One Size Does Not Fit All
By Cloud Direct • 03 Jun 2009
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL - WHO IS REALLY LOOKING AFTER YOUR DATA?
Data is the life force of any small company, but few business owners take the time to ensure that if their data was lost, they would be able to retrieve it – quickly, easily and completely. Just try to picture an office operating without Outlook, proposal documents, HR, accounts and payroll for just one day. Business would not be able to continue as usual and that could potentially cause long term damage to the company – so why aren’t small businesses doing more to protect such a valuable asset?
When it comes to day-to-day backups, most business owners look for a “set it and forget it” system that will allow them to get on with the running of the business. As a result, they often hand their data to a “trusted” IT supplier without questioning what they will do with it, how it will be stored and whether it will be retrievable when it is needed the most. Many business owners will not even know whether they have a backup system in place and, if they do, whether it is a tape or online system.
So how do you strike a balance between absolute security, peace-of-mind and avoiding the cost and hassle? Could online backup be the answer the market has been looking for, or is tape still to be trusted?
“My company data isn’t backed up”
If you don’t currently have a backup system in place, it would be wise to begin by thinking about what you really need to guarantee peace-of-mind and ensure compliance. Depending on how much you are prepared to spend on a backup system, it might be worth considering whether all of your company data needs to be backed up or whether certain files are more valuable to the business than others. As a first step, decide what your “critical data” is and what you are obliged to keep. For most companies this includes emails, customer data and financial data which should be backed up every day and must be recoverable.
Once this has been decided, the following questions might help you choose the best backup solution for your specific business and the most appropriate supplier:
- First, how often do you need your data to be backed up?
Does your data need to be backed up on a continuous basis so any new updates to files will be recoverable immediately, or would a daily backup suffice? There are different options on the market at different price points so have a think about what you really need before you invest in a costly backup system that might not meet your business requirements.
- Next, how long do you need your data to be stored for?
If you operate in the finance sector, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has, and will increasingly have given the recent financial crisis, powers that dictate that data must be stored for five years. If, like most small businesses, you switch your IT supplier fairly frequently, it is important to ensure that you can retrieve all data should an auditor request it, or continue to have it stored for as long as is necessary.
- Does my data need to be stored in more than one place?
If there was a flood, fire or power outage at the primary storage site, should your data be safely stored at a second location to ensure no downtime?
“My data is backed up but…”
If you have a backup system in place, as with any “insurance policy” it is worth questioning your supplier to find out everything you need to know. It is normal to shop for insurance at your local broker, but you would still want to know who the organisation under-writing the policy is; do they have the history, stability and specialist know-how to ensure it will pay out when needed?
Whether you are currently using a tape or online system, you might want to consider asking suppliers questions from both of the following lists, as the answers might reveal that one system could be a better fit for your requirements than the other.
If your supplier can’t answer the most relevant questions for your business or is hazy on the details, it might be worth thinking about switching provider. If they simply respond with, “don’t worry, we take care of everything” you should probably be questioning whether they are trustworthy enough to handle what is arguably your most valuable asset.
Key questions to ask a tape backup provider include:
- Can we try a practice restore?
60 per cent of attempts to restore from tape do not succeed but many business owners won’t know whether theirs could be one of them unless they have done a dry-run. While this offers no guarantee that a restore will succeed every time, a practice does provide peace-of-mind that a supplier has the correct processes in place to get your business back up and running quickly and smoothly.
- How quickly can I retrieve files if I need them?
Does your backup provider just talk about excellent customer service or would you actually be able to speak to someone in the middle of the night if you needed a lost file restored from a tape immediately? If you need to retrieve large volumes of data, your backup provider might need to physically ship the data to you. If it is being stored abroad, this process can take some time as you might have to wait a week or so for your critical data to make it safely through customs.
Depending on the nature of your business, if your systems are down for more than five hours, you could be as good as “dead” to potential customers . With this in mind, would an online system be more convenient for quick file retrieval?
Even if you are doing everything right with tapes – conducting regular backups, taking tapes offsite, etc. – you only have a good backup process, not a guaranteed recovery process. If, after quizzing your provider, you still have concerns about the reliability of a tape-based system, you might want to consider the benefits of online backup.
Questions to ask an online backup provider:
- How long have you been in business and who are your current satisfied customers?
Any backup provider that is not forthcoming with answers to these questions should be regarded with caution. There are a number of new providers flooding the online backup market with promises of cheap prices but if they haven’t been able to build a base of reputable customers then you should think twice about trusting them with your data.
Most respectable online backup providers will be happy to share customer testimonials with you to prove the reliability of their service and they should also be open about the technology they are using. It is often worth asking whether you can trial the service prior to making a purchase as well to ensure that it works for you. It does not make sense to have data backed up for 5-7 years with a business that has only been around for a few years or perhaps has only been offering online backup for a few months.
- How are you able to offer such competitive prices?
The main expense for online backup providers tends to be purchasing data centre space, the storage systems, security and bandwidth. While consumer-grade equipment has tumbled in price, enterprise-class storage remains costly. A business-grade service also needs to have data mirrored into a geographically separate location which doubles the infrastructure costs. Many providers simply do not offer this level of resilience. This makes them suitable for home use but not for business where the data is more valuable and recovery time is critical.
Online backup is an industry with low barriers to entry at the low-end, but great barriers at the high-end. Some providers save costs by housing data in the US, which can often be a lot cheaper than Europe which means providers can lower their prices significantly if they buy space further afield. However, Safe Harbour principles dictate that EU customer data must be retained within the EU, so you could be breaching some serious legislation if you opt for an abnormally cheap provider.
The main costs involved with online backup are not so much storage and bandwidth, but rather the support staff required to ensure that service works in a business environment. Backing up a Sage database or an Exchange email server requires knowledge as to what and where the relevant data is (to be backed up), but also having the expertise to restore that data in the correct way to have the system back up and running within the required timeframe.
- What other companies are using the same technology?
If your supplier is able to confirm that there are other big name companies using their backup technology, it can be incredibly reassuring. However, SMBs rarely receive the same attention that big corporate clients are used to so it would be worth asking how they manage their customer relationships and what the availability of support is like for all customers.
Small businesses beware…
As an SMB, your data is often not treated with the same respect as that of big corporate clients. Remote support can be difficult to obtain so if you lose a critical file in the middle of the night, it might take you a couple of days to get it back. The real value of some backup providers can be in the recovery stage. If you need it, ensure you have access to remote support around the clock and that your provider truly understands the value of your Sage / Outlook / ACT! data.
In the data backup market, one size does not fit all, so make sure you are entrusting your data to a provider that will value your custom, protect your data like it was their own and be on hand to answer any questions or concerns that you might have.
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