Practical Data Backup for Small Businesses

Practical data backup for small businesses.

This article will discuss practical data backup for small businesses and home users. After reading this article, you will see how easy and inexpensive it is to have a good backup strategy and routine. Most importantly, you can sleep easier at night and your businesses data will be protected, helping you minimize the impact from a disaster resulting in data-loss.

Every business should have a backup strategy and routine in place because you never know what can happen to your data. Understand that you should have at least two copies of any data that you consider important or valuable. If you have only one copy of your important data, if that data disappears, it is gone. Why might your data disappear? There are many possibilities and here are a few:

  • Hardware failure
  • Data corruption
  • Fire
  • Theft
  • Natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc.)
  • Power-issues such as power surges
  • And the list can go on!

If you have two copies of your important or valuable data, if one copy is destroyed, you have another copy left.

There are two methods that are great for small businesses and home users:

  1. Backup or duplicate/copy copies (via a simple “file copy”)
  2. RAID 1 (mirroring your data in real-time)

The two methods work very differently and have different benefits:

A backup copy is often simply an identical copy or duplicate or your files. Some programs convert your copy or the backup-copy into a file with a different extension. We’d like to stay away from these programs because there is little benefit to a conversion of your files. The only benefit we can see is, (maybe, just maybe) saving some hard drive storage space. However, storage is so inexpensive today that it isn’t worth the trouble. Converting your files from one format to another has its own costs and risks. The cost will likely be computing processing time (time spent doing the backup) as this will take slightly longer to do because of the conversion and the risk of the conversion not going 100% according to expectation or plan.

Some backup programs will convert your data files into files like these. (Or you can see a screen-shot image of the list of backup file extensions below.) If you choose the route of using a software that converts your files, you should spend some time doing a little testing to test-backup and test-restore your files to see if it works without any errors or problems. The last thing you would want in a data-recovery situation is to find out that your files have a problem converting back to its original format or that your backup copy caused your backed up files to be corrupted in the process so you cannot restore some or all of your files!

Backup file formats and backup file name extensions.

Backup file formats and backup file name extensions. Click image to enlarge. (Credit: FileInfo.com)

Depending on the frequency of your backup routine, your backup copy will not contain any new changes made after your last backup-session. Example: if you backup your data every Sunday night and on Friday something happened and you need to retrieve your data, all those new changes you made after your last back up until Friday will not be available. One way to get around this is to backup more frequently (perhaps at the end of each day) or to install a RAID setup (explained later).

Performing this backup can be very simple and easy to do. You can just simple copy your data/files from one hard drive to another. A good backup destination would be an external USB flash drive or an external USB hard drive. You can simply copy all the files from your current folder on your hard drive to the external USB drive. If all your important files are located at “C:\My Documents\”, then just copy that folder to D:\ (if that’s where your external backup drive is located).

RAID is your other option. RAID stands for “Redundant Array of Independent Disks”. There are many different types of RAID setups and they each offer different benefits or lack certain features/benefits. RAID 1 is the most relevant for data redundancy in a small business or home environment. RAID 1 (data mirroring) will maintain real-time duplication of your data. In RAID 1 setups, two hard drives mirror each other so that you have two copies of the same data at all times. For RAID 1, you would need at least two hard drives and the right RAID-capable hardware or software setup.

This is how RAID 1 works: whenever you save a change to Hard Drive A, the same change(s) will be written to Hard Drive B. This happens instantaneous, in real-time so the data on Hard Drive B will always be the same as Hard Drive A. Simply put; Hard Drive A = Hard Drive B, at all times.

RAID 1 offers excellent protection against sudden hard drive failure. If you’re working and Hard Drive A suddenly fails, you have Hard Drive B you can retrieve your data from. However there are disadvantages to RAID 1 also. Your secondary hard drive (“Hard Drive B”) will also mirror your accidental file deletions, your accident downloads of viruses, etc. Hard Drive B will mirror any mistakes you make to Hard Drive A.

A good general backup strategy recommendable to any small business or home-user would have all of the following characteristics:

  1. A RAID 1 setup on your desktop computer to protect you from sudden hardware failure
  2. A frequent backup routine of at least once a week (ideally, once at the end of each work-day)
  3. An external backup copy on a USB flash drive or USB hard drive with the drive stored in a safe and separate location

It is ideal to have a copy of your data stored in a separate and safe location in case of things like a fire or natural disaster. If both or all hard drives are located at your office and your office suffers from a fire or is destroyed from a natural disaster, both or all your drives and all copies of all your data are gone!

The time and financial costs to setting up a backup strategy and running a backup routine, is minimal and inexpensive but the time and financial cost of recovering from an unprepared data-disaster is great. So if you haven’t begun, don’t put off creating your backup strategy and getting into a backup routine for another day! While backing up your data likely won’t be the most enjoyable part of running your business, what is less fun is losing your business-critical data forever!

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