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Are Your Data Files Actually Backed Up?

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Consider this; you're busy working on some critical accounting data for the business and realize that the spreadsheet tracking monthly sales for the last three years is missing from that folder on your desktop.  No problem, you think to yourself, my faithful backup drive plugged into the computer is set to run automatically every week so I'll get it from there.  Oh no, the backup folder is blank too...how is that possible?  AHHH!

You may have experienced this horrible scenario at some point in your computing life or maybe you've lucked out and not needed to retrieve something from your backup at a critical moment. Either way you want to know that your backup is working and ready to save the day when called upon. Thinking about computer back ups is pretty boring until you desperately need them and then suddenly they are heart pounding excitement!

Now, while time is on your side, you should review your backup situation and make a Business Disaster Recovery (BDR) plan; one that is informed, practical, and affordable for your company.  In this article, I want to look at the misconceptions around the causes of data loss and then review the best way to prevent it.

When I was starting out in IT the most basic and reliable way to take a backup was to make two copies of important files and folders on floppy disks, store one set of disks onsite and take a second set offsite.  In theory, this is still a decent backup model but since then things have changed technologically, and in the way we work. 

In the good ole floppy days our data needs were pretty basic because much of our work still lived on paper and in filing cabinets.  Now our office work is almost completely electronic and as such is subject to new types of disasters.  Whereas it would have been hard for a single office worker to destroy entire filing cabinets of data (unless they had a flamethrower) today that same worker can inadvertently wipe out years of work from scores of people in literally the blink of an eye or a tap of the delete key.

When studying data loss there are three main categories to consider; hardware failure, physical disaster events (such as floods or fire) and human error.  Many business owners do not realize the impact of human error as a cause for data loss.  Most office workers are not likely to delete entire data sets but the advent of ransomware has greatly magnified the destructive potential of a single miss-click.  The bad guys are good at deceiving even the most savvy computer users into clicking on email links and web content that will quickly lock up your key data files and demand a ransom for you to get it back.  For more information on ransomware attack prevention check out my blog article here.

Now let’s look at todays equivalent of yesterday’s floppy disk backup strategy.

First, what should you be backing up?  Well we say everything that is important; of course.  But not only the files you and your staff have created, but also the key configurations that give you access to that data.  You’ve invested in the infrastructure that contains all your data and that includes all the labour that went into setting up and configuring your server infrastructure.  Today’s BDR solutions capture exact image copies of the key computers in your business.  These image backups allow for quick recovery when the hardware fails and the duplicate image can be booted up virtually in a matter of minutes.  This gets your business back up and running quickly and allows your IT team time to fix the hardware problem while your company continues to operate.

Secondly, where should you store the backups?  As with the floppy disk example a copy should be kept onsite for quick access and a second copy kept offsite.  Today we take advantage of broadband internet connections to push copies to datacentres in other parts of Canada.  It is important to note that the data being transferred needs to be securely encrypted in transit and at rest in the datacentre.

Thirdly, how do you know if your backup is actually any good at all?  Because as in the scenario at the beginning of this article shows it’s often when you need your backup that you discover it has not been working.  Back in the floppy disk days we would have to pop the disk in the drive to see if the backup was there.  If your business is still using tape backups the only way to verify the backup is to conduct a test restore; a time-consuming process that often gets forgotten.  Today we employ a powerful feature that takes the latest backup image, boots it up and takes a screenshot of the booted virtual machine. The screenshot is emailed to us daily and proves that the last backup was successful.

There are many more techie details I could go into about modern BDR solutions and features but ultimately our goal as an IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) is to offer our clients solutions that truly protect their business data and give them peace of mind.  So, come flood, fire, hardware failure or human error you can know that your data files are actually backed up…whew!