Computer Backup Strategies for Small Businesses and Individuals

Computer Backup Strategies for Small Businesses and Individuals

Why do you need to do backups?

A savvy computer user knows if they don’t do backups their luck is eventually going to run out and they will suffer data loss. In this article we will review various Backup Strategies to ensure your data is protected no matter what disaster occurs. We will cover the why, what and how of backups as well as how they can minimize impact to your business.

What events am I trying to protect against?

This must be your starting point. You must first start with your objectives and define the “disasters” you would like your computer backup strategy to protect you from, then you can work backward. Which of the following events below are most important to you?

  • Data theft or damage due to ransomware and other malware or viruses. See our recent Ransomware article.
  • Hard drive failure due to age, corruption, fire, flood, power surge or natural disaster
  • Laptop loss, theft or physical damage due to dropping or banging it
  • Accidentally deleted files or folders
  • System down time so employees can service clients quickly after an outage.
  • Loss of business, time and money while waiting to rebuild your system or to reconstruct lost data.

Which of these items do you expect to recover during a outage?

When a computer crashes there are many components within it that can be recoverable. Everyone has different expectations as far as what they would want to recover. These are some of those recoverable items;

  • Files and folder data (pictures, spreadsheets and other documents).
  • All currently installed programs (which you may or may not have the CDs for)
  • The exact state of your working system. Which includes customized computer settings in Windows or Mac OS and all of your programs it took years to customize.
  • Company wide server access with server roles such as, File and Print Sharing, Domain Controller, Active Directory or a Microsoft SQL Database. If these services are down customers may not be serviced properly. This can effect everyone in your company.

What backup method should I use?

The backup method you select will depend on whats most important for you to recover (above). It will be easier to choose one of these three backup methods below once you have answered the questions above;

  • File level method is perfect for backing up your data (documents, files and folders). You should at the very least be considering this type of backup.
  • Image-level backups are perfect for when you want to protect an entire system including data, programs and the exact working state of your computer. This is usually the case with servers and important desktops or laptops. Image backups allow for really fast recoveries (in minutes). You get back your entire working system, not just your data.
  • Business continuity can assure that critical corporate IT services are never down (or can be brought back online very quickly). For example, lets say something happened to your office building and file server in a fire, flood or natural disaster. If this happened we can quickly spin up a virtual backup copy of your server on an appliance or in the cloud and your employees can work from home. This provides immediate and the ultimate protection to regain access to critical servers and company network and allows a business to continue to operate. This is referred to as business continuity.

Where should my backups be stored?

Once you choose a backup method above your next step is to determine where you would like to store them. Backups can be stored locally, in the cloud, or a hybrid of both. We usually recommend a hybrid solution. There are pros and cons for each, but if you do both you will increase your ability to recover from just about any loss. These are your options;

  • You can store local backups to external hard drives/usb sticks, a Network Attached Storage (NAS) or an appliance designed for this purpose. Local backups allows for quicker restores, since no data transfer is needed over the internet.
  • You should also have offsite backups in the cloud for critical data through a reputable backup provider. Cloud backups protect you from damage to your home or office (fire, flood, etc.).
  • Objectives are evaluated first in order to choose the appropriate local device and provider for your situation.

Can I just use sync software and cloud drive storage?

File and folder copies made to a local or cloud storage with sync software is not a substitute for true backup software. We do not consider file sync an adequate primary backup solution. Of course, this is better than not doing any backups all. Sure you can sync up a copy of the files and folders on your computer or file server to a Local Hard Drive, Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox and others, but that sync won’t protect you from all scenarios above. This is just one data copy which is not sufficient to protect you.

What recovery objectives should you set?

It’s best to establish 3 parameters around what your backup recovery should look like. Here we are defining exactly what we want our backup to accomplish.

  • The first parameter is your recovery time objective (RTO). What is the maximum acceptable amount of time (in minutes or days) to restore your system to a fully working condition. Image recoveries are usually completed in minutes while file/folder require you to rebuild your system first which can take anywhere from a few hours to a full day depending on its complexity. A server can take way more time and can impact the entire company. How long is acceptable to you?
  • Second is your recovery point objective (RPO), which represents the maximum amount of time (in minutes or days) of data that you can afford to loose. Can you afford to loose 15 minute, 1 day or 1 weeks worth of work? If you are okay with loosing up to 1 day worth of work or less then just backup once per day.
  • Last is the maximum tolerable period of disruption (MTPOD). How long (in minutes or days) before your business begins to suffer? What outage duration can you tolerate? This information is critical to determine if you will be using file-level backups or image-level continuous backups and if it will be stored local and/or in the cloud. These factors will determine how fast you can get up and running.

Why should you monitor and test your server backups?

Monitoring and testing your server backups are critical tasks that must be done to insure the integrity of your backups.

  • Daily backups should be monitored for completion and error messages. Backups do stop working periodically and this is why they must be monitored daily. Who is responsible for this in your company and how do you know they are checking it properly and as often as they should? Would you rather have your IT person do this for you?
  • Backups should always be tested periodically to see if they contain readable data. Testing is is the only way to know if your backups are actually working and that data is not corrupt or damaged.  The frequency of testing can vary from every six months, more or less depending on your specific needs. Testing can be as simple as spot checking files to see if they can be opened or go all out and perform an actual recovery to an alternate location to ensure your ability to recover data is working as it should. Having many backup copies protects you if your backup is corrupted and you don’t know it yet. Do not wait until you lose data (restore time) to test your backup as it may be too late.

When should you review your backup plan?

It is best to set aside some time on an annual basis and give some thought to your computer backup solution. You don’t have to spend much time on it. Just ensure that your backup objectives are still the same, everything is up to date and running as you would like it to. The trick to preventing a data loss is to be proactive, plan and have redundancy. These basic tips will get you started and going in the right direction.

If you have any questions on choosing a backup solution that’s the proper fit for you please call us at (732) 702-5400. Pro-Tech can assist you with backup strategy planning, implementation, as well as other services. Please see our website homepage for other services we offer.

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