Disaster Preparedness and Data Back-up

As an IT professional, I make inquiries daily as to how companies are backing up their data. Most times I find that people have absolutely no plan in place to ensure the protection of their data. Other times I find that people are 100% confident in the security of their data but are actually at risk of losing it.

Recently one of our vendor members suffered from a fire in their facility. Within a few hours they sent notification to all of the AAFAME and BOMA members letting them know about the fire. What was very telling was that they also asked for anyone waiting for service to contact them because they had lost their appointment records. I knew right away that they did not have a data backup. If the appointments were gone, then wouldn’t they be missing their accounting information? What about their customer list, vendor list, logo, marketing pieces, inventory list, employee contact information? The list of important information goes on. What a hit to their business.
What can I do to make certain that my business’ data is protected?

At a minimum, you should be backing up your data on a daily basis to an external hard drive. With this basic level of protection, you are safeguarded against a hard drive failure, which is a very common occurrence, especially if your computer or server is more than 3 years old. The process is fairly simple. You can purchase an external USB hard drive from any electronics reseller. Be sure to purchase a device that can accommodate the current amount of data you have and is also sufficiently large enough to handle growth. Many of these devices have built in software that will run a back up on a regular schedule. We prefer to use Robocopy or XXCOPY because they are much more reliable, however they are slightly harder to use. Be sure that you are backing up all of your necessary data. Many people back up their “My Documents” folder but overlook emails, accounting and contact databases. In a network environment only data on the server is backed up. Be sure that your employees are saving their data on the server. Nothing should be saved on local machines, especially if the files are business related. In the case of hardware failure on your primary computer or server, you would simply plug the USB drive into another machine and you are back up and running.

But what if your business has a break in, a fire, a flood or some other disaster? That external hard drive is likely going to be a victim also. At this point all of your business records, contacts, calendars, emails, music and pictures are lost… Forever!

The best way to ensure the safety of your data is to have it located in at least two places. This can be accomplished by simply taking your external hard drive with you at the end of the day. Should a tragedy happen overnight, all you need is access to a computer and again, your business is back up and running. This approach does take discipline. I found that putting a note on your door as a reminder to run and take the backup with you works well.

Datasavior recommends a multi faceted approach. First, use multiple external drives and rotate them daily. Take one with you and leave the other for that evening’s backup. Use one more to keep Friday’s data. If you accidentally delete something from the prior week, you can go back to the Friday drive and restore it. Second, use an offsite or collocation facility. This is your fail safe back up. If a worst case scenario happens where both your facility and your external drives are incapacitated or missing, your data still exists. Downloading data through an internet connection is slow. It will take awhile to get back up and running, but it beats not having any data whatsoever.

Here is one for you. How many of you take these same steps with your personal home computers? Think about all that you have stored and what it means to you. Wedding photos, family photos, personal tax returns, receipts, music, etc are all things that we now keep electronically. What will you do if your PC crashes, your home is burglarized, catches fire or floods.

Finally, you need to be certain that your data is actually being backed up. Many issues can arise with even the most bullet proof backup systems. Drives fail, network mapping changes, folders are moved or the backup script quits running. We have seen numerous situations where companies are certain that they are safe only to find out that their data hasn’t fully backed up for months. The time to discover this problem isn’t when you need the data restored. Make running test restorations part of your normal network maintenance.

If you are not comfortable with this type of work, it’s time to consult an IT professional. IT pros can help guide you through the process buy helping you pick out the right equipment, analyzing files to backup, writing backup scripts and doing test restores. The price of hiring a professional is definitely worth the peace of mind you will have.

Brett Weiss is responsible for business development at Datasavior, Inc., and is an active member of AAFAME, BOMA and IREM. Datasavior is a full service systems integration company specializing in IT services, voice, data, audio and video systems and cabling.