Your data is your data. It’s your property, your responsibility to maintain, and your butt on the line if everything crashes and suddenly disappears.
Still, some people — especially small business owners intimidated by the thought of setting up their own data backup and disaster recovery plans — prefer to let the fate of their data rest in the hands of the hosting company.
In some cases, those business owners just ignore those nagging twisty feelings in their guts telling them they should be taking better precautions. Other times, they may not even recognize they’re leaving their businesses vulnerable to potential disasters.
If you fall into either of those camps, this article is for you. We’ll talk about why you should always (always!) back up your data and have a disaster recovery strategy. And, just in case your eyes are already starting to glaze over at the prospect of dealing with technical issues, we’ll also explain how to accomplish this with minimal hassle.
Why A Data Backup Disaster Recovery Plan Is So Important — And How To Get Started
First of all, what is a data backup?
Data is the lifeblood of your business. When you transact with a customer, the details of that transaction are stored as data. Each employee has their financial information connected to your system so they can get paid, and that is also data. If you have a business website available online, the text you publish and the changes you make are all stored as — you guessed it — data. Unless you run a curbside lemonade stand and accept only cash, your business wouldn’t exist without data.
A data backup is essentially a second (or third, or fourth…) copy of your company’s data that you store somewhere safe, away from the original copy, so you don’t lose everything if the worst should happen.
What is data recovery?
Recovery is what you do after the worst has already happened. The meteor has struck, the damage is done, and now you have to pick up the pieces.
Your recovery plan is the protocol you will use to take your backed up copies (stored somewhere away from the meteor strike, of course) and load them back onto your system.
A rudimentary backup and recovery might resemble what happens when you switch cell phones. After an hour or two of transferring data, your old apps will be downloaded onto your new phone and you can probably access your contact information. You’ll still have to log in to all your accounts and reconfigure most of your settings, but at least you’re not starting from scratch.
An advanced backup and recovery plan is more like what happens at a hospital when the power goes out. Within a split second, backup generators power on and connect seamlessly, so the guy who’s lying on the table mid-surgery doesn’t die and the life-support machines keep chugging without interruption. Done well, it should appear to everyone that nothing eventful has taken place.
Why is it so crucial for a company to have a backup and disaster recovery plan?
The unfortunate thing about the digital world is that disasters can always happen. It could come in almost any form:
A hacker locking you out of your system and forcing a hard reset
A power surge damaging your hard drives
Your hosting service closing its doors
A fire in the server room
An inexperienced employee pressing the red button, ignoring multiple warnings to never press the red button!
If you operate for long enough, eventually something will happen that wipes your slate clean.
Having only one, live version of your data is like setting off on a transatlantic flight in a tiny two-engine puddle hopper that has one dead engine. You’ll make it for a while, but sooner or later, the whole thing is going down in a blaze, and glory will not be involved.
Even relying on your hosting provider to provide backups isn’t optimal. For one thing, not every service provides backups by default, so you may be flying with just one engine and not even realize it. For another, services that do provide backups often do it only for a short term. If everything crashed and you needed to access data that was saved more than one to three months ago, you would likely be out of luck.
What goes into building a backup plan for your company?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for data backups. Your company’s needs and your own personal risk tolerance will play significant roles in this decision. The following questions will help you determine your best course of action.
How much downtime are you willing to put up with in case of an emergency?
The answer to this question will vary depending on your business. If you supply critical healthcare equipment to disaster first responders, you probably can’t afford to go offline for any time at all. But if you sell custom-painted pet rocks to the frazzled parents of first-graders, a couple hours of downtime is not a life-or-death situation.
What data would you like to back up?
Ideally, the answer to this question is “all of it,” but saying it and making it happen are two different things. You’ll need to back up your servers, your databases, your website, your system settings, and probably several other critical aspects of your business. If, as with many businesses, your website exists on a different server than your primary databases, you’re already looking at arranging and keeping track of two or more different backups.
How far into the past would you like your backup to reach?
Third-party services provide backups on their own schedules. Microsoft, for example, backs up data for 92 days by default. After 92 days, the data gets deleted and replaced by new data. If you haven’t updated your files in six months and you suddenly need to access a really important file from last year, you’re going to have a bad day.
How will you test your disaster recovery plan?
Remember those days in grade school when the fire alarm would go off and all the kids would excitedly stream out of the building, happy to spend fifteen minutes shivering in the cold rather than sitting in class? Think of disaster recovery tests as your data’s equivalent of a fire drill.
We recommend picking one day per year to test your plan. Without telling anyone in your company or your IT department, shift all operations over to your backup system and see what happens.
Did any of your employees notice problems? Did you have trouble switching over to your backups? How many irate customers called in to complain about unexpected service interruptions?
Based on your experiences, you might learn that you need to adjust your backup and recovery strategies.
How do you get started backing up your data today?
You have a couple of options.
You could take a hands-on approach and source a third-party backup service for yourself. A few online plans go as low as $6 per month, per user, and offer backups that go back as far as you want. This works perfectly for some small business owners.
However, not everyone has the time or desire to research third-party backup providers. Beyond that, almost no one wants to have to remember to schedule backups, update all changes, optimize recovery plans, and conduct regular tests.
If you’d rather “set it and forget it,” BEMO could be right up your alley.
BEMO will handle your data backup and recovery so you don’t have to.
When we contract with a new client, one of the first things we ask is, “Would you like to set up a data backup?” Clients are free to say no, of course, but for the reasons we discussed above, we highly encourage them to say yes.
Once a client agrees to back up their data, we hold their hand through each of the steps. We determine how much data they have, their expectations around the process, the amount of downtime they’re willing to endure, and so on. Then, we help them choose the best option for their unique business, and we take the reins on getting it all set up. Essentially, all the client has to do is tell us what they want.