Won’t get fooled again: Five steps to a data backup strategy

In honour of World Backup Day 2013, our in-house authority on business continuity outlines an approach that will help IT departments define what needs to be protected and how.

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The second annual World Backup Day took place on March 31st and was a useful vehicle to remind employees about the importance of backing up your critical business data.

Scheduled for the day before April Fool’s Day, the main message of World Backup Day is ‘Backup your files and check your restores.’

April Fools’ Day, of course, is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other. A not so funny April fool’s hoax would be telling your CEO all company data had been lost due to a virus. Not backing up your PC or systems data, however, is no joke under any circumstances.

The Who’s song Won’t Get Fooled Again has lyrics later in the song with an interesting message related to the integrity of data backup strategy: ”and the world looks just the same and history ain’t changed.” As a BCM Practitioner I interpret it like this: If you have a good backup IT data strategy, the result will be information that is available and useable as it was copied from the past, and is available if needed in the future.

The following is an approach on how an organization can construct their critical data backup strategy for disaster recovery.

Create a data backup strategy: The strategies that are to be put in place need to be robust enough to ensure the recovery of data in any circumstance, including fire, catastrophic hardware or software failure, file deletion, virus or hacker attacks. Data can be destroyed by system malfunction or by accidental or intentional means. Adequate backups will allow data to be readily recovered as necessary. Also have a strategy that supports capturing “critical data” as defined from a business impact assessment (BIA).  A solid data backup strategy also considers having two copies of your data available – one local (office or place of business) and one offsite (third party service provider vendor) to store it remotely on their premises or on secure servers.

  1. Data backup and restoring the data needs to be tailored to your business and operating environments, but flexible and scalable as your business data demands expand. Generally speaking, data backup strategy has the capability to enhance data availability with minimal data loss and corruption.
  2. A key element of a data backup strategy includes the protection of such data against viruses, deteriorating hard drives, disasters and human errors. It is suggested to encrypt data when is transit or as copied when data is written to the backup media.

Selecting a Reliable Backup Media. Backup media which can be managed internally or by external vendors/suppliers and include:

  •  Magnetic Tape: (commonly used medium for bulk data storage, backup and archiving)
  • Hard Disk: The cost of hard disk for backup has been improving due to the progression of the technology.  The big challenge is disks are prone to damage.
  • Recordable CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs: Affordably and commonly used with personal computers and generally have low media unit costs.
  • Floppy Disk: Used from the dawn of PCs and now virtually extinct
  • Solid State Storage: Typically memory stick flash memory, thumb drives, USB flash drives. Affordable but easily misplaced.
  • Another hard drive — USB external or internal HD:  full, complete BU — probably your best option.
  • Remote Backup Service: Broadband internet access with back up to geographically alternate remote locations remote locations.
  • Cloud Based Storage: Fairly new model of networked online storage where data is stored in virtualized pools of storage generally hosted by third parties. Use caution if using a third party service provider to ensure the privacy and integrity of the business data.

Backup of the backup media:  Depending on the backup media used, the best mitigative protection against data loss, it is recommended that the strategy include having a copy of the data replicated.

Understand your Recovery Point Objective (RPO) for critical data used in IT systems or applications.

RPO which is defined by business continuity planning as the maximum tolerable period in which data might be lost from an IT service due to a major incident. Example, if the RPO is set to four hours, then in practice, offsite mirrored backups must be continuously maintained- a daily offsite backup on tape will not suffice.

Deploy Data Backup Routines as part of normal business practices. Examples  can include:

  1. Full Backups (end of day/week or month)
  2. Incremental backups which will only back up files that have changed since the last full backup. This is generally a faster than a full backup.
  3. Mirrored data replication is where the entire database is duplicated (Back-up) on a separate platform or separate disk drives. The mirror database has the benefit of restoring without recovering the data

Performance test your data backup periodically

No matter how confidant you are about you data backup strategy, to ensure it meets with your recovery and restoration performance (as established by the business users as the Recover Time Objective), on an annual basis (minimal), test the data backup file quality by restoring them to alternate IT infrastructure. This on demand recovery effort or identify gaps or data integrity issues in a non-production environment which can then be addressed provocatively so when needed required performance can be enhanced.    

Recover Time Objective: This is the time period after a disaster at which ‘must preserve’ business functions need to be restored

Backing up your business critical data may be seen as costly and ‘insurance like’ with an expense with limited or customer facing value. The real benefit that it is a good business practice, and when the disastrous incident occurs where your data has been compromised, it is less expensive and time efficient to get your business back on track, keep delivery of your products and service to your customers transparently with the support of the data backup files, than to re-input information to re-start your business. This capability can enhance your business as a differentiator from your competitor.

Take the next step by trying out our free online Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Assessment Tool.

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