9 questions to ask about your backup solutions

A man looks at his monitor. He has two laptops open on his desk.

What would you do if you turned on your computer and suddenly everything was gone? Would you have the backups you need to restore your computer, or would all the data be lost forever?

IT backups are an essential part of IT disaster recovery planning. When you have quality backups, duplicates of systems or files are saved in a separate device or location. If an IT disaster occurs (like a ransomware attack), backups can help restore mission-critical systems and data.

But how do you know if your current backup solutions will do their job when disaster strikes? We've outlined nine essential questions to ask your IT provider or internal IT team about your backups. Answering these questions will help you understand what's backed up, when, where, and how it will help in a crisis.

WEBIT Services has helped clients build IT strategies and safeguards for over 25 years.

By reading this article, you will learn what to discuss when creating your backup solutions plan and how they help ensure successful backups.


1. Have you identified all mission-critical systems?

Mission-critical systems are vital in completing your company's key tasks and goals. Without these systems, your business cannot function.

If you haven't identified your mission-critical systems, you will encounter one of two problems:

  1. You're not backing up what you need to be, which leaves holes in your recovery plan and your business's ability to come back online.
  2. You are backing up too much unnecessary data and losing money by paying for backups you don't need.

Identifying your mission-critical systems first helps prevent both issues. Then, you and your IT provider or team will know the systems you need to back up and restore to keep your business going.


2. Are you backing up the entire system or just the data?

This question will help clarify which kind of backup is saved for each mission-critical system (file-based and image-based) and the time it will take to restore the system.

File-based backups only store individual files and data, not operating systems or programs. So, for instance, it will save a Microsoft Word document but 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. In this case, when you restore an image-based backup, you restore the entire computer system—applications, data, programming, etc.

The kind of backups you use will significantly influence your restoration time frame and recovery plan.

File-based backups are great for saving data, but they take longer to restore than image-based backups.

For example, your laptop's memory is wiped, and you ask your IT expert to restore the computer using backups. However, before your technician can add the file-based backups, the laptop must be reprogrammed, and applications must be added. This process may take weeks.

If you have image-based backups, the technician only has to open that backup file, and your computer, programming, applications, and data will be restored.


3. How far back can you go?

How long are you storing your backups, and from how far back? What happens to your older backups? Answering these questions can help paint a clear picture of what you can restore.

For instance, let's say you have a file that's only accessed and updated once a quarter. An employee accidentally deletes it, and no one realizes it because they won't open the file again for three months. When the next quarter rolls around, you discover the file is gone.

Do you have backups that are three months old or older? If not, then that file and all of its data are lost. Unfortunately, it cannot be restored.

However, if you have backups from the last quarter or beyond, you can restore the file from its previous save point.


4. How quickly can you recover?

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.

Continuity restores critical systems as quickly as possible to avoid significant interruption to your business.

However, depending on the kind of backups you are using, they may take days or weeks to restore.

The smaller your recovery window timeframe, the more It will cost to build redundancy and recovery speed.


5. Is your backup tested?

Your backups must be tested daily to verify that they are functional and not corrupted files. If backups are not tested, you may find out too late that your backups are corrupted, and the data is lost forever.

It's important to note that backup testing is not the same as continuity testing. Continuity testing is more extensive and performed annually instead of daily.

Backup software will run daily reports. However, it's important to note that these reports are not the same as backup tests. The report says, "These are the systems we backed up today," while a backup test says, "These backups work."

Regularly testing your backups guarantees that vital systems can be restored in a crisis.


6. Who gets called when something happens?

If an IT disaster strikes, you don't want to waste time trying to find the correct contacts and processes. Instead, you need to know the proper contacts and protocols to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

This information should be a part of your IT incident response plan, which includes backups.

As you develop this plan, verify your IT recovery contacts with your IT provider or team.


7. Does your backup include local and cloud options?

Backups can be physical systems on-premises (local backups) or in the cloud, and it's important to determine whether you want one system or both.

Users should avoid assuming what kind of backup system is used. Instead, you must have a clear answer regarding where your backups are stored, so you have an accurate backup plan.

For example, what happens if you only have local backups and your server room floods or catches fire? Unfortunately, in this situation, you once had backups, but now they're broken. The data is lost.

However, cloud backups help guarantee systems can be restored even if your local backups are damaged.


8. Does your system have room to grow?

As you back up systems and data, you use storage space in your backup system. But what happens when that storage starts to run out? Who is checking to ensure enough storage space for new backups? Do you have a plan for overwriting files or expanding your storage?

For example, a new application update can create a massive spike in memory space used. Does your system have the capacity to accommodate updates like this? Or will your backup system crash due to a lack of memory space?

This isn't a question you want answered in a crisis. You and your IT provider or team should know how much space your backups require to function correctly.


9. Are your backups encrypted?

Backups should always be encrypted to protect your data from unauthorized users, thieves, and cybercriminals.


Next steps for understanding and preparing your backup and recovery system

Regarding backup and recovery systems, it's dangerous to work under assumptions. You must clarify the details of your backup system before a crisis occurs.

Otherwise, you may find your situation worsening as you discover that the wrong backups were made, backups were corrupted, or you ran out of memory and, as a result, your system crashed.

As you revisit your recovery plans, ask your IT provider or team the following questions regarding your backups:

  1. Have you identified your mission-critical systems?
  2. Are you backing up the entire system or just the data (image-based vs. file-based backups)?
  3. How far back can your backups go?
  4. How quickly can you recover?
  5. Are your backups tested?
  6. Who gets called when something happens?
  7. Does your backup include local and cloud options?
  8. Does your system have room to grow?
  9. Are your backups encrypted?

Ask these questions annually. In a year, a great deal can change. For example, you may have adjusted your mission-critical systems or learned that backup regulations were altered.

So make sure your backup system and processes meet your current business needs. If a year has passed, talk with your IT provider or team and reevaluate your backup system to ensure that it continues to meet your needs.

WEBIT Services has been performing risk assessments, creating incident response plans, and enacting IT strategies for satisfied clients for over 25 years.

If you're looking for a new IT provider, book a free 30-minute assessment 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 like disaster recovery, we recommend the following articles: