Disaster Recovery

We have all experienced the feeling of annoyance after typing a long SMS or Email and just before sending you inadvertently push a wrong button only to find that your entire message is lost forever and you have to start all over again. If you have ever had a cell phone stolen then you will be familiar with the exercise whenever you receive an SMS of kindly notifying the sender that your cell phone was stolen and all your contacts lost and can they please identify themselves so that you can add them back to your contact list.

Most of us will also have experienced the cold sweat induced upon learning that your computer has crashed and no data could be recovered or that it has been stolen and there were no backups. If it was your personal computer then the extent of your loss will include things like important documents, emails and your beloved photographs. If it was your business computer then you may have been reduced to tears upon learning that your sales, clients, bookings and other important data have been lost.

If you own and work with one or more computers then you will experience data loss in some form or another and in most cases more than once. There are a number of ways in which this can occur from hard drives crashing, to theft, to fire, to being struck by lightning and even human error.

Backing up your data

This brings us then to the matter of backing up your data. We all know how important it is but unfortunately we don’t take the threat of data loss seriously until we lose our data. When you realize that you will never be able to capture those personal moments in your photos again or just how valuable your client database is then you will vow to never let it happen to you again.

So just how can you go about backing up your data in order to make sure of this?

I think the first step is to do a quick analysis of just what data is important to you and where it currently resides. This would include identifying things like your contact list on your cell phone, your important documents on your laptop or your server, your business data, your emails and any other information that is important.

Another important consideration is in cases where you may be running a server for your business. Not only is the data on the server important but the server environment itself is important because your server will generally house your business software including things like point of sale, email servers and so on. In these cases not only do you need the data recovered but you need the machine with its operating system and relevant application software up and running so that you can continue with your business activities.

In cases like your server computer the best solution would be a complete back up of the server drive/s in such a way that if one hard drive were to crash then you would simply roll over to another one with no notice of any interruption. If you can afford it or if the importance of your data and the nature of your business dictates this to you then talk to your I.T administrator about your options in this regard.

If you budget does not allow for this then a once a day back up is your next best bet and this should be able to back up your entire drive so that everything is recovered. The down sides being the loss of any data since your last back up and having to set up another server environment (ie re-installing the operating system and other application software).

Apart from a back up to another drive that resides at your offices you should also being doing backups that are stored off-site. One option could be to rotate the backup drives, ie keep one in a remote location and every week or every few days you bring that one back to the office and swap it out with the most recent back up. That means that at any given time if your server and your on-site back up drive are destroyed you will have a backup off-site that is not more than a few days to a week old.

For mission critical data I recommend also backing it up to a cloud location at least daily. For example, your business data (clients, sales, bookings, stock etc), which is only a subset of all the possible data on your server but likely the most important should be small enough in size to be able to backup to a cloud storage solution daily, whether this is to a free option like Dropbox (using your ESP Event Manager) or a paid version like Iron Tree.

In cases like your own personal emails, photos etc I would recommend an external hard drive. Im not talking about the little mini flash drives that travel with you wherever you go, but rather one that you would keep in a safe place at home so that if your computer were stolen or went up in flames then you would have a backup in a remote place that you can restore.

Recovering from a disaster

Backing up your data is one thing, restoring it is another matter altogether. Ensure that you have a clear plan in place in order to restore your data, ie where will you get the data from, what software will need to be restored.

Ensure that you have all your software licenses in a safe place. In most cases it is easy enough to get another copy of whatever software you have purchased but unlocking your software is another matter so keep an inventory of important software you own, what version you are on and the license keys for each.

Periodically test your back-ups to ensure that the data is intact and can be restored.

Data recovery in a business context should be documented as an emergency procedure.

Is cloud computing the answer?

For many the answer to data backups is cloud computing (loosely speaking, internet based computing). The reason for this belief is that none of the data resides on your own computer and therefore if your own computer crashes then the data is untouched.

This is true to a large extent and in many cases good back up policies will be in place with the companies that host your data, however, it also means that the provider controls your data and if you discontinue your service then you may be cut off from your data so ensure that you keep local copies of your cloud data.

Take responsibility

Just like it is your responsibility to ensure that your household items, your car, your health and your business have adequate insurance so it is also your responsibility to ensure that your data is being backed up. Unlike with motor vehicle insurance whereby you can replace your car with the insurance payout you cannot replace your data in the same way.

Therefore make sure that you know exactly how your data is being backed up. Do not simply assume that your management staff or your I.T provider have backed up your data because firing them after the time will not bring your data back.