Data Backup Strategies for SMB's . - HCS

Data Backup Strategies for SMB’s .

Data Backup Strategies for SMB’s .
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This article entitled “Data Backup Strategies for SMB’s” was written by Sean Hegarty who is Operations Director at HCS Business Solutions. Sean holds a BSc in Law with Business, an MSc in Technology Management and has been working in the field of IT Service Management and IT Outsourcing for the past 17 years.

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Data backup strategies for SMB’s:  How can you be sure your data will be there when you need it most?


This article is about the topic of data backup and security. I’m not discussing anything technical, I’m just addressing an area which is all too often over looked within small to medium size businesses (SMB). That is the area of regular review, monitoring and testing of your data backups so that you are 99.99% sure that you can successfully restore your data when you need it most.

Case Study
I assisted an SMB client recently who invested in a new data backup solution. The client spent time and effort in ensuring that the solution was set up and configured the way they wanted and they were happy.

Afterwards I suggested that we should put in place REGULAR REVIEW, MONITORING AND TESTING of the backups to be sure that in the event of a problem the backup would restore successfully.  The client did not take me up on the offer and seemed satisfied to receive daily notifications about the status of the backup.

This client is not alone in believing that the mere presence of a data backup system that appears to be doing its job is good enough when it comes to securing your data!

Top 5 Reasons why data loss can happen to you!
After a quick browse on the internet, I found a number of white papers on the subject of SMB’s setting themselves up for catastrophic data loss. Here’s the top five reasons why it could happen to you;
1. Combination of complacency and optimism, it won’t happen to me.
2. Not conducting regular backups and no backup strategy in place.
3. Relying on employees to back up YOUR critical data.
4. Keeping all backups on site.
5. Cost factors inhibiting resources and expertise being put in place.

“A successful backup is no guarantee of a successful restore”
This is a recent quote from a global data security software company.

A very successful global data security software company emailed our service desk recently after our technicians reported a problem with their software.  They agreed that there may be a problem with their backup software and that they will resolve this problem in the next version. They went on to say that “a successful backup is no guarantee of a successful restore”.

So even a “successful backup” doesn’t guarantee that your data will restore safely!

At first glance this statement sounds absolutely incredulous. The statement by implication is saying that the only way of guaranteeing a successful restore is to actually restore your data, then you can be sure that it has restored successfully! Obviously we’re not going to restore our data every time we do a backup!

What about a software product defect that has the potential to put you out of business?
As with most IT hardware and software products they are sold “AS IS”. In terms of the IT industry I believe that means you buy the product and use it as you see fit and if anything happens you are largely on your own. There’s a warranty period for parts failing of course. Hardware and software companies don’t provide any guarantee in respect of how you the end user uses their products. If it turns out that their product was defective they might refund your money back at best. They say up front that they don’t cover the consequences of their product failing. In fact they will tell you straight that neither they or their affiliates, their resellers, distributors or suppliers will be liable for any indirect, special, incidental or consequential damages arising out of the use of or inability    to use the software, including, without limitation damages for lost profits, loss of goodwill, work stoppage, computer failure or malfunction, or any and all other commercial damages or losses…….. etc. etc. etc.

And by the way let’s not get too hung up on defective data backup software either, the backup job may have been successfully backing up a corrupt database for 6 months and the only way you’ll ever discover this is if you test it.

There’s been a fire in your office!
Imagine the scene. There’s been a fire in your office and all that’s left is your off-site back up. You are overjoyed when you see that there is string of “successful” data backup jobs on it.  You go to restore it and you find out that the files are corrupt and that every data backup job on there is completely useless.

You’ve potentially lost all of your company data. Your accounts data, with all your financials, debtors, creditors. Your customer data base with all your sales information, appointments, quotations, prospect lists. Everything you’ve ever written, all your emails and your staff’s emails. And depending on what industry you operate in other critical data also gone. On top of this, although not  critical to your livelihood, you’ve also lost personal data, irreplaceable family photos, video’s and other important personal items.

Where does that put you in that moment? Obviously there’s the immediate situation to deal with but with your data gone there’s not much you can do. You could contact the backup software company and accuse them of selling a defective product? You could contact the IT Company, who brokered the sale of the software and helped you set it up, and shout at them?

This is akin to your boat sinking and you pull out the rubber dingy. The dingy that came with the boat when you bought it two years ago. Back then you inflated it and it seemed fine so you put it back in its box.  2 years later you are 5 miles from shore, a storm is closing in, and now you are sitting in the knackered old dingy, with no supplies and no plan B. It’s not likely you’re even thinking about the boat manufacturer at this difficult time and as for the dingy, this is now what you are relying on to save your life! “Jeez…. I hope this works out!”  Who is responsible?

When you’ve lost your company data there may be a financial remedy in your business insurance policy. This may cover you for a new IT system and data re-entry back into your systems and it may also cover you for a host of other things.  However, the claims process may take months of course and by then you may well be out of business or suffering from severe health problems or both!

Is there anyone out there still whose thinking “ YES….… I’m getting successful data backup notifications and I’m covered for losing all my data because I’ve got a comprehensive insurance policy”?

I‘m not going to drift into the subject of disaster recovery, I’m merely discussing this as a means to highlighting that losing your data is not a realistic option for you whether you have insurance or not! When you are in business your data is the most precious thing in the world after your family and you must take care of it because when it’s gone, it’s effectively gone. The cost, in terms of time and money, of trying to reinstate the parts of your data that still exist in paper form or from memory or other sources are often overwhelming and not survivable.

YOUR data is YOUR responsibility and nobody else’s.  You should personally take responsibility for the security of your data.

You should systematically and regularly REVIEW, MONITOR AND TEST your backup’s in exactly the same way that you would equip and test a lifeboat that you knew you had to use one day. You’d leave no stone unturned. A backup is not a car or a printer or a smart phone, a backup is not used every day, in fact you only use it when you need it most and often it can be at a critical juncture like a disaster, a fire or flood.

To avoid ever having to find yourself in this position, I’m suggesting that you do the following;
1. REVIEW – your data backup policy biannually.
2. MONITOR – your data backup jobs daily.
3. TEST – your data backups quarterly by restoring data.

The frequencies of the review, monitoring and testing may vary depending on a number of factors to do with you and your business but the three steps don’t change.

When you put these practices in place then you can be highly confident that your backups will restore successfully.  The cost for doing this will vary and it will depend on your own capabilities in terms of what you can do and cannot do yourself. These services can be outsourced and you can work with a qualified technician to review your policy and carry out test restores and deal with any issues that arise. On a daily basis make sure that any failed data back up jobs are dealt with speedily and problem root causes are followed through on and fixed.

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