IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

When Data Disaster Strikes will Your Company Data Backup be Ready?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

data problems resized 600Most IT experts will agree that in order for a business to survive a data disaster, they need some sort of data backup plan or business continuity plan in place. Regardless of the type of plan, or systems integrated, all of your IT systems need to have at least one backup copy. In the last blog, we took a look at the first four tips to help improve your data backups, let’s continue in this part 2 blog with the final four tips.

5. Automate your backups

It can be challenging to remember to back up your data files by memory, especially if your business can become hectic at times. Therefore, you should look into an automated data backup solution. At the very least, you should set a schedule as to when the data backups are conducted and set-up what is backed up. While this is not complete data backup automation, a schedule will insure the copy is created even if you or your IT personnel become busy and forget to make a backup copy.

If you are using data backup solutions like a Cloud Service Provider or NAS (Network Attached Storage) within your office, you can usually automate the process by selecting which files and folders to back up and schedule when they are backed up. The software that powers these solutions will then do this automatically and will often send an email out after the job is run notifying you if it was successful or not. There have been cases where employees have become frustrated by an unsuccessful backup process and simply turned the backup job off. The business owner, thinking their data was being backed up would be in for a bit of a shock when systems crashed. Automation also insures that your backups begin to have reliability and a higher likelihood of a successful restoration if needed.

6. Back up your backups

Copies of your backups are just as important as actually backing up your data. You should keep a second copy of your data backup image just in case something happens to your original backup. While this doesn't have to be carried out as often as the 'regular scheduled' backup, this should be done on a scheduled basis. In order to really ensure backup redundancy we recommend that if your main backup is kept on-site, then the secondary backup should be on another storage medium that is kept off-site. Here at ANP we make backup copies every 30 minutes to an on-location NAS and then copy all the data that changes each night up to our Cloud storage located in Toronto. This gives ANP many backup copies of the data dispersed across different media, and located at different locations.

7. Don't forget data stored on non-physical drives

What I am referring to here is the data stored on different Cloud services for example: your outsourced email, Drop Box files, and non-physical locations. This is especially true if you say have you own servers. It's highly likely that there is company data scattered around on these Cloud services as well, and should they go down and you haven't kept a backup, you may lose important company information.

Essentially, think about critical data that is used in the company, but isn't physically kept on computers. It may feel like this is going a step too far with backups, especially for businesses who use email services like Office 365 or Gmail, however, while the chances of these systems going down are incredibly rare, it could still happen. Therefore, you should conduct a monthly to bi-yearly backup image of the mail boxes just to ensure that Cloud based data is backed up should something happen.

8. Test the viability of your backups

Finally, it is beneficial to actually test your backups from time-to-time to ensure that they are not only working but the data is actually recoverable. If you are getting messages that your automated backups are running successfully, and as a result, you never test them. It would be awful to find out when you actually need to do a restoral, that although the backups were running perfectly, not all of the data that was needed was ever backed-up.

If you do a trial run on recovering your data, you can get a good idea of how long it will take to retrieve this information when you actually need to recover it and you will also confirm that you are backing up everything you need to have a successful restoration. Also, testing is a good way to discover any personnel problems, such as if someone has disabled backups, or someone doesn’t know how to get a successful restoral. This will ensure that your data is there when you need it, and you have trained people ready to recover it.

This completes our two part blog on small business data backups. I hope this was interesting and valuable to you. Want to learn more about small business data backups, disaster recovery plans, and disaster recovery services? Sign up for our Free IT Webinar this month HERE. Not ready to meet yet? You can download a great free white paper about disaster recovery planning HERE.

Topics: backup plan, Data backup, Data Recovery, business continuity plan, data backups, backup solutions

When Data Disaster Strikes, will Your Company Data Backup be Ready?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Mon, Sep 15, 2014

data disaster resized 600While there are many different and important tasks a business needs to do, one of the most important is to back up your company data. Your data is important often impossible to recreate.  I promise you the day will come (if it hasn’t yet) where you will have catastrophic loss of data. Most business owners realize this and do back up their data, but it can be a challenge to an owner on how to setup and operate a really reliable and low cost data backup plan.  In order to help, I have come up with eight data backup tips, four of which we will review in this blog.

