Data protection is crucial for protecting your business’s continuity. If your only data backup is on a computer, and the hard disk fails or is damaged by a power surge, your business data is gone. And having paper copies of business data isn’t adequate data protection; what if your business premises burn to the ground or experience severe flooding? Once again the data you need to carry on your business could be irretrievably lost.
For adequate data protection, you need to establish a data backup system that follows these three steps:
- archive business data regularly;
- create data backups on reliable media;
- keep updated data backups in a secure, off-site location.
The basic rule for business data protection is that if losing the data will interfere with doing business, back it up. You can reinstall software programs if you need to, but recovering the details of transactions or business correspondence is impossible if those files are lost or damaged beyond repair. The rest of this article outlines each of the steps listed above so you can establish a data backup system that will effectively protect your critical business data from disaster.
1) Archiving Critical Business Data
Archiving business data is more than a matter of good housekeeping; it could be a matter of your business’s survival. There are two steps to archiving business data for successful data backup;
- identifying the critical data that needs to be archived
- and using a data archiving method on a regular schedule.
What needs to be archived in a data backup? Executables, such as software programs, don’t need to be. You don’t create new versions of executable programs and, as I’ve said, if a software program was lost or corrupted, you could reinstall it fairly easily.
However, all of the files that you’ve created and/or modified should be regularly backed up. For many businesses, this includes everything from accounting files through email.
You can simplify your backup archiving by keeping all the files that will need to be archived on a single drive on your computer. For instance, suppose I need to back up accounting files, word-processing documents, spreadsheets, photo and email. Putting Simply Accounting, Microsoft Office (including Outlook) and Paintshop Pro all on the D:/ drive makes it easier for me to archive all the files I’ve created or modifed using those programs. All I have to do is back up the drive. While I don’t have to back up executables, it doesn’t hurt them if I do.
Once you’ve selected the critical data to be archived, it’s a simple matter to install and use a backup software program to archive your business data on a regular schedule.
I recommend backing up your data nightly. There are many backup software programs available that allow you to set a schedule that will archive your data automatically. Look for backup software that zips and encrypts files to save disk space and increase data security.
If possible, backup over your computer network, keeping your data backup files on a separate hard drive from the original files. If this isn’t possible because you have a stand-alone computer, put your data backup files in a separate directory, and increase your schedule for creating physical backups.
The second step of data protection is creating data backups – not just once, but on a regular schedule. But before you do this, you need to be aware of the different backup systems available and the limitations of some backup media.
2) Creating Physical Data Backups
Physical data backups are necessary because of the possibility of computer failure or damage. Even a minor accident such as spilling a cup of coffee onto your laptop could destroy all your data, if that’s the only place your data resides. You should create physical data backups of your business data at least once a week, or even more often if your business generates large amounts of new data daily. There are several methods of transferring your backup files to another media, but some data backup systems are more reliable than others.
Which backup media should you use?
Using CD-Roms as data backups
Using CD-Roms as data backups is popular. Blank CDs are inexpensive, and copying data onto CDs is easy. However, this is the most unreliable method of all the data backup methods listed here. Who hasn’t had the experience of putting a CD into a drive only to find that the data is unreadable and the disk “doesn’t work”? CDs, like the floppy disks they’ve replaced, have a limited shelf life. I don’t recommend this method of data backup for any small business. If you are writing your data backup files onto CDs, make sure that you make (and keep) multiple copies over time.
Using tapes as data backups
Tape backups are ten thousand times as reliable as CD-Roms, but tape drives and their associated media are much more expensive than CD-Rom writers and CDs. A good tape drive can still cost over $1000, and individual tapes for the drive can cost up to $40 each. If you can afford the equipment, however, tape backup is far and away the best backup method.
Using external hard drives for data backups
For small businesses, buying and using an external hard drive for data backups is the method I recommend. External hard drives are cheap compared to tape drive systems ; you can get one for several hundred dollars. They’re also easy to use; in many cases, all you have to do is plug the hard drive into your computer’s USB port. And while hard drives do fail, their failure rate is much lower than that of backup media such as CDs.
Using Online backup services as data backups
There are many companies offering online backup services, but I can’t recommend this method. Besides the potential of bandwidth problems, there are just too many security issues that have yet to be dealt with. Firstly, the method is only as reliable as the company offering the online backup service, and Internet service companies have been coming and going faster than the common cold lately. Secondly, if your business data is sensitive, (and whose isn’t?), why would you want to put it on the ‘Net?
3) Off-Site Data Backup
The only businesses that should be keeping their data backups on-site are those with fire-proof, indestructible safes. Investing in a tape drive or external hard drive and meticulously adhering to a regular data backup schedule won’t help if all your data backup copies are in one place and that place is struck by disaster. You must store copies of your backups off-site if your business data is to be truly secure.
Many businesses keep their data backup copies in security boxes at banks. (The fee for a security box is tax-deductible, if you need further incentive.) Some small business owners keep multiple data backup copies of their records at the homes of different friends or family members. It doesn’t really matter where you choose to keep them, as long as the site you choose for off-site data backup is secure and you have regular access to it.
Don’t run the risk of losing your business data. The best defense against such a disaster is proper data protection. By creating a backup system that includes archiving and backing up your business data regularly and properly, you’ll ensure that your business will be able to weather whatever storm it faces and carry on.