6 common backup strategies that any small business could use.

Small businesses and data protection.

Question:How many small businesses that store data about their clients, invoicing, orders, etc. need to backup that data?
Answer: Almost 100%. With only a few exceptions, trading businesses have legal requirements to maintain certain types of data for tax purposes.

Question: So, according to recent surveys, how many Small businesses actually have a backup of their data?
Answer: About 94%. That’s encouraging.

Question: And how many of those had a backup of their data that had been created within the previous two week period?
Answer: About 46%. That’s not so encouraging.

Doing backups now and again isn’t an effective backup strategy. In the same way as putting a few coppers into a piggy bank now and again probably won’t make you rich, or going to the gym now and again probably won’t make you fit, backing up now and again probably won’t protect your business against data loss.

For this blog, I’m going to do a short overview of the 6 most common types of backup that SME businesses use and their main advantages and disadvantages. Most businesses will use one of these for their main backup, and quite a few will also employ a second method to backup their data that overcomes the shortcomings of the main one.

1. Local backup with built-in backup software

How it works: Windows has backup software that allows you to create a backup file that you can save on your hard disk in case something goes wrong with your computer. There are options to backup everything on your computer, just the files and folders that you think are important, or to let Windows decide what it thinks is important.
Many computers also come with 3rd party backup/recovery software that does the same thing.

Advantages: The software comes with the computer so it doesn’t cost you anything. Very quick and easy to set up. Will quickly allow you to recover files that have been corrupted or accidentally deleted.
Disadvantages: If the hard disk fails you lose all your data and backups. If the computer is lost, destroyed or stolen, you lose all of your data and backups.

2. CD/DVD

How it works: Most computers have a CD or DVD writer built into them. It is quite easy to copy files manually to a CD or DVD, or run backup software and selecting the output device to be the CD/DVD

Advantages: Discs are inexpensive. Discs can be stored off site to protect data against fire, flood, theft, etc at computer’s location.
Disadvantages: Small capacity. Discs are easily damaged. Backup process is slow and can require multiple disc changes to be done by user.

3. USB Stick

How it works: Modern PCs all have usb slots. It is very easy to copy files manually to a USB stick, and most backup software allows the output to be sent to a usb stick. A 16GB usb stick only costs about £10-15, and 32GB stick will cost about £15-25.

Advantages: Cheaper option than a hard disk. Very portable. Much larger capacity than a CD/DVD. Data copies over quickly. Stick can be stored off-site to protect against fire, flood, theft, etc at computer’s location.
Disadvantages: Limited capacity. Sticks can be lost or damaged. Data on usb sticks can degrade over time.

4. External Hard Drive

How it works: External hard disks come in various shapes, sizes, capacities and with different interfaces. They all work in pretty much the same way and have the same advantages and disadvantages when it comes to backup. Many drives contain backup software that you can use to backup your computer, and all are compatible with Windows backup and most 3rd party backup software. Backing up to an external drive is usually the quickest ways to backup large amounts of data.

Advantages: Large capacity. Fast data transfer. Can be taken off site to protect against fire, flood, theft, etc at computer’s location.
Disadvantages