1. Pick the data backup solution that works best for your business

When it comes to backing up the data on your company's PCs and Servers, most small businesses will choose from these 5 options.  In my last blog I discussed how a company could possibly lose (even though they are backing up) and also how much time a company could possibly wait to recover their data while running on manually systems.  The choices below really affect how much data is potentially lost and how long it takes to recover. Let’s look at the choices ranked from least expensive to likely the most expensive:

  • Internal hard drives on A PC or a Server - You can either use another hard drive installed in your computer or partition an existing hard drive so that it functions as a separate drive on which you back your data up. This is a quick option, however should your computer or the hard drive fail - two of the most common computer failures - then you will lose this data.
  • External portable hard drives - These drives are essentially separate hard drives that you connect to your computer via a USB or other connection. Many of these drives allow for one touch backup and can be configured to back up data at certain times. While these can be useful, especially if you want to keep data backups easily accessible, they are prone to the same potential failure as internal drives.
  • Removable drives or media - For example, USB flash drives, DVDs, etc. These are great for backing up work you are doing at the moment or for transferring small files from one machine to another. These options are limited by smaller storage sizes however, so backing up even one computer will likely require multiple disks or drives.
  • Cloud-based backup - This is the act of backing up your files to a backup provider over the Internet. Your files are stored off-site and can be restored as long as you have an Internet connection. For many businesses, this has become the main form of backup employed, largely due to cost and convenience - files can be backed up in the background. The biggest downside of this backup option however is that you do need an Internet connection for it to work and you will see more bandwidth being used, which could result in slower overall Internet speeds when files are being backed up.
  • NAS - Network Attached Storage, is a physical device that has slots for multiple hard drives. You connect this to your network and the storage space on the hard drives is pooled together and delivered to users. This solution is like a mix of cloud-based and external backup, only the device is usually in your office. While it is a good backup solution, it can get expensive, especially if you have a large number of PCs and Servers to back up.

ANP uses a combination of NAS and Cloud based backup; the reason why we choose this solution is twofold. One, by using a NAS in our office we can essentially snap shot our data backups in a real-time mode (so we will never lose any data between a failure and the last backup.)  The last successful backup before a failure typically would be seconds before the outage. This allows ANP to recover all of our data AND because the NAS is on our LAN we can restore applications very quickly (measured in minutes.)

We also use a Cloud-based backup to insure if our office building had a fire or flood, and our NAS device was destroyed, we still have all of our data off site.  The cloud back up restoration would take us a long time to recover, but at least we would have all of our data intact. 

There are a wide variety of backup solutions available, so it is a good idea to sit down and figure out which are best for your business. The vast majority of companies integrate multiple solutions in order to maximize the effectiveness of their backups and spread the risk of losing data around a bit.

2. Split your backup locations

In order to ensure that your data backups are available for recovery should you need them, you should split up the locations where the backups are stored. Should you keep all of your backups on hard drives in the office and there is damage to the premises, you could potentially lose your data. One of the most effective strategies is to have one set of backups on-site, and another off-site which will ensure that should there be a disaster in one location, the other will likely be safe and you will still be able to access your data.  Despite all of the backup technology options available, you can narrow these down to two categories, the fact that the backups are kept in two locations

  • On-site - Data backup solutions that are kept in your office. This could include internal hard drives, or NAS, and even tape. The idea here is that the data backup is kept in your office. Some like USB drives may leave the office, but the main idea is that they are used primarily in the office.
  • Off-site - Data backup solutions are stored off-site, or out of the office. The best example of this is cloud-based backup where your data is stored in a data center, most likely in another region of the country. Another example is backing up to hard drives and storing them in a secure location outside of the office in another branch location or at the owner’s home.

3. Establish a standard naming and filing system

Have you ever seen how people organize their hard drives on their own PCs? Some like to use folders and subfolders that are organized neatly, while others tend to throw files into one general folder or leave them on the desktop. The same can be said for the way files are named.

Because of these differences, in the event you do need to restore the data, it can be difficult to back up and recover files properly. We recommend that you pick a naming and file system that every file and folder will follow across all systems. This means backups will be quicker, you will be able to see what is new, and you will spend less time organizing files.

At ANP we have a written file naming convention that we educate everyone on and enforce the use of.  A standardized file naming and file organization structure goes a long way toward making it easier to find files and recover them should your systems go down. 

4. Determine, which files need to be backed up and protected

While it may be tempting to back every file and folder up, in an effort to maximize efficiency of your solution, it is better to not back everything up. Because you are going to want to be able to restore a backup quickly, it’s worth investing the time to identify what files and folders are to be backed up.

