• Grant Sinclair

The Almighty Backup

Updated: Nov 8, 2018

In the world of sailing there is a practice that any competent sailor will follow. If you don’t, good chance you may die. It is the concept of the grab bag, also known as the ditch bag or panic bag. It is a waterproof bag that contains many survival items you may need if you must abandon ship. It is a last resort bag that you will take into your life raft when you bail.

There is a similar protocol in the IT world that has a very similar aim. This is the data backup. When all hell breaks lose you can always rely on the backup, or can you? It amazes me how few business owners understand the importance of this simple action. It can save lots of tears, many man hours of extra work and of course money.

We found in a recent snap survey that about 70% of businesses did not know what their backup status was. 20% said that it was all in hand as their IT “guys” have this covered and only 10% were confident in their backup strategy. Very few took us up on our offer to check the validity of their backups. For free. Needless to say, this response floored me. Why would you take this risk?

Responsibility of the backup used to be that of the IT department or an outsourced IT expert. The reason was that IT was part of the DARK ARTS. Mere mortals like us did not understand it.

Remembered that even experts make mistakes. Many years ago, a big manufacturing client of ours had its own in house IT department filled with experts. In answer to our questions about backups we got the standard “our IT guys have it covered”. One day I got a desperate call from one of these "experts" requesting my urgent help. It appeared that their data had become corrupt, as data does from time to time, and he had restored a backup. Here were the issues. He had not backup the damaged data. Damaged data is repairable but at a cost but if it is your last resort it may be worth it. The backup file they restored was empty. There was no backup. By sure luck we were able to resolve their issues, but this goes to show.

It is far easier to make backups now but there are still many who don’t understand the gravity of the situation. Don't ever think this will never happen to you. How are you protecting your information and what would it mean to you to lose it? Unfortunately, the only way we learn is the hard way.

So, what to do? especially taking into account you may not be an expert. It’s actually quite simple and it does not matter how big or small your organisation is.

So how, where and how often should you back up? This will depend on the type of data. There are two types of backups. Incremental backups and full backups. The difference is that a full backup is as its name suggests a full independent backup. This will give you one copy each time you backup.

The incremental backup is a backup that only backs up the files that have changed. You will always only have one copy. The biggest difference is the amount of storage space your backups will take.

The other factor to consider is the nature of your data. If you are storing excel spreadsheets you will only want a copy of the last changes you made. Incremental backups are best.

If you are running accounting software, you may need to go back a few days. You can then find the error and correct it, even more so with payroll backups. Discuss this with your IT guy.

Ok, so what are your backup options? Here is a list:

1. Copy and paste to the PC you are working on.

2. Copy to a flash drive.

3. Copy to a portable hard drive.

4. Copy to an online storage facility like One Drive or Dropbox

5. Install backup software that sends your data to a cloud-based storage facility. You can schedule the process.

6. Have your IT guy run a copy of your data to a separate server.

7. Have your data hosted by a 3rd party which, as part of their contract, will also take care of your backups.

All are valid options but not on their own, so use them. Unlike on a boat, data storage is almost unlimited. This will depend on the size of your data of course. My mantra is “you can’t ever have too many backups”. The low cost of data storage gives you no excuse.

Another factor to consider is the issue of viruses and ransomware. These have forced data backups to a different level. We all know about viruses and they are becoming very clever. Ransomware, which is a type of virus, encrypts your data and only gives you access once you have paid the ransom. You may never have access to your data again. This means that backed up files on the same server or network will suffer the same fate. This includes portable hard drives left connected to the PC or network when it is attacked. The safest option is to disconnect and remove these hard drives from the premises.

Let’s look at reasons why you may want to backup:

1. Accounting staff may want to backup before posting a big batch. If there is an error, they can restore and do it again. This is a temporary need and you want easy access when you need it. No problem back it up on the same PC.

2. Even though you know that there is a full backup done by IT you may still want to back up your data, to be sure. That’s fine, do this on your PC or even better on a flash drive or even better, a portable hard drive. I would recommend a portable hard drive that is then taken off-site or stored in a fireproof safe. Remember, if you store it on your PC it is in the same place as your live data and if you lose one you lose both. If you store on a flash or portable hard drive and leave it in the office, you may also lose both. If you take the flash drive and portable hard drive off site, you will still have your backups. But flash drives fail, so rather use a portable hard drive. They also fail but far less often.

3. Now for the more permanent reasons. This plan is for outright failure. If your data is completely lost, what do you do? This is disaster recovery. because you are a small entity do not think that this is beyond you. When you lose your data, it WILL be a disaster. In bigger operations they may have a full IT department that will use a dual hard drive system. This is a second copy of everything that is happening on the first drive. If this fails, then it means you switch over and carry on. This should not be your only safety net. I have seen a client who had both drives fried by a power surge it was not pretty.

4. The safest option, is hosting. Hosting is where all your programs and data is off-site and managed by a 3rd party. They will take care of your software, data and your backups. This is more expensive but for bigger clients it is well worth the cost.

5. Then there is the off-site backup managed by your IT guys. This is a scheduled backup on a second and separate server. If your double disk system fails, you will have this one to fall back on.

6. Then there is the cloud backup. This is a subscription-based backup option. You get an application you load on your system that allows you to select the data you want to backup and to schedule it. It then runs without human intervention. It also sends daily reports on what was backed up and if there were any issues with your backup. This is great provided someone is looking at it. You pay for the storage you need.

So now you have the background what do you do?

1. Make a list of all the data sources you have. Examples would be Excel, word and any other Microsoft data you may have. e-mails, accounting software, payroll software and any other packages you may have.

2. Armed with this list make a note of their locations. For this you can call your dedicated IT guy, your outsourced IT guy or go find an IT guy to assist you. They understand file extensions and how and where programs store their data.

3. If you are a one- man PC business then I would suggest you sign up to one of the subscription-based backup options. Give us a call we can recommend some. I would also recommend buying a rather inexpensive portable hard drive. You can do a daily backup onto this and store it in a fireproof safe, if possible, in a different location to your PC.

4. If you have many users operating on a network get them to save their data to a centralised server. You can then arrange the same backup protocol as mentioned in point 3.

5. If you have many laptops in your business then use the same protocol for each laptop as in point 3 above.

6. Bigger businesses will have a dedicated IT professional or an outsourced IT professional. They would take care of your off-site backup. They can also assist you in setting up a subscription-based backup to cover all bases.

Remember backups will always be the responsibility of the owner or the directors. If you have not put the systems in place and empowered your staff to look after this data, then you are to blame.

You can appoint someone else to do the actual work for you. It will still be your responsibility to sign off on the disaster recovery protocols and to ensure they are followed through.

There is one sure thing owners/directors can do to ensure their data is safe. Run a simulation like a fire drill. Recover all your data and have someone make sure it is the correct data. This is your one sure way of being safe.

And in closing, remember you can be a bold sailor or you can be an old sailor, but you will never be an old bold sailor.

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