Backup Strategies

by Tony Beecher, Vice President of Technology, A-Z Media Group
I have been burned more than once by a catastrophic hardware failure where my single backup method failed and I was reduced to starting from scratch. I have since done an incredible amount of research into backup strategies. I hope that my research can help save you from the pain of losing your business-critical data. System failure is not only extremely stressful; it can break a business.Steps to a good backup strategy are:
1. Back up your business-critical data every day
2. Perform a secondary backup to your data
3. Take a copy of your data offsite
4. Test your recovery process before you need it

Protect Your Data

Too many business owners feel that they are too busy to take the time to back up their data. This mindset can be easily cured when their disk drive kicks the bucket, taking all of their customer information, sales, financial data, inventory, and email with it. Try to imagine how you would run your business without this vital lifeline. You need to remember that a disk drive will die one day. It is just a matter of time.

Popular backup methods include:
– Backup to tape
– Backup to a disk drive
– Backup to CD/DVDs

The most common defense method is a backup to tape. This can be performed unattended using a variety of software programs; some are even built into the operating system. My backup strategy is to copy all of my important data from both of my servers to a 4mm tape every night, using Symantec/Veritas Backup. Every morning I swap the tapes. I maintain a continuous supply of 2 weeks’ worth of tapes. The stockpile of tapes allows me to go back in time in case someone deleted an important file a week ago and just now noticed.

Another backup method utilizes an additional disk drive. This drive should be either a network drive or a self-contained USB external disk drive. This is a lower-cost alternative, but I recommend that you use this as a secondary backup since the backed-up data will live in the same place as the main computer.

If you do not have a great amount of data to protect, you can always back up to a CD or DVD. This can be a lower cost method, but it requires more manpower than the other options.

As a backup to my backup plan I also use Second Copy to copy my critical data from my mail server to my file server every night. I also have Second Copy perform a copy of the user files from file server to mail server nightly. This way if I have a catastrophic failure that is confined to one machine, I can simply rebuild the server and perform a file transfer to quickly put the data back in place.

Take a Copy of your Data Offsite

One of the most important steps in your backup strategy is to maintain a copy of your data offsite. By physically taking a copy out of the building, you are protecting yourself from a major building catastrophe. With a copy of your data you can rebuild a computer and have access to your financial, inventory, and receivables data.

Another way to get your data offsite is to use an online storage facility. There are many companies who have backup servers on the Internet. They offer programs that run on your computer and copy your important data to their servers on a scheduled basis. Two of the companies that I use are Mozy and Xdrive. You can do a Google search for ‘online data storage’ for other similar companies.

I currently keep the last 2 days’ worth of backup tapes in my briefcase. By keeping 2 copies I am hedging my bet in case the first tape has a problem. I figure that it is better to recover from data that is 2 days old instead of losing my data completely.

Test your Recovery Process

It is also important to test your ability to retrieve your data from your backup device before you need it. This test will insure that you can perform the task in an emergency. My recommendation is to build a folder structure on your disk with some sample files. After you have performed the backup you can delete the test folder and then restore the folder from the backup.

Taking a few moments to rehearse your recovery strategy can save you an incredible amount of stress when a disaster occurs.

Apply These Methodologies at Home

It is also important to note that these processes can and should be applied at home. I am sure that you have known somebody who had something go horribly wrong with their home computer and lose their data. These days a typical home PC holds your finances, investments, email, home inventory list, digital photos, and much, much more. Imagine you came home and found your computer missing. What would you do?

Here is what I do. Every night my home computer uses Second Copy to move any new or changed data to my wife’s computer at 1:00 A.M. At 3:00 A.M. my wife’s computer moves her critical data to my computer. In order to get a copy of our data offsite I use Mozy to take a copy of our critical data and store it every couple of hours. It only copies new or changed data. I also occasionally burn a copy of my data to a DVD and take it to work for storage.

Paranoia? I don’t think so. We all know that computers are far from perfect, and that they can betray us by crashing without warning. You’ve worked hard to build your business; don’t allow your critical information to disappear. I learned the hard way that one backup system is not enough. Use multiple strategies to protect your hard-earned data.

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