The same can be said for non-work related files. While these may be important to your personal life, they likely aren't to the business so should not be backed up onto your business backups.  Look at each file and folder and see if it has something to do with business decisions, or is in anyway tied to your business. If it is, then it is probably a good idea to keep it and add it to your backup rotation.

In my next blog I will share four more tips regarding your data backups. In the meantime if you want to learn more about small business data backups, disaster recovery plans, and disaster recovery services sign up for our Free IT Webinar this month HERE.  Or if you are not ready to meet yet, you can download a great free white paper about disaster recovery planning HERE.

 

 

Topics: backup plan, Data backup, Data Recovery, business continuity plan, data backups, backup solutions

Disaster recovery planning, ask questions before disaster strikes.

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Sep 10, 2014

As a business owner, I suspect you wonder if your company could survive a fire, flood or a data disaster. The US Small Business Administration came out with some scary data last year; 90% of small businesses do not survive a fire/flood disaster.   Certainly it is impossible to predict what the next disaster will be, but it's easy to prepare for, especially if you have an effective data backup plan. When it comes to data backup planning there are a few key metrics that you as the owner need to be aware of.  In this blog I will show you what questions you need to be asking and why you need to know the answers.  The survivability of your business might depend upon it.

There are essentially two key questions you need to be talking to your IT employee or your outsourced IT Managed Service Provider about when it comes to data backup plans. The first is how often are the files being backed up: measured in weeks, days, hours or seconds?  This is important because it will give you a sense as the owner just how much data could be LOST if your server failed at any given moment and you had to go back to the last good data backup copy to restore the server and it’s applications from that point in time.

If you are backing up on a per minute basis, you stand to lose very little data.  But on the other hand if you are backing up daily, once a week or once a month, you could lose up to a whole month of company data. Take a look at this graphical representation: 

 RPO Lost Data resized 600

Note the slower the backups occur typically there is a longer amount of time between the backups. A slower back up media (tape) could possibly equate to losing more data.  The inverse of that statement is also true; the faster your backup media (disk based backups), the more often you are likely to be backing up.  With more frequent backup copies, the less company data you can possibly lose during a disaster.  The takeaway point here is the time between your last successful back up and the disaster is the time in which company data is at risk and will be lost.

The second question you need to know is once a data disaster does occur, how long will it take to restore your most recent backup copy on a new server?  It’s important to remember that during the restoration time line, your business applications will not be available.  So ask yourself, “Can your business run for a prolonged period of time without your ERP application or your CRM or accounting software?”  Do you need all of your applications immediately or just a few key apps?  Can you manufacture or provide your company’s service without your software applications up and running?

There are three related questions you need to ask: First, where will a new server come from and how long will it take to get it? You can’t begin to restore a backup until you have good hardware to restore to.  Second, how long will it take to restore the basic Server Operating System?  Finally, how long will it take to restore your application and data on top of the operating system?  Unfortunately the restoral process is completed in a serial fashion: first the hardware, then the operating system(s) and finally the application itself which stretches out the time it takes to recover.  Bear in mind, your business is running in a manual mode during the recovery time.

If you choose to place your backups on a slow media like Tape, your restoration process could take weeks, or if you decided to spend more money on a faster media (on location disk or cloud based disk) the recovery process will be much faster.  But the point is you need to know how long it takes, and then decide if that time line is actually appropriate for your business.  Plus you should plan ahead and determine the logical order in which you want to restore your applications. 

 RTO or lost time and mannual processing resized 600

There are some great business takeaways here: my clients often want to dive into technology discussions.  I prefer to hold a business conversation first.  How much data can you afford to lose if there is a data disaster? How long can your business be without your key applications? Have your employees been taught how to work without their key application in a manual mode?  Data backup planning is much more about your business approach than it is about selecting a backup media technology.

Start Today Idea: As part of your business continuity plan, you need to figure out how much company data you can afford to lose should you have a data disaster.  Then calculate how quickly you need to recover the last backup.  With this planning completed; you can begin to design a data backup task list, a backup rotation schedule and a backup restoral test schedule.

Want to learn more about small business data backups, disaster recovery plans, and disaster recovery services? Sign up for our Free IT Webinar this month HERE.  Not ready to meet yet?  You can download a great free white paper about disaster recovery planning HERE.

Topics: data backups, disaster recovery planning

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