrashPlan is that solution. And with it in place, my IT team no longer worries about the status of backups and can focus on other priorities…like getting our cover band on Star Search. Wait… that’s still on the air, right?!

Jim Rispin is an assistant director of ITS and Senior Systems Administrator for Fuller Theological Seminary. He has been in IT  since the early ‘90s, as well as an Apple sales rep, a webmaster, a network admin, a tech support grunt, a tech-savvy radio disc jockey and even the lead singer of an a cappella Twisted Sister cover band. In his current role with FTS, he combines a unique balance of working in the IT trenches while exploring out-of-the-box management philosophies to improve the spirit, camaraderie and effectiveness of his team.

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