Data backup is crucial for protecting your business's continuity. If your only backup is on a single desktop/laptop computer or mobile device and it's lost or stolen, your business data is gone. And having paper copies of business data isn't adequate data protection; what if your business premises burn to the ground or experience severe flooding? Once again the data you need to carry on your business could be irretrievably lost.
To paraphrase Paul Simon, there are 50 ways to lose your data:
- A desktop/laptop hard drive crash or damage to your mobile device can render your data unrecoverable
- Your computer or phone can be stolen - business break-ins are common and according to FBI statistics 97% of stolen laptops/desktops are never recovered
- Data can be accidentally deleted (or deliberately deleted by a disgruntled employee)
- Your computer can be hijacked by malware
- Your online storage accounts can be hacked
- A ransomware attack could render your files inaccessible until a substantial fee is paid
A Data Backup Regime Is a Must
For adequate data protection, you need to establish a data backup system that follows these three steps:
- Backup business data regularly
- Create backups on reliable media or in the cloud
- If using media for backups keep the devices in a secure, off-site location
The basic rule for business data protection is that if losing the data will interfere with doing business, back it up. Desktop software programs can be reinstalled if required, but recovering the details of transactions or business correspondence is impossible if those files are lost or damaged beyond repair.
Data Archive vs Data Backup
Backups are normally periodic, short term images of data for disaster recovery purposes. Archiving, meanwhile, generally refers to long-term storage of data that is no longer in regular use but can be restored if need be (for example, a finished project or data from a former client).
Backup Critical Business Data
There are two steps to successful data backup;
- Identifying the critical data that needs to be backed up
- Implementing backups of the data on a regular schedule
What needs to be in a data backup? All of the files that you’ve created and/or modified should be regularly backed up. For many businesses, this includes everything from accounting files through email.
More and more business applications are available through the cloud. However, if you are using desktop (non-browser) applications, these can be reinstalled from media or downloaded, so don’t need to be backed up.
Using online backup services makes backing up your data easy - which is just one of the reasons cloud computing is ideal for small businesses. But cloud services can still be vulnerable to data loss via hacking or employee sabotage (consider the recent case of the Indianapolis-based American College of Education who, after firing an information technology employee discovered that before leaving he had changed the administrative passwords to the online accounts, preventing the college from accessing their data). It is not a bad idea to take occasional local backups of cloud data.
Local Data Backups
If you save your data locally (e.g. you are not using cloud storage) you can simplify your backups by keeping all the files that will need to be archived on a single drive on your computer. For instance, suppose you need to back up accounting files, word-processing documents, spreadsheets, photos, and email.
Putting Simply Accounting, Microsoft Office (including Outlook) and Paintshop Pro all on a separate drive or under a separate folder makes it easier to archive all the files you've created or modified using those programs. All you have to do is back up the drive or folder. Once you've selected the critical data to be archived, it's a simple matter to install and use a backup software program to archive your business data on a regular schedule.
Backing up your data nightly is recommended. There are many backup software programs available that allow you to set a schedule that will automatically backup your data. Backup software that also zips and encrypts files saves disk space and increases data security.
Only keep your data backups on-site if they are stored in a fire-proof, indestructible safe. Investing in a tape drive or external hard drive and meticulously adhering to a regular data backup schedule won't help if all your data backup copies are in one place and that place is struck by disaster. To be truly secure your backups should be stored off-site. (Cloud backup does not totally eliminate this concern but is certainly better than many physical locations.)
Some businesses keep their data backups in security boxes at banks. The fee for a security box is tax-deductible if you need a further incentive. Other small business owners keep multiple data backup copies of their records at the homes of different friends or family members. It doesn't really matter where you choose to keep them, as long as the site you choose for off-site data backup is secure and you have regular access to it.
Online Backup Services
For ultimate security make sure you use strong passwords, change them regularly, and make sure the backed up files are encrypted (since cloud storage is shared, cloud providers normally encrypt user data).
USB (Thumb) Drives
USB sticks are constantly increasing in capacity and are ideal for quick data backups. While not having the capacity of external hard drives they have fast data transfer rates and are highly portable. You can easily backup data to a USB drive and take it offsite. As they have no moving parts, USB drives are very reliable.
External Hard Drives
For small businesses, buying and using an external hard drive for data backups is the recommended method. External hard drives are inexpensive compared to tape drive systems. They’re also easy to use; simply plug the hard drive into your computer’s USB port. Most external hard drives come with backup software.
Local Area Network (LAN) Storage
If you have a local area network (LAN) you can also backup files to another computer or server. However, if the backup machine resides in the same location it may be vulnerable to theft or damaged by fire or flood. To prevent theft a server can be installed in a locked cage, cabinet, or closet.
If you have large amounts of data to backup (or wish to make and retain regular complete data archives for long-term storage) tape backups are the best option. They are highly reliable and can store massive amounts of data.
Back It Up or Risk Losing It
Don't run the risk of losing your business data. The best defense against such a disaster is proper data protection. By creating a backup system that includes archiving and backing up your business data regularly and properly, you'll ensure that your business will be able to weather whatever storm it faces and carry on. Remember - you can never have too many data backups!