Backing up your data: Your storage options

dataBackupWhatever the size of your business, regularly backing up your data is absolutely essential. No matter how many safeguards you put in place, your data is always vulnerable. Not only is it vulnerable to cyber-attacks, but also to physical risks such as theft, flooding and fires. Not to mention user error – let’s face it, we’ve all deleted a file by mistake at one time or another.

There’s no question that your business needs a backup solution, but how you go about that is up to you. There are a few options to consider, so we’ve outlined the key questions to consider in making your decision.

The cheapest route
The cheapest, but most definitely least-effective method of backing up your files is to keep a copy of important files on flash drives or optical discs (DVD / Blu-ray etc). This is time-consuming and will require you to establish a safe and appropriate storage location for your media. Considering that you will never be able to complete a full, comprehensive backup of all your data using this method, we certainly wouldn’t recommend it to any of our clients. However, for a home user, any sort of backup solution is better than nothing.

Local or remote?
The simplest option for sole traders and small businesses is to back up files to an external hard drive. Portable storage is very affordable these days, and you can get a lot of storage space for your money. How you go about managing this solution is up to you, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that data corruption and online threats are only part of the problem. You also need to safeguard against physical damage. You might want to have a trusted staff member remove the backup drive from the premises overnight (you will probably need more than one drive to implement this system effectively) or you could invest in a fire-proof safe.

Another option is to use a NAS setup (network attached storage) so that your backup drive is actually in a different location and can be accessed remotely. This immediately reduces the threat of environmental risks in the workplace, and means that your backup drives do not need to be portable. Of course, the viability of this option is dependent on the geography of your site, and whether you have multiple buildings with space between them.

The best option, cost permitting, is to implement both a local and a remote backup solution, keeping in sync with the local system. This means that the remote backup is used only in extreme circumstances. This method safeguards against all eventualities, but means that for minor cases such a corrupted drive or accidentally deleting a file, there’s always a local copy of the data to hand.

How much data?
Data loss can cost a business a great deal in terms of time and money, so it’s imperative that you back up everything. For larger businesses, that may mean that you’re backing up a huge amount of data. If this is the case, then you may wish to consider backing up to magnetic tapes instead of hard drives. Magnetic tapes can store up to 15TB of data and will therefore be a more affordable option for large businesses than purchasing the equivalent capacity in hard disc space. Data can be quickly recovered and restored, and they are reliable and easy to transport. Just like a portable hard drive, they can be removed from the premises or stored in a fireproof safe.

Different methods
There are four main methods of data backup, all with different demands on computer resources / bandwidth usage. The first is a full backup, which is a robust and comprehensive solution, allowing you to easily recover any file from any date. This regularly backs up all of your data to your backup storage device, which means it requires a lot of disc space.

A better option for a lot of companies is an incremental backup – which only backs up files that have been changed since the last incremental backup. This uses less storage space but is more demanding in terms of computing overhead. A full backup should still be regularly carried out alongside this option so that it can be restored from in the event of disaster.

A third type of backup, known as a differential backup, is similar to an incremental backup, except that all files are backed up if they have changed since the last full backup.

A combination of these three methods might be preferable, and we can recommend the best solution to meet your needs. All solutions need professional backup software to work effectively and to ensure data such as mail and other databases are backed up properly.

The fourth method is a virtual full backup. This creates full backups from incremental backups and stores them to tape – giving you date and time-based restore points from which to restore your files.

The cloud
Cloud computing offers an easy solution to backing up your data, which removes the need for messing about with magnetic tapes and portable hard drives. If all of your data is stored on the cloud, it is safe from localised risks of data loss and has the added advantage of being available remotely, so you can access it anywhere.

The downside is that using the cloud (particularly for large amounts of data) can be a large ongoing expense for the company, and the initial upload of all data must be planned well. You must also take into account the security risks if dealing with sensitive data. Use of the cloud is also dependent on a fast and reliable broadband connection. Often companies will use the cloud only for certain elements of their infrastructure, such as email, but not for full data backups. There are also lots of free cloud storage solutions available online, such as Dropbox, Office 365 and Google Drive, which can be very useful for accessing certain files remotely, but be aware of the limitations on space and services.

If you have any questions about data backup solutions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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These tips are written as guidance and to raise awareness only and do not represent advice.