Updated: July 16, 2019
Backups are an extra copy that’s kept for safekeeping. For most people, it’s an insurance policy for data that would be devastating to lose. This could be the 17 gigs of music that you downloaded before they shut down Napster. (Google it.) The server where you host an entire anthology of internet cat memes. Or the last 8 years of business financial records. “Devastating” is clearly in the eye of the data owner. But either way, not having an extra copy is playing the odds. If you’re running a business and gambling without backups, you should know that 60% of small and medium-sized businesses will shut down within 6 months of a data loss. 1 The world will probably be okay without an anthology of cat memes, but will your business survive a critical data loss event?
How Is data lost?
The list of ways that data can be lost is almost comically long. It contains everything from a technician tripping and dropping a drive to hackers that encrypt your data and hold it hostage. And pretty much everything imaginable in between. More generally, if you ask IT professionals, they will tell you that the main 3 causes of data loss are hardware or system failure (31%), human error (29%) and viruses, malware or ransomware (29%). 2 If you’re still curious about the list, I’ll include the highlights:
- drives overheating
- water damage from a hurricane
- fire damage from the restaurant next door
- file corruption from glitchy software
- ceiling collapse
- the diet coke “incident”
- impact damage (when you tripped and dropped it)
- an employee deleting files as a parting gift to management
- power outage or surge (it was a squirrel)
- deleting files (accidentally)
- copying over the wrong files (also, accidentally)
- not knowing what you’re doing (obviously)
- opening a weird file from a coworker’s email
- hackers exploiting a network weakness
- smash and grab theft
- absentmindedly leaving your laptop on a bus
Okay, yes, I had a little fun with this list. But these things do happen all the time. FEMA even has a handy guide about planning ahead, since “about 25 percent of businesses do not reopen after disasters”. 3 Sure, a lot of that could be because the ceiling collapsed, but what about the servers that were under it?
Do I Really Need Backups?
It’s easy to make assumptions about why backups are necessary. But what may not be obvious is the cascade of events that can occur after a data loss. These events can quickly become financially catastrophic for a business.
- daily business grinding to a halt because “everything is down”
- all your employees idly standing around
- customers leaving your business; perhaps complaining online
- sales are lost to competitors
- the added expense of replacing the faulty hardware
- the time and expense to hire a data recovery service
- possible violations of proper information storage regulations
- lawsuits (HIPAA laws vary from state to state)
- more lawsuits (this time for unfulfilled contracts)
- the time and expense for a campaign to rebuild customer trust
What to Look for in a Quality Backup Plan:
1. Backups Run Regularly
Daily is ideal. But weekly could still be enough. Consistency is key, so make sure they’re running regularly. If you’re not sure how often you need to run backups, let your data use provide the answer: Let’s say on Sunday night, you run your weekly backup. Later on in the week, on Friday night, your business experiences a data loss. Your latest backup from Sunday is missing the last 5 business days of data changes. Can you afford this much of a gap in the data? Or did that scenario just make you break out into a cold sweat?
2. Backups Run Properly
Even when a backup is running regularly, it can still error and not be completed. Backup reports need to be checked. And it’s vital that any error be investigated and that any issues be promptly corrected. Just having backups is not enough to protect your data. Only 27% of backups are tested on a weekly basis. 4 And this leaves another gap in your data protection. Weeks of failed backups are useless to you.
3. Multiple Backups Are Retained
Sometimes a glitch in the system will be discovered weeks later. Or maybe you just want the version of a project from two weeks ago. It’s important to have working copies of these files in case you need a roll back on a file or an entire system. A good rule of thumb is to keep daily backups for 14 days and weekly backups for 6 weeks.
4. Backups Are Offsite
It’s important for backups to be stored in a different physical location from where you operate your business. Since physical damage can be caused by anything from a kitchen fire to an earthquake, you need some distance between them. If your business is already using hosting, you may want to consider having your backups stored in a separate data center.
How Much Do Backups Cost?
Most backups are either a flat rate fee plus storage costs or just an additional percentage on top of whatever you’re paying for hosting. Online backup services from a dedicated provider start around $5-10 a month, depending on your data needs. Either way, it’s usually a good idea to disregard the sticker price and pay close attention to the fine print, especially if you’re signing a contract.
Preventing data loss is an essential part of wise business practices. And even though the ways that data can be lost are wild and strangely unpredictable, your backup plan shouldn’t be. Plan for the unexpected and set up a quality backup plan that consistently works to protect your business.
(1) Clutch. Infographic: Is your data secure? #WorldBackupDay. Retrieved from https://clutch.co/cloud/resources/world-backup-day-2017 (November 13, 2018)
(2) StorageCraft. Data Loss Statistics – Infographic. Retreived from https://blog.storagecraft.com/data-loss-statistics-infographic/ (November 13, 2018)
(3) FEMA. Stay in Business after a Disaster by Planning Ahead. Retrieved from https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2018/10/30/stay-business-after-disaster-planning-ahead (November 13, 2018)
(4) Ontrack. Ontrack presents new release of World Backup Day. Retrieved from https://www.ontrack.com/resources/press/details/65148/ontrack-presents-new-release-of-world-backup/ (November 13, 2018)