TECH GUIDE - Data Backup Strategy: Six questions

TECH GUIDE - Data Backup Strategy: Six questions

Data backup is a vital part of business operations. It is as important as the processes of creating the data in the first place. Companies that have dedicated data backup strategies are typically those who are most successful. It is a sign of organisational efficiency and professionalism. This is because implementing an effective and reliable backup process is not as easy as it seems. Many companies make mistakes at the foundation level and don't feel the effects until its too late. Listed below are six, very simple, but critical questions that you should ask yourself before implementing a backup strategy.

1. Why are you backing up?

Probably the most obvious, but often overlooked question of the whole backup process. Why am I doing this? Plenty of people go through the motions without really questioning why they’re doing it in the first place. It’s a question that only the individual can answer. If your doing it for the right reasons i.e. to stop your company from suffering wide-scale data loss and facing a quick, sudden decline - then you need to develop a dedicated backup strategy. If you cut corners in something so critical, it will make the whole process irrelevant and a big waste of time.

2. What should you backup?

Once you’ve identified why you should backup, you can start to create a list of data that you consider worth protecting. But here's a tip - DON’T just backup every single piece of data within the company. This is a mistake that many companies make. It’s highly inefficient and time-consuming - especially if you’re backing up to tape. Is that Powerpoint presentation that Jean did back in 1995, still mission critical? No - so don't bother with it!

Rather, look at what is current and valuable. It is typically files or databases that are constantly changing. These are the ones that are used on a daily basis and would cause massive delays if they were lost. However, this is not to say all static data is worthless. Phone contact lists and past invoices are equally crucial so you need to assess the situation with logic. If you focus on that which is vital, you will increase the chances of that data being protected reliably. Trying to backup every single piece of data that you own will only result in inefficiencies.

3. How are you going to backup?

 Naturally, once you have identified what you want to backup you should be considering the best way to do it. Rather than get into a slanging match between tape, hard-drive, CD/DVD and online backup, it is better to understand which method suits your needs.

There are certain variables that you should consider before choosing a method of backup. You might want to think about any retention demands that you data requires. Are there any legal ramifications? Are you regulated in anyway? If you are required to keep historical copies of data you’ll have to make sure your backup process can cope efficiently with the demands of that. While tape and CD/DVD might be a solution for short term management – if data needs to be retained for a number years, storage cost, space, and reliability of recovery can become an issue.

In another instance, if you have a large amount of current business data and are a smallish sized company, online backup might not yet be an efficient solution for you. While tape is no where near as reliable as online, it can still be a cost efficient option for small companies with a large amount of critical data; although it will involve hassle and stress to manage properly. But still, some form of backup is better than none at all.

What does need consideration, however, is how your data is going to be stored offsite. A backup copy must always be kept offsite. This is in case anything where to happen to the office e.g. fire, theft, flood etc. If all your backup copies of data are kept on the same premises as your regular copies and there is fire that wipes out everything – you’ve just lost your entire business. A backup of company data must always be kept offsite and when it is, it needs to be managed securely. DON’T leave tape backups on the backseat of your car or on top of the television. Firstly, there might be sensitive customer or company data contained on it. Secondly, it is at risk of exposure that will cause degradation and will compromise the integrity of the data recovery. If you can’t feasibly manage tape backups properly, choose an online solution – data is kept offsite in secure data centres.

4. Who is going to manage your backups?

So you’ve chosen your method of backup, now you’ll need to decide who is going to manage the process. It might be the owner/manager, IT administrator or Brian down in Accounts, but regardless of who is given the responsibility they need to be properly trained and there needs to be some kind of contingency for when they are away. Many companies fail to take this into account and are left high and dry when they perform a data restore that is two weeks out of date.

Backup needs to be performed consistently and reliably – otherwise there is no point. Manual backup procedures such as tape, hard-drive and CD/DVD fall down in this respect because they need ongoing attention that requires human resources. Newer technologies such as online backup offer an advantage because they can be set automatically and require little physical management.

5. How easy is it to perform a restore?

When you suffer an incident of data loss you need to recover operations as quickly as possible, after all, time is money. That means being familiar with the process of recovery – knowing what to do. With this in mind it becomes important to test your backup/recovery process regularly. There is nothing more stressful than not knowing what to do when everything is falling apart around you.

For a backup procedure based on tape – you’ll need to know where the tapes are stored and what order to restore them in. If you’ve just lost the premises, you’ll need to know where the offsite copies are kept. You’ll also have to be sure that you have the correct hardware to rebuild your data sets with. If you use online backup – what support number do you dial, what availability is there outside office hours, and how do you perform a bare metal restore? If you’re already familiar with how to initiate your data recovery process, you’ll do so calmly and much more effectively when a disaster strikes.

6. Will your strategy be future-proof?

Similar to the first point, this question is often dangerously overlooked. While you may have been carrying out backups for years, what guarantee is there that you’ll be able to carry out restores in the future? Hardware changes can compromise the integrity of a tape backup plan. Compatibility issues have long plagued companies whose new hardware doesn’t work with year old backup tapes. Likewise, if an online backup provider is financially unstable, what guarantee is there that they’ll be around in a year’s time?

Only after you have taken these kind of questions into account can you start to formulate an effective, reliable data backup strategy. 

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