Protecting your data

Protecting your data doesn’t need to be complicated Protecting your data doesn’t need to be complicated

With over 60% of companies that lose their data shutting down within six months, it is crucial to have a business continuity plan and to make sure that you are backing up your data regularly.

by James Fell, Kaleton IT Solutions

Yet many businesses, especially smaller organisations, do not think seriously about what would happen if they lost all their data. I’ll try to outline the basic ways of protecting your business against data loss and reinforce the importance of implementing at least some of them.

You probably have professional indemnity insurance and other types of business insurance 'just in case' something bad happens. You should think of backing up your data a bit like having an insurance policy. If disaster strikes, it could be the only thing that stops you going out of business.

Many people running small companies put off business continuity planning as it can seem like a daunting task. Protecting your data doesn’t need to be complicated though. An effective disaster recovery plan is about introducing multiple layers of protection for your data.

RAID Array

Raid Array

For example, you may choose to use a RAID array in your key PCs or file servers. This is basically having two or more hard drives that work together to introduce redundancy into your storage. All your data is present on more than one drive, so if one drive fails, you are not going to lose your data. You can simply replace the broken drive with a new one and carry on as before.

A RAID array is excellent protection from hardware failure and a good first layer of defence. However, it does little to protect from accidental erasure of data. If a virus deletes or overwrites the data it will be deleted from all drives in the RAID array. The same is true if a hacker or disgruntled employee deletes your data or if you do it yourself accidentally.

Duplicate your data

To protect from accidental or malicious deletion it is a good idea to duplicate your data to a second file server or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device on your premises. This can either be done at a specific interval, such as every 24 hours, or you can use a process called Continuous Data Protection (CDP) that backs up changes in real time. Using CDP is probably overkill for most small businesses. It is useful on corporate email servers where restoring from a 24 hour old backup could result in thousands of emails being lost though.

If you have a good on-site backup routine such as what we have described so far you are reasonably well protected. Your data is stored on multiple hard drives and multiple separate file servers. However, if a thief should break into the office one night you could still lose everything. Servers and other computer hardware are easily carried off in a burglary. A flood, fire or other disaster at your premises could have the same effect with everything being destroyed. So naturally, the next layer of protection is to introduce an off-site back up.

In the past this meant backing up to tapes or USB hard drives and then storing these somewhere else. Thankfully, high speed internet connections and the development of cloud storage mean it is a much easier process.

Cloud storage

Cloud Storage

So what do we mean by cloud storage? In simple terms, the cloud concept means paying for storage and other resources on a remote network managed by a third party instead of using your own hardware in-house. It is accessed over the internet and usually billed in the same way as your utilities (gas, electricity etc). In other words, you only pay for whatever resources you actually use.

From a backing up perspective, you can upload your data to a remote network and pay for however much storage you use each month. The cloud service provider then has the responsibility of keeping the systems running efficiently, fixing network problems, replacing failed hard drives and so on.

Another useful aspect of the cloud concept is that things are usually instantly upgradeable. If you need another 100 gb of storage for example, you do not need to order another hard drive and then install it in a server. You just upload your extra 100 gb of data and it is absorbed by the cloud and added onto your next bill.

This can often be a much better way of doing things than making a large capital expenditure on your own in-house infrastructure and IT staff. It can also be used to provide an off-site copy of systems you have in your office.

Typically cloud storage can be accessed through a drive letter on your office file server or PC as if it was a physical hard drive. So for example, you might have a Z:\ drive that acts like a normal hard drive. When you copy a file to it though, it is automatically compressed, encrypted and uploaded to the remote network. This makes backing up your data off-site a piece of cake.

The main limitation to backing up with cloud storage is the speed of your office broadband relative to the volume of data you want to back up. Even if you have 2 Mbps broadband and 100 Gb of important data, this isn’t as big a problem as you might think. This is thanks to a technique known as incremental backup.

The first time you make a backup you will need to upload everything. After that though, you only need to back up files that have changed since the last backup. This can be done automatically by good backup software such as Acronis and it speeds things up considerably.

Of course, if your office-based infrastructure does get destroyed or stolen and you need to restore from the cloud, you will have to download the entire backup. Sometimes it’s better to pay your cloud provider to give you the data on a USB hard drive if it’s too big to download in a sensible amount of time. Either way, you get your data back rather than losing it forever.

Cloud storage is also great for archiving old data. If you have old files that you do not wish to delete but do not access regularly, you can free up space on your office based systems by moving it all to the cloud.

Conclusion

It’s really best to combine on-site backup techniques with cloud storage to give yourself the best possibility of recovering from any data loss problem that occurs. For example, making a nightly on-site backup to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device in the office, coupled with a weekly backup to the cloud.