By John C. Shovic

Your small business catches fire and burns down. Which is more important to you in reconstructing the business? Your product inventory? It’s probably insured. How about your computer data — accounting, customer information, and order information? Is that insured? The answer is no. The computers might be insured,

but your data isn’t. It’s a fact of the modern age that your company’s computer data is more important than its physical building. You need to protect that data from physical theft, hackers, and mistakes. The best way to do that is to have a robust data backup scheme.

There are five principles that you should follow to protect your data. These are:

  1. Have a formal data backup system. To protect your business, you need to write down how your data is being backed up, how often it is to be backed up, and who is responsible for the backup. With the availability of external USB-based storage (both memory sticks and disk drives), it’s easy and inexpensive to back up your data. Reconstructing the data on any of your computers will be a lot more expensive than performing a backup of that data. Write down your backup protocol and then follow the plan.
  2. Do both full backups and incremental backups. Any backup system should do both complete backups of your data on a weekly basis and incremental (i.e. any changes in the data during the day) backups on a daily basis. This is a good way to economize on the amount of backup media you need without compromising your data backup integrity.
  3. Back up all your data. In today’s complex “cloud” network-based application environment, it’s not always clear where your data is actually stored. If you’re running your accounting package on your local server, you know where your data is. But if you’re using an application service provider (or ASP) or one of the new cloud computing applications, it isn’t very clear where your data is being stored. You need to ask these questions during the vendor selection process. One of the most overlooked backup data is your e-mail. If you’re running a local Microsoft Exchange or Linux-based e-mail service, again you know where your data is. If you’re using an outsourced e-mail service (like Gmail or one of the thousand others out there) it isn’t clear. Ask your vendors where data is stored and get a copy of their backup policy.
  4. Consider online backup. Another option is to use an offsite online backup system. Basically, these services move your data (both full copies and incremental backups) across the Internet to a server and/or tape farm at a vendor’s location. This can be very convenient, but you still need to vet these vendors as you would any other ASP or cloud application. Generally, you also need a high bandwidth and reliable Internet connection.
  5. Test your backup system. One of the most crucial mistakes made in backing up is not testing your ability to read your backup media and actually restore files from the media. Horror stories abound in the industry about companies unable to actually read their backup tapes and retrieve their data. To have a reliable and robust backup system, you must test that system periodically by restoring files. This needs to be a mandatory part of your backup policy.

Data backup and restoring is key to any company disaster recovery plan — not to mention if you happen to delete the customer database by mistake or a disgruntled employee decides to delete the accounting system. It happens. Be prepared.