Backing up your data on a regular basis is crucial for businesses of all sizes. In the event of a disaster, having previous versions of your corporate, customer, and employee data can mean the difference between a minor delay and a major meltdown. For example, let's say your corporate headquarters gets flooded and all of your hardware is destroyed. A cloud backup of your information will ensure that, after a brief physical rebuild, your company can be up and running again. However, if you've never run a backup, then you'll essentially be starting your business from scratch, building up data points one by one until you're able to create some semblance of what you had before the flood.
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Additionally, backing up your data lets you get back up and running after your endpoint protection software determines there's been a breach. With a combination of security software and regular backups, you'll be able to spot threats as they occur, expel them from your network, and then revert your network back to its most recent, most secure state.
Datacastle President and CEO Ron Faith and I discussed six ways you can simplify data backups and how they will help improve your business, regardless of your company's size.
1. Automate Backups
You don't want to have to manually back up your data every time there's a concern. You want to be proactive and set automatic backups to happen on a constant and recurring basis. This way, no matter when a disaster occurs, you know there's a backup sitting there waiting for you. Conversely, manually backing up data means you're relying on your own diligence or the diligence of an employee (someone who may get sick or leave the company). If a day, week, or month of backups is missed, then you can be in serious trouble if and when a disaster strikes.
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"You want a centrally managed policy that's automatic," said Faith. "You want to have it run continuously in the background. If you rely on employees and end-users to be compliant, you're going to be out of compliance."
2. Look for Integrations
To diversify where you store your data backups, you'll need to look for two or three solid vendors. When you're conducting this search, be sure you're picking vendors that integrate with their competitors and with the variety of applications you use to conduct business. This way, if you need to migrate bits and pieces of your data from Vendor X and bits and pieces from an app, then you'll be able to slide the information into Vendor Z's platform without having to write new code in the middle of a disaster scenario.
"You want integration with the administrative tier of the company," said Faith. "If you're using Active Directory and you have a single sign-on infrastructure, having your solution integrated into those things so that you can have a consistent view across different endpoints and servers is important."
3. Create Multiple Copies in Multiple Regions
It's important to create copies of your data in multiple regions; this is especially true for companies that operate across geographies. For example, if your New York-based company has offices in the United Kingdom and Spain, then you should probably have multiple copies of your data stored in New York, in the United Kingdom, and in Spain. This process safeguards against location-based disasters as well as file disasters. So, if New York and Spain can't access your company data, then the United Kingdom will have access to the files. And, if by some chance one of the United Kingdom files was corrupted, then you'll still have an extra copy or two saved there as well.
For small businesses, the same logic applies. Although you might only have one location, you can still save multiple versions of your data backups, and you can still diversify where and how the data is saved. Most data backup apps have settings that let you automate the backup of your data to multiple locations, so it's often just a matter of point-and-click.
"This is where we are strong advocates for going to the public clouds like Microsoft Azure that have built-in capabilities that can assist you in these areas," said Faith. "You want redundant backups. You also want to be mindful of local data restrictions. Make sure you're working with a provider that can have your data available from anywhere and compliant depending on your region and industry."
4. Go for the Public Cloud
If you're not trying to get too deep into the weeds about how to manage your data, then you'll want to choose a public cloud service such as Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS). The cloud is cheaper than storing files locally but it's also much easier to use, especially if you're working off of someone else's infrastructure. With clouds such as Azure and AWS, all you need to worry about is managing the dashboards Microsoft and Amazon provide you. They'll deal with the local administration and data recovery issues your IT staff would have to manage if an issue were to occur with your own personal servers. If you choose to go with a hybrid or private cloud, then you'll end up managing your dashboard as well as certain aspects of the cloud and local infrastructure; this will ultimately make your IT operation more complex than it needs to be.
5. Use Analytics to Pinpoint Backups
Although backup and recovery was once thought of as a process used to rectify data loss after a disaster, today's software lets these systems provide more complex and proactive services. For example, if your company is asked to provide data to legal authorities, then you can use a data backup and advanced analytics to pinpoint the exact data that's needed. Then you can present the information while your company is up and running, rather than shutting down your entire business and handing over your physical servers, laptops, and smartphones while an investigation occurs.
"Today, a lot of what you get in terms of analytics is server by server, node by node, or endpoint by endpoint," said Faith. "But there's more interesting information you can derive from advanced analytics and smart data discovery. For companies that are in industries with a lot of oversight, when you get an e-discovery request or a legal hold requirement, you're able to respond to those quickly and easily with advanced analytics."
6. Give It a Whirl
Finally, make sure to test your backups every once in a while. Set-and-forget is a trap into which many small to midsize businesses (SMBs) fall when it comes to backup. Most backup apps are almost completely automated so it's easy to forget they're working, especially when most of that work is probably happening after hours. However, it's very important to take 30 minutes every now and then and make sure that (a) the data you need to have backed up is actually being saved, and (b), just as important, that you can actually recover that data within the time frame you're expecting.
Just because your backup logs indicate a backup was performed on X date at Y time, doesn't necessarily mean everything is fine. Transmission to the cloud might have been spotty or broken or perhaps the files you saved somehow became corrupted. That's not something you want to discover the day you actually need to access your backup files. So, just take a few minutes and restore a few files from your most recent backup every now and then so you know for certain everything's working.
Most hardcore IT professionals will counsel a monthly or even weekly test of your backup process, but that's coming from folks who work in IT. If you have an IT staffer in your company, then by all means, testing monthly is probably your best balance between data safety and IT workload overkill. But, if you're a small business owner without IT staff onboard, then you can play a little looser with your backup testing schedule, though once a quarter should be your minimum.