In part one and two of this series, we were introduced to different backup methodologies, the pros and cons of each, as well as the differences in down time that each method can occur as well as help prevent. In part three of this series, we will see how to choose the correct backup method for your organization as, what data to backup, testing your backup, as well as how to build a business continuity plan.
The Right Backup
Choosing a data backup system or service should be one of the first things you do as a business owner, right up there with finding an accountant, a lawyer and a bank. Each business will require different backup methods, and maybe a combination of two. If your company can sustain some downtime after data loss, then in most situations, using an online backup provider is the best way to go. By using an online backup provider, you eliminate many of the human prone errors seen by tape/media based backups. Also, there is no need to worry about where your backup is being stored; the very nature of cloud based backups is that your backed-up information is stored offsite. If you pair your online backup with a local vault, restorations can occur in a fraction of the amount of time.
If your business can not sustain any downtime, then you need to use a DR/BC backup solution. This will allow your business to continue to function even if your server can no longer boot. Fire up the virtual server and you are working as if no event ever happened.
If your organization needs to archive data for long periods of time, say in excesses of seven years, such as many financial organizations, then it may be wise to use a conjunction of cloud based backup as well as tape backups. Use the cloud based solution to store backups for a years worth of time, and use the tapes to store nightly backups for up to seven years. Cloud based solutions can archive data for long periods of time, but costs can start to escalate as more data is stored in your vendors cloud.
What to Backup
Now that we know what method or methods we are going to use to backup our data, we now need to decide what data to backup. If you are using a DR/BC solution, the choice is simple, the entire device. The entire device needs to be backed-up in order for the device to be imaged correctly. But what if you do not need that granularity of DR/BC backup, what should you backup from your systems?
The general rule is to back up all information that you are legally required to keep or that is essential to running your business. Ask yourself the question, ‘if everything was lost tomorrow, what would I need to get back to work?’ For many small businesses, it is not necessary to backup the devices operating system or software. Most of the time it is only necessary to backup user and application data.
Check Your Backup
Now that we have chosen the data to be backed-up, you need to ensure that the data is actually recoverable. It is all good that you have told the software to backup particular data, but in the event of an emergency and none of that data is available, the backup is useless.
Check the logs and reports generated from the backup software at the very least once a week. Ideally, this should be done daily. This will help identify any files the backup software is having trouble backing up. It will also let you know the success and failure rate of the entire backup. For example, if you are using a cloud based backup solution and your ISP is down, the backup will fail because it can not contact the data center where your backup is stored.
Test restores should also be preformed at least once a quarter. Randomly choose some data from your backup set and restore it to a test folder on the device you are backing up. Ensure that all of files that should be present are present and that the files can be opened and are populated with the correct information. Doing test restores ensures that your data is successfully being backed-up and is accessible.
Business Continuity Planning
Backing up your data is the first step is a business continuity plan. Following the next steps should help mitigate any issues faced when trying to recover from a disaster. All critical people within your organization should have a copy of this plan.
- Identify: Identify the immediate needs of your organization. This can be anything from getting your computer systems running again to finding new trucks to make deliveries. Without identifying what is needed right after a disaster, it is impossible to create any procedures to ensure things run smoothly during and after a disaster.
- Documentation: Document items such as key personnel, system passwords, inventory counts, backup providers. Without the proper documentation, it may be impossible to piece together your computer network after a disaster strikes.
- Back Up: Backup all of your critical data. Identify the data that is required for your business to operate and back it up using one of the methodologies discussed in this article series. All the planning in the world can not prevent against hardware failure and data loss.
- How-To: It should include step-by-step instructions on what to do, who should do it, and how. List each responsibility and write down the name of the person assigned to it. That way, if you want to know “who is supposed to call the insurance company?” you can look up “Insurance”.
- Test: Just as you need to test your backup to ensure that your data is being properly backed-up, test your business continuity procedure. Run through a mock disaster to ensure that all of the required information is present. This plan should be tested at least annually. Pick a day and let everyone know what is going to happen then act as though your office building has been destroyed.
- Update: As your business grows or changes, do not forget to update this plan. Your business continuity plan is not set it stone. You should think of it as a living, breathing document. If a disaster does occur and your business continuity plan is out-of-date, it can impact the amount of time it takes you to get back up and running.
Through the three parts of this disaster series, we have been introduced to different backup methodologies, discussed the pros and cons of each method, laid the ground work on how to choose the correct backup method for your organization, and put together a document on how to plan for a disaster. If only one thing is taken away from this series it should be this; backup, backup, backup. Backing up your data is one of the most important things that any business owner can do. The bottom line, you can never have enough backup. Although it may seem expensive, backing up your business critical data and making sure that the data is properly backed up and stored on a regular basis, is much cheaper than having to re-start your business from scratch.
Ultimately you are not in this alone, hire the help of an IT firm or consultant. There are more than enough horror stories of business owners thinking their data is safe when it was not. Do not become a statistic. You have enough to do to keep your company moving forward. Focus on what you do best and let the IT pros do what they do best.