10 essential things to remember about data backup


It has been said ad infinitum on this blog that data backup is one of the most important IT tasks you will ever perform in your business. Servers, desktops, laptops and tablets are all replaceable. Your data is not. But we keep seeing the same fundamental backup mistakes again and again. These leave your business wide open to data loss.

So, let’s get down to the brass tacks and look at some mindsets, assumptions and scenarios which lead to data loss.

1. The “I don’t have time to back-up” mindset held by some SME owners is short-sighted. If you perceive data backup taking up too much time, wait till you see how long it takes to recover from a catastrophic disk failure or a ransomware attack. A properly configured backup system should not take up any of your time. It will just run in the background automatically – minimal human intervention needed.

2. “We’re using mostly new computers here we don’t need to back-up”. Having the newest and shiniest IT equipment does not exempt you from backing up. Hard drive failure rates follow what is known as the “bathtub curve” of failure where the probability of failure is elevated in the first 12 months of a disk’s life. Moreover, cryptographic ransomware does not care how new your equipment is.

3. “Our IT support guy said all the data was being backed up to that box over there” We’ve been hearing this old chestnut for years. When you do check the timestamps of backups of “that box over there”, which is normally a server, NAS or external hard drive, you sometimes find that their backup is months out-of-date. The only thing “the box over there” was amassing was cobwebs.

4. The same phenomenon happens with the Cloud backup solutions, some SME owners will say “our data is being backed-up to the Cloud” as if some divine intervention is spiriting their data safely into the clouds. Your data needs to be verified, no matter how reputable you think your Cloud back-up service is. And on the subject of Cloud backup, it would be a good practice that on some idle Friday afternoon to perform a mock restoration of data. We have heard several horror stories of SMEs restoring from Cloud backup services only find all their data corrupted.

5. There are some still SME owners in Dublin who still are only performing local (i.e. not off-site) backups. While Dublin might not get tornadoes or severe lightning strikes, the risk of fire, burst pipes, flood, sabotage, theft and ransomware attacks is ever present.

6. With the multiplicity of data-holding devices such as smartphones, tablets, desktops, laptops, external drive and USB memory keys, data sprawl sets in. This results in many office environments having a hodge-podge of different data sets. This is why your data need to be categorised, prioritised and centralised.

7. Once you have your data categorised, your back-up plan should endeavour to back-up all data to a central file-server (hosted or local). Some SME owners (and some IT admins, alas) make the mistake of backing-up each system to a direct attached storage device. These devices (such as USB external drives) are then used to back up other systems. What results is a messy data sprawl, making reliable off-site back-up more difficult and data restoration processes more time consuming.

8. Some backup software vendors make a virtue of how comprehensive their backup products are. For example, their software might offer one hundred different ways to back-up. Complexity does not make backup software better or more reliable, it just elevates the risk of human error. Complex backup software is anathema to best backup practice simply because users hate using software that is designed like a tax form. Simple, easy-to-use backup software will trump complex software any day. Apple Time Machine is a classic example of this. When software becomes too complex to use, some users stop using it and will resort to drag n drop backup strategies with a USB memory stick…argh.

9. Encryption-based ransomware attacks have been a real game-changer in terms of backup system configuration. Some of the recent variants of ransomware have been extremely agile in propagating across networks from just one infected Mac or Windows system. Good backup systems are designed with such eventualities in mind and support versioning and backup set isolation.

10. Finally, it is important to remember that every IT set-up is constantly changing. Employees leave and new employees arrive. Hardware gets changed. Software gets changed. A good backup system should be flexible enough to be easily re-configured to allow for such changes.

Don’t have nightmares about data backup. RealClear IT Support is based in Dublin, Ireland. Our (local and hosted) backup systems are easy-to-use, reliable and secure. We also support Apple and Windows systems via our remote and on-site service. Call us on 01 685 4833 for some professional, experienced and practical advice.