What would you do if you turned off your computer and all your files were gone? What would you do if none of the programs worked or had also vanished?
This is stressful on a personal computer, but what if this happened on your work laptop? Or for your office?
Would you have to start from scratch? Or would you have copies of the data saved and ready to reinstall?
Backup and recovery systems safely store data from a designated timeframe in case data is erased or compromised. It's a safeguard against total data loss, preventing severe financial loss.
WEBIT Services has helped clients build IT strategies and safeguards for over 25 years.
As an IT provider, we know we are biased in recommending clients work with an IT provider to build their backup and recovery systems.
However, we also recognize that you know your business and its needs best. Therefore, we hope this article brings some insight and clarity regarding the backups and the process surrounding them.
By reading this article, you will learn what backups are, what decisions you need to make in creating a backup and recovery system, and whether you should build this system independently or with an IT provider.
Defining IT backups
Backups are snapshots of important pieces of data from a particular point in time. It's essentially a "photograph" of your data.
It's important to note that backups are not IT continuity. Continuity saves and restores data in real-time, while backups save data within a set timeframe.
For example, you may back up your system every 24 hours. Every day at 6:00 PM, all the data for the day is safely stored. If your system crashes the next day, you can restore the files from the last saved backup.
There are two kinds of backups: file-based and image-based.
File-based backups store individual files but not operating systems or programs. For instance, it will save a Microsoft Word document but will not restore the Microsoft Word application.
On the other hand, image-based backups save a "snapshot" version of your entire operating system, files, and programs when it was saved to your backup system.
Backup and recovery systems restore data that may have been lost when:
- A computer crashes
- Systems or files become corrupted
- Someone deletes it
Creating your backup and recovery system
Creating your backup and recovery plan is similar to creating an IT continuity plan. First, you must determine what data you need to store, how long to keep it, and where to store it.
1. What data do you need to back up?
You may not need to back up all of your company data. To choose what data must be backed up, ask yourself, "What data do I use every day, and what data can't my business afford to lose?"
Consider what files or software you must have to operate your business daily. What data could halt productivity if you couldn't access it? Also, how much downtime can you afford?
If you lost this particular data, you could not run your business and would lose money for every hour your system is offline. Having good backups can reduce stress, financial loss, and the time to get your system working again.
You must also consider your industry's IT compliance standards if you are in a regulated industry. These industries have clear guidelines for data backups, recovery, and continuity, telling you which data to back up and how long to hold it.
Failing to follow IT compliance standards results in heavy fines and potential legal action.
2. How long do you need to keep the data?
This covers the frequency of the backups and how far back the backups reach.
How often do you want to back up your system? Do you want daily backups or weekly? Or do you want hourly backups?
How long do you need to keep the backups once they've been saved? For example, do you need access to three months or a year of backups? Five years? A week?
To determine how frequently you backup and how long to hold files, ask yourself the following questions:
- How much data can I afford to use?
- Will there be legal action if I lose this data?
- What are my industry's compliance standards, if it has any?
- What risk level am I comfortable with? Am I more comfortable with higher risk (less frequent backups)? Or do I prefer low-risk (frequent backups)?
It's important to note that the more backups you need—the more frequently you need them saved and the longer you need to hold them—the more storage space you will need.
3. Where will you store the data?
You have to choose both physical and systematic data storage. This is an integral part of the IT strategy for your business.
Data can be stored physically on-premise or at a remote location. Some systems and programs also offer a Cloud-based storage option. Some businesses choose a single site, while others prefer a combination of storage location options.
Your IT provider or internal IT team can help you determine your needed space and match you with a system that can meet your data storage and functional needs.
Once you have a storage system, you'll need to decide on the filing system for your data. If you have one in place, you will need to run an assessment to locate the data and ensure it is properly placed.
You will also need to consider the following questions:
- Who has access to the data and its backups?
- What are the procedures for backing up the data?
- If you add more software or data to the backups, where do these go?
- Are employees aware of these procedures and backup locations?
Maintaining your backups
Even with excellent backup software and a sound backup system, your backups must be regularly tested and maintained.
Backup software programs will run reports to let you know if the data is saved. While this is a good indication that the software is storing data, the software cannot identify if the data was corrupted during the save process.
Data becomes corrupted when the save process is interrupted. For example, if you are saving a document but your computer dies before the save is complete. This corrupts the file, meaning it won't work correctly and cannot be restored.
It's essential to have someone verify daily that data backups work correctly.
If you have file-based backups, can you open the file?
If you have image-based backups, can you boot up the image and interact with the operating system, files, and applications as if you were booting up your desktop?
If you cannot open the files, that backup is corrupted. If your IT system crashes and the backup data is corrupted, you cannot restore your system or the file you need.
The only way to restore your system, data, or lost files is with uncorrupted data backups.
Who will maintain your backup and recovery system?
To keep your backup and recovery system "healthy" and ready for crises, you will need someone dedicated to monitoring and caring for the system.
You create risk if your backup process feels like a "click it and forget it" system. Backups are a daily process to make sure data is accessible when needed.
Maintaining backups using internal teams
Maintaining your backup system independently or using an internal IT team is possible. However, backup and recovery systems are complicated and require time to maintain.
Backup and recovery systems need daily checks to ensure the backups are not corrupted. Some must test each backup file. If a file is corrupted, a new uncorrupted file must replace it. This process can be very time-consuming.
If your internal IT team will handle this process, it's recommended to have at least one technician dedicated to maintaining your backup and recovery system. This person must be familiar and comfortable with the backup software, systems, and processes.
This way, your backup quality is ensured while the rest of your team can focus on helpdesk tasks and overall IT system maintenance.
Maintaining backups using an IT provider
Most experienced providers will include backups or IT continuity as a separate service to offer more customized packages. They can help with both the practical and strategic sides of backups to create a system that works well for you.
Quality providers have experts and proven processes that will guarantee effective backups. They will also discuss backups and recovery as part of your onboarding and quarterly risk assessments.
It is a major red flag if a provider does not discuss your backup plans and system. Backups are vital in restoring data that was suddenly lost. If your IT provider does not recognize this, it may be time to look for a new provider.
Next steps for creating a backup and recovery system
Backup and recovery systems help protect you from human error and system failures. Well-maintained backups restore valuable files and systems in a crisis.
If you can erase your data and still function as a business, then you don't need data backups. However, many companies heavily rely on data and, therefore, need a backup and recovery system.
In creating your backup and recovery system, you will need to ask the following questions:
- What data do I need to back up?
- How long will I store the data?
- Where will I keep the data?
- Who will maintain my backup system?
If you're unsure how to answer these questions, consult your IT provider or internal IT team. They can help provide guidance and develop this system to help protect your data and prevent lost data and profits.
WEBIT Services has served hundreds of satisfied clients in the Chicago area for over 25 years.
If you are looking for a new IT provider or want to develop a backup and recovery system, schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see how WEBIT Services can help.
If you're not ready to make a commitment but would like to learn more about IT strategies, we recommend the following articles:
- How to determine critical IT systems for an IT service continuity plan
- What is an incident response plan, and do you need one?
- What is an IT Roadmap?
- What is a vCIO? | 4 main roles and how they help your business
- Data Backup vs. IT Continuity
- 3 ways users address IT risks (and the hidden cost of doing nothing)
- Cybersecurity Risk Levels: Where do you draw the line?
- Managed IT vs. Managed Security vs. Compliance: What are the differences, and where do they overlap?