Let’s Be Up-Front About Back-up

(This article does not take into account data quality or encryption methods, which will be discussed in a future blog.)

Proper data backup strategies have become so critical to businesses today that there are now many specialist companies that provide only that service.

Storage and archiving of data in the past was relatively simple when it was paper-based. And the dangers of data loss were limited to the after-effects of adverse physical conditions, such as fire, storm damage, and the like.

IT Support small business HDD

The Three Dangers.

There are three main dangers associated with data storage in a technologically-based system. And these should be key elements to be considered in designing an effective backup strategy.

  1. mechanical failure: any device where data is stored will have a mechanical component, whether it be a basic PC hard-drive, or an optical drive to write data to DVD’s, or the components in a server in the cloud. And one thing’s one hundred per cent certain: all mechanical parts will fail at some point in time.

  2. physical damage/theft of data: in common with the old paper-based archiving, data left on most premises in any form will be at risk of physical damage or destruction caused by fire, natural disasters, war, and so on. Hard drives, tapes and devices storing important data are prone to theft as well.

  3. evaporation from the cloud: it’s all well and good to upload our critical data up into the cloud, but how confident are we that it won’t disappear from there (wherever ‘there’ is!). How much control over our beloved data do we have once it’s up ‘there’? Hosting/storage companies can (and do) go broke or shut down. They, too, are vulnerable to cyber attacks.  And they all rely on mechanical hardware too, which will fail, (nothing cloudy or airy-fairy about the cloud actually; it’s all hardware and cables!)

Common Backup Methods.

  • Single workstations can easily back up data to their local hard drives. This doesn’t help much if that particular hard drive fails, though. A separate hard drive within the computer can be dedicated to backups to minimize this risk.

  • If the amount of data is not large, external USB drives are ideal for removing copies of data from site.

  • Within a network, individual workstations can store and access their data from network servers. The shortcoming here is that, while data lost on an individual workstation can be retrieved from the server, a failure on the server can mean all data is lost to everyone in the network!

  • A network server can, of course, be set up to back up data to other drives (called RAID configuration), either within the server itself, or in a separate station called a Network Attached Storage (NAS) setup.

  • Cloud storage refers to data storage where it is uploaded, usually automatically, to on-line servers managed by companies offering various levels of guarantees of data security, reliability of service, minimum speeds and cost. Where the size and frequency of data transfer is high, the latter two elements become very significant.

Designing A Backup Strategy.

So when designing a Backup Strategy for our business, we need to devise a scheme that takes into account The Three Dangers in conjunction with the Common Backup Methods.

To a large extent, The Three Dangers are present in any business environment, so any strategy is going to have to deal with all three. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the smart way to go is to implement a plan which makes use of a combination of any, or all, of the Common Backup Methods to achieve this.

The simplest way to think of this is to take each of The Three Dangers, and decide which method will eliminate that particular risk.

To illustrate, for a smaller business, a nominated staff member removes a scheduled daily backup of data from the building (can be an external USB hard drive, for example) and replaces it with one from the previous day. This approach concurrently addresses two dangers, the physical damage and the evaporation from the cloud risks, in the one action.

Or, if an enterprise relies on internal server or NAS storage backups, implementing a secondary backup in the cloud will negate the mechanical failure risk.

Very simple really: think of it as a backup matrix where you list the dangers on one side, and the backup methods on the other. Connecting the elements from both the groups will highlight which methods you need to use for your business set up, thereby helping you to design an appropriate strategy.

IT Support small business Backup Matrix

The final result will ultimately depend on factors such as:

  • the size of your data;

  • the size of your business;

  • how often your data changes;

  • how closely to real-time data access your business functions rely;

  • cost considerations.

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