Losing data is as bad for a business as losing money. The stats make that clear. According to government stats in the US, nearly two thirds of companies that lose their data irrevocably shut down within six months of the incident. 93% of those that cannot resume operations within 10 days file for bankruptcy within a year.
Data is what makes the modern business go round. Critical company records, everything from customer details to accounts to inventory to day-to-day working documentation, are now mostly stored digitally in one form or another. Lose any or all of that, and suddenly your business can grind to a halt. Even when data losses are not catastrophic, they are disruptive and expensive. In 2014, it was estimated that data loss cost the global economy $1.7 trillion. To break that down a little, that’s something like $154 for every item lost.
Why so expensive? Well, as we’ve suggested, losing data can have a direct impact on your businesses’ ability to function. Lose a product database that feeds into your eCommerce site, and suddenly you can’t make sales online until you’ve rectified the problem. Lose all your finance and invoicing records, and you are likely to suffer delays getting paid, or orders from suppliers will be held up. As well as lost revenue caused by disruption to your business, there will usually be a cost involved in trying to recover the stray data. Then there are factors like damage to your reputation and regulatory breaches to add in.
Data losses can have many causes, ranging from ‘act of God’ accidents to human error to malicious or criminal behaviour, which might include physical theft or vandalism as well as cybercrime. But whatever the cause, there is one frontline form of protection against all forms of data breach and error – backing everything up.
Data backup is a straightforward form of system failover which guards against the potential inconvenience and cost of your data systems being compromised. By saving everything on backup drives or servers in duplicate, you mitigate much of the damage hardware failure or theft or malware can cause. Instead of being left without the critical data you need to run your business, you just recover what you need from your reserve system and go again.
Despite the clear benefits, many businesses are still not on top of backing up their data, or are not protecting themselves adequately. But with modern cloud-based and hybrid backup protocols readily available and easily accessible, there really is no reason for anyone to take risks with their data these days.
Why data backups are essential
The simple truth is that IT systems are vulnerable in a number of different ways. Whatever type of hardware you save your data on – individual laptops, PCs, smartphones or tablets, flash drives, SD cards or external hard drives, mainframe servers – they are all prone to failures of firmware or drivers, physical damage and theft. Networked databases can be hacked and infected with Trojans that steal your data, ransomware attacks might threaten to erase or lock you out of your drives if you don’t pay up. And then there is always the risk of someone making a mistake when saving something to a particular drive. A simple slip of a button or lack of awareness can easily lead to something important being wiped or overwritten.
Backing up your business systems and data is therefore a form of insurance against any of the above happening. The simplest form of protection against outages, damage, loss or crime is to have everything duplicated on a reserve system so, if the worst happens, you can recover everything you need.
The ability to run a rapid data recovery from a backup source will save your business from damaging downtime, loss of revenue and the expense of trying to salvage data from corrupt or compromised systems. But data backups also protect your business in a range of other ways.
Business records, especially finance and tax records, often have to be kept for a certain length of time for compliance purposes. If the tax authorities decide to audit your business, for example, and you find a large chunk of your financial records are inaccessible or missing, you could land yourself in a lot of trouble. Companies are expected to keep records safe and available for the length of time required by law, which also means protecting your data. Certain industries such as financial services have added legal obligations to keep other forms of data for certain lengths of time, while privacy laws such as the GDPR place more of an onus on all organisations to look after personal data.
In more general terms, data backup can be seen as part and parcel of sound data governance, the sort of practices which keep records and archives in good order. Neat, tidy, efficient data management can have all sorts of knock-on effects for a company, from reducing the time it takes to compile reports to minimising the risk of duplication when working with data. Productive and effective data management in turn can do everything from boost customer and investor relations to give a company a competitive advantage in the market thanks to better use of business intelligence.
How to back up data
- Decide what you need to back up. You can think of this as carrying out a ‘data audit’, analysing how your company uses data and identifying what is and is not essential for the running of your business. Storing and archiving data you don’t really need will only add cost and complexity.
- Plan where you will store your backed up data: This is a crucial consideration because so-called geographic redundancy – that is, storing data in different places to compensate for risks to physical hardware – is a key protection against catastrophic data loss. We will discuss this point in more detail below.
- Determine how often to back up your data: If you suffer data loss or a system outage, any recovery will roll back to the last moment you carried out a back up. If this was a week ago, you are still likely to have lost a lot of valuable data and subsequent damage to your operations. Backing up a minimum of once a day is usually recommended.
There are plenty of options for where you can store your data and what kind of equipment you use, but the main categories are physical hardware on the premises, physical hardware located elsewhere, or a cloud-based solution. All have their own strengths and it is often good practice for businesses to use a blend of all three options in hybrid deployments. Let’s take a closer look at each option.
This is the default option used whenever you save anything to the local drives on a particular machine or to on-premise office servers. Introducing protocols where you duplicate everything to both, or onto other media like external hard drives, flash drives or high capacity digital tapes, provides some protection against small scale faults or errors on individual machines. But in the event of a fire, a major incident of theft, or a large scale malware violation, you could find all copies compromised or lost, taking the protection of the back-up away. Saving copies of work to local hardware is useful as you work because it is quick and simple, but for more robust protection should be supported with other back up procedures.
This can be as simple as backing up your whole on-premise system to a digital tape and taking that tape off the premises every evening, meaning if disaster strikes at your offices you still have a safe copy. But as network technology has increased in speed and reliability, more and more businesses are taking the opportunity to back-up company systems to remote servers. This might be a case of using a Wide Area Network (WAN) to automatically duplicate copies of vital data on servers dotted around different premises. Equally, businesses have the option of using a ‘bare metal’ third party back up service which saves data onto servers hosted in a data centre.
Cloud back ups
Nowadays, the most flexible, cost effective and reliable back-up services are those that offer storage in the cloud. Like bare metal data centre storage services, they provide a remote back up option which ensures geographic redundancy. But in addition, cloud back up also makes use of virtualisation, saving data on hypervisors which draw resources from several different servers at once, often from several different locations. This provides the ultimate in geographic redundancy – your data is effectively stored in several locations at once, or you might say in the virtualised ‘ether’ of the cloud with no single specific location. Even if there is a catastrophic outage at one data centre, or one server fails, your archives will be safe and easily recovered from the rest of the cloud store.
Cloud data backup services like that offered by M247 are often private cloud rather than public cloud solutions, which means you get dedicated storage and connectivity resources exclusive to your business, rather than sharing with other business. This adds a further security layer for your critical data, although some companies take up the option of hybrid cloud back ups, using cheaper public cloud options to store less important assets, and private clouds for the more essential things.
M247 also offers data backup as part of a larger Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) package, a cloud-based solution which includes full system and application replication in a virtualised environment, workload recovery and system failover, public and private cloud mobility and managed firewalls. This service therefore goes beyond straightforward data backups by automating save schedules and recovery along with system protection protocols to deliver one of the most comprehensive IT failover services available.