Protecting your business - effective backups

Investing in Computing Ltd

Today's blog is by Eric MacVicar, Managing Director of Investing in Computing Ltd, a Birmingham Chamber member. Eric's blog focuses on the steps needed to protect your business from disaster and business continuity planning.


Protecting your business – Effective backups 


"Typically the first time that you understand that your backup strategy was flawed is when you have had a serious disaster and you are not able to fully recover. As a business owner it is important that you understand what backups are all about. This will hopeful enable you to ask the right questions and plug any unforeseen gaps.  


Overview of Backup types, strategies and planning 

Your backup plan consists of: 

* Backup frequency 

* Backup strategy 

* Backup media types 

The “Frequency of backup” is a key metric in protecting your business. In the real world this is a balance between the costs of multiple regular backups (more backups = more cost) versus the cost impact of critical data recovery being too old to be of value. This is where most companies can benefit from some advice and can really benefit from having help building a Company Backup Plan. 

 Your company size does not determine your backup frequency requirement. It is the company’s function that determines how ‘current’ the data must be to complete a successful data recovery after an event. 

Backup frequency is determined by …….  

Consider your worst case scenario – Fire destroys everything! Using your current backup plan, what would be the business impact? How long would it be before you could provide critical processes and function with a skeleton staff? 1 day, 2 days…… 1 week? 

Insurance pays for the hardware, but what would the true cost to your business be if the data is too old to be of any use?  

IMPORTANT! Are you 100% sure that your business would be recoverable with your current backup plan? I have known two business that never opened their doors again and in both cases it was down to elementary issues with their backup planning. 

By focussing on a worst case scenario and determining the aging / usefulness of recovered business critical data we can begin define the correct backup frequency for your company. 

Data retention policies… 

You will have data retention policies that are laid down by regulatory authorities such as government or tax rules. This leads to large volumes of data which are not business critical but are a legal requirement. Add to this your daily business data which may consist of documents, accounts, 

emails, databases, and in some cases entire server backups and the complexity and management task of backups becomes a core function of your business. 

The backup frequency can therefore be determined by, the minimum acceptable data loss plus any legal requirement to retain data. As cost increases with the frequency of backup (you will need more storage space to back up more regularly) the maximum acceptable data loss will determine the true cost of an effective backup solution. This forms the basis of the backup plan. 


Backup strategy – how to minimise the cost 

Your business needs to perform two types of backup. 

1. Operational Backup: For corrupt files, things deleted by accident, equipment failure etc. 

2. Disaster Recovery Backup: To rebuild the business after a major event, such as fire or flood 

These Backups overlap, but each should be catered for separately when performing the business analysis for your backup plan. 

Typical backup types: Daily Incremental or differential, Daily Full, Weekly, Monthly, and Annual 

The overwriting of media is a good way to keep costs down. Three sets of current data should always be retained within each Backup set. This is sometimes called the grandfather father son approach ensuring you always have access to three good sets of data, each backup is one increment older than the last. I have seen the oldest (Grandfather backup) save businesses as it sometimes takes time to discover corrupted files. 

Certain business models will require real time mirroring of all critical servers and while this is possible via a local network or within a datacentre, but this can become extremely expensive if you wish to store real time data in a remote datacentre or even another country. 

Most businesses could benefit from incremental backups run through the day at the frequency determined in their backup plan in addition to their daily backups (typically done overnight) monthly, yearly, etc. 

In the event of a computer room fire, who in the company is responsible for entering the burning room to get the backup media? I hope the answer is no one. 

The key to good planning is to identify the key data, the frequency required to make the restore data useful and ensure it gets stored offsite immediately. The cloud makes this so simple in today’s world that there is no excuse for any company to go under due to critical data loss. Absolutely none! 

Other factors for your backup plan. Are there any business critical data servers more than 5 years old? Can this data be moved to a newer machine? If it can’t be moved what alternative solutions are there to protect the data? 

Any hardware over 5 years old should be considered a high risk. Luckily there are many people forced to run legacy applications as there is no alternative and there is a suit of solutions available to help support these and protect your data. 


Backup media types 

This is just a small section that will try to identify some of the many options available for backing up. Your back up method has a massive impact in your total backup costs. 

Typically companies should begin by using a hybrid of Tape Disk and Cloud for a modern business environment. 

For small businesses I have seen USB Stick, CDRW, NAS and cloud solutions work very effectively. For the larger high availability businesses they typically employ mirrored servers, SAN, cloud storage, Azure, VMware, remote datacentres, cold DR sites."  


To find out more about any of the tips mentioned in Eric's blog or for help with your backup strategy, please contact Eric MacVicar at or call 07944 088624