How small businesses can build worry-free backup systems

Small business security consultant and PC Pro columnist Davey Winder explains the practical steps you can take to protect your data.

As the owner of a small business, it's all too easy to put thoughts of data backup and disaster recovery to the back of your mind and the bottom of your budget. But to do so is a dangerous game; have you thought about what would happen if you lost access to your customer data? How would you invoice them, or know what work you had already invoiced for? How would you explain your financial vagueness to the tax man?

In fact, would your business survive at all? Quite apart from the immediate interruption to your business processes stifling your cash flow, consider the cost in man hours of manually reconstructing the lost data. So think of data backup as insurance, with recovery of your business information the pay-out after an accidental loss. And the best news: it’s much more affordable than many businesses think.

How to find the right data backup insurance policy

As with any insurance, choosing the right policy is vital if you want to be properly covered in your time of need. You data backup and recovery policy can take a number of different forms, dependant entirely upon the environment within which you work and your available budget.

The three most common small business data insurance policies have traditionally been tape, direct attached storage (DAS) and network attached storage (NAS).

Tape provides for backups which can easily be stored off-site but is best suited to less time-critical data; the kind that needs daily backups at most, and more often weekly. Tape is inexpensive to implement though, and is a good archival option for businesses on a tight budget.

DAS requires more investment, especially as your business grows, but provides for very easy daily backups from a single server or even a single laptop. It’s also much more versatile than tape, with its two big advantages being speed and simplicity. Speed because it’s so fast to both backup and restore data; simplicity because it’s as easy to use as an external hard disk.

If you have a mobile and flexible workforce requiring anywhere access to your networked data, and need to back up from multiple servers both simultaneously and with more frequency than either tape or DAS allow, then NAS is the best policy.

Another advantage of NAS, especially for the small business without a dedicated IT department, is that you can get enterprise-level data storage and backup without needing to be an IT expert. The “accidental IT manager” in your business can easily set up, configure and manage a NAS appliance such as the Dell PowerVault range thanks to the use of Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2008. As long as you can plug in an Ethernet cable and use a Windows desktop, you will be up and running in no time.

There are lots of important questions you should be asking of your business before deciding upon a backup technology, and these are the big three:

1. If your data changes daily, then it should be backed up daily so think in terms of DAS, NAS or cloud storage.

2. If you need near instant recovery of your critical data, then NAS or cloud should be on the radar.

3. How big is your business growing? If it’s growing fast then invest in solutions such as NAS and the cloud that can expand with you both easily and cost-effectively.

Did we mention the cloud?

The cloud might be the big buzzword of the minute, but few people have any real idea of what it means. It's actually straightforward: replace the word “cloud” with the word “online” and things start to make far more sense.

So when we talk of cloud storage and cloud backup, what we actually mean is the ability to store (and, just as importantly, retrieve) your data across the internet. The data itself will still sit on physical servers located within a secure data centre, but from the end-user’s perspective it is sent and retrieved through nothing more complex than a simple web browser interface.

Think of cloud storage, then, as the biggest  hard drive on the planet that you can access at any time and from anywhere. Just for good measure, it’s also secure: no-one else can access your data.

Even if the office is closed by flood or fire, your server crashes and all seems lost, the cloud enables you to access your mission-critical data from a laptop and keep your business running as if nothing had happened.

There's also an immediate cost benefit to cloud storage: you don't have to purchase the hardware infrastructure, nor do you have to administer it. Data backup can be fully automated, you can budget for it on a pay-as-you-go model and it can grow with your business.

If you lack budget right now for a hardware storage and backup solution, then the cloud could be a lifesaver if a data disaster ever strikes.

Dell hard drive recovery service

If your offices were subject to flood or fire, your hard drive could fail as a result and any data yet to be backed up would appear to be lost forever. But appearances can be deceptive and most data on a failed drive can be recovered by specialist services, usually at a very high cost.

Dell deserves recognition as one of the first companies to provide a comprehensive Hard Drive Data Recovery service for all of its commercial products. Dell experts will attempt to rebuild your drive, recover as much data as possible under lab conditions, and then return your data to you on an external hard disk.

So what next?

As with anything in business, one size does not fit all.

A layered approach to data backup could just save your bacon if disaster strikes, so think about mixing and matching your technologies to best suit your business needs and your budget. Not all your data is vital to the day-to-day running of the company, but you will have a certain amount of business critical data that would impact immediately on your bottom line if it were to go missing.

So identify what is mission critical and just back up that to the cloud, leaving the remaining data to cheaper local physical storage that can safely be recovered over a longer period.

To find out more about the different types of physical backup, read our more in-depth introduction to NAS, DAS and tape.

If cloud storage sounds of interest, our guide again has that covered. And what do you do if all else fails? Read our introduction to Dell’s hard drive recovery service.

And don’t forget, Dell not only offers every type of backup technology discussed here, but also the advice that your business requires in order to implement the perfect bespoke data safe environment for your business and your budget. To find out more, call one of its advisers on 0844 444 4879.



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