Much like flossing your teeth, data backup is one of those seemingly mundane tasks that many small business owners know they "should do," but never quite get around to making happen. But while it may take months or even years to lose your teeth to poor dental hygiene, you can lose all your data — and potentially your entire business — in the split second it takes for a hard drive to fail.
According to L.D. Weller, a product manager at Symantec, it can take hours, days or even weeks to recover lost data files — if you ever recover at all. "Companies that balk at spending hundreds of dollars to set up a data backup system often end up paying thousands trying to restore data after disaster strikes," says Weller. Some small businesses can't survive the wait and go out of business altogether.
Every business — no matter what size — is prone to the same vulnerabilities when it comes to data: external threats such as software viruses or internal threats like floods and fires or hardware failure. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that a business with five employees needs to evaluate its backup needs in the same way as a conglomerate with thousands of employees. The solutions vary greatly, but the process is identical.
Knowing what you need is the first step to creating a workable plan. Weller recommends taking the following steps before you determine what hardware, software and tech support will safeguard the information that keeps your company running.
Evaluate your critical data. Take a hard look at your company's data and decide what information you simply cannot afford to lose. This typically includes financial information, client lists and other information essential to daily operations. "Take a video rental business as an example," says Weller. "Losing the inventory listings that track who has what movies and which titles are in stock could be devastating." Focus on protecting the critical data first. You can always backup the non-essential data later, as your budget allows.
How long can your business be down?.Once you know which data files are critical to your operations, think about how long your business could survive without them. Several days? Hours? Knowing how long you can stay afloat will help you if you end up outsourcing your tech support. When it comes time to negotiate your service level agreement — the amount of time the vendor has to get your data and system back up and running — you'll know what to ask for.
Where and how will you save your data. While any kind of backup is better than nothing, Weller believes that backing up your hard disk to tape is not nearly as reliable as backing up from one hard drive to another. "We recommend disk-to-disk backup, and you don't have to spend a lot of money. It could be something as simple as plugging an external firewire drive into your PC, adding a second hard drive to the server or something as upscale as a NAS (network-attached storage) device. The more you separate your backed-up data from the original source, the more secure your system will be."
Who will provide your technical support?. It's important to recognize your own limitations when it comes to tech support. If you aren't tech savvy, you're not alone — so get over it, and find some one who is. "If your business doesn't have in-house IT support," says Weller, "you're even more likely to need outside help with disaster recovery." No matter who provides it — your IT department, the kid next door or a third-party vendor — it's important to line up your tech support before you actually need it.
After the Assessment
After completing the steps listed above, you're ready to research the right solution for your business. Remember, protection doesn't just mean against viruses. "A lot of people still think if they just buy virus software they're protected," says Weller. "You also need a software product that provides disaster recovery and restore capabilities and incremental backup," he recommends. Incremental backup let's you determine how frequently your backup runs — every hour, once a day, once a week — it depends on your needs. You'll also have to decide the best backup storage option for your situation. You may need advice from a tech-savvy outsourcer.
Don't fool yourself into thinking that a data disaster can't happen to you. It only has to happen once to jeopardize all the hard work you've to put into your business.
Here are a few sites to help you get started.
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