The 3 Steps to Successful Data Backup

How to Protect Your Critical Business Data

Always backup your devices!
Business data needs backup. Peopleimages / Getty Images

Data protection is crucial for protecting your business's continuity. If your only data backup is on a computer, and the hard disk fails or is damaged by a power surge, your business data is gone. And having paper copies of business data isn't adequate data protection; what if your business premises burn to the ground or experience severe flooding? Once again the data you need to carry on your business could be irretrievably lost.

For adequate data protection, you need to establish a data backup system that follows these three steps:

  • archive business data regularly;
  • create data backups on reliable media;
  • keep updated data backups in a secure, off-site location.

The basic rule for business data protection is that if losing the data will interfere with doing business, back it up. You can reinstall software programs if you need to, but recovering the details of transactions or business correspondence is impossible if those files are lost or damaged beyond repair. The rest of this article outlines each of the steps listed above so you can establish a data backup system that will effectively protect your critical business data from disaster.

1) Archive Critical Business Data

Archiving business data is more than a matter of good housekeeping; it could be a matter of your business's survival. There are two steps to archiving business data for successful data backup;

  • identifying the critical data that needs to be archived
  • and using a data archiving method on a regular schedule.

What needs to be archived in a data backup? Executables, such as software programs, don’t need to be. You don’t create new versions of executable programs and, as I’ve said, if a software program was lost or corrupted, you could reinstall it fairly easily.

However, all of the files that you’ve created and/or modified should be regularly backed up. For many businesses, this includes everything from accounting files through email.

You can simplify your backup archiving by keeping all the files that will need to be archived on a single drive on your computer. For instance, suppose you need to back up accounting files, word-processing documents, spreadsheets, photos and email. Putting Simply Accounting, Microsoft Office (including Outlook) and Paintshop Pro all on the D:/ drive makes it easier to archive all the files you've created or modifed using those programs. All you have to do is back up the drive. While you don’t have to back up executables, it doesn’t hurt them if you do.

Once you've selected the critical data to be archived, it's a simple matter to install and use a backup software program to archive your business data on a regular schedule.

I recommend backing up your data nightly. There are many backup software programs available that allow you to set a schedule that will archive your data automatically. Look for backup software that zips and encrypts files to save disk space and increase data security.

If possible, backup over your computer network, keeping your data backup files on a separate hard drive from the original files.

If this isn't possible because you have a stand-alone computer, put your data backup files in a separate directory, and increase your schedule for creating physical backups.

What kind of physical data backup system is best for data protection?

The second step of data protection is creating data backups - not just once, but on a regular schedule. But before you do this, you need to be aware of the different backup systems available and the limitations of some backup media.

2) Creating Physical Data Backups

Physical data backups are necessary because of the possibility of computer failure or damage. Even a minor accident such as spilling a cup of coffee onto your laptop could destroy all your data if that's the only place your data resides. You should create physical data backups of your business data at least once a week, or even more often if your business generates large amounts of new data daily.

There are several methods of transferring your backup files to another media, but some data backup systems are more reliable than others.

Which backup media should you use?

Using USB (thumb) drives

USB sticks are constantly increasing in capacity and are highly useful for quick data backups. While not having the capacity of external hard drives they have fast data transfer rates and are highly portable. You can easily backup data to a USB drive and take it offsite. As they have no moving parts USB drives are very reliable.

Using external hard drives for data backups

For small businesses, buying and using an external hard drive for data backups is the recommended method. External hard drives are inexpensive compared to tape drive systems. They’re also easy to use; simply plug the hard drive into your computer’s USB port. Most external hard drives come with backup software.

Using online backup services as data backups
Using online backup services makes backing up your data easy - which is just one of the reasons cloud computing is ideal for small businesses

But is cloud data backup a good idea for your small business? There are disadvantages, too, chief among them the issue of security. Your business data is sensitive; privacy issues are always a concern with client data and intellectual property. Choose your cloud backup provider carefully if you choose this method. 

Using tapes as data backups

If you have large amounts of data to backup (or wish to make and retain regular complete data archives for long-term storage) tape backups are the best option. They are highly reliable but are substantially more expensive than other forms of backup.

Using DVDs as data backups
Using DVDs as data backups is no longer popular. Blank DVDs are inexpensive, and copying data onto DVDs is easy. However, DVDs have a low storage capacity and are the most unreliable method of all the data backup methods listed here. Who hasn't had the experience of putting a DVD into a drive only to find that the data is unreadable and the disk "doesn't work"? DVDs have a limited shelf life. I don’t recommend this method of data backup for any small business. 

3) Off-Site Data Backup

The only businesses that should be keeping their data backups on-site are those with fire-proof, indestructible safes. Investing in a tape drive or external hard drive and meticulously adhering to a regular data backup schedule won't help if all your data backup copies are in one place and that place is struck by disaster. You must store copies of your backups off-site if your business data is to be truly secure. (Cloud backup does not totally eliminate this concern but is certainly better than many physical locations.)

Many businesses keep their data backup copies in security boxes at banks. (The fee for a security box is tax-deductible, if you need further incentive.) Some small business owners keep multiple data backup copies of their records at the homes of different friends or family members. It doesn't really matter where you choose to keep them, as long as the site you choose for off-site data backup is secure and you have regular access to it.

Back It Up or Risk Losing It

Don't run the risk of losing your business data. The best defense against such a disaster is proper data protection. By creating a backup system that includes archiving and backing up your business data regularly and properly, you'll ensure that your business will be able to weather whatever storm it faces and carry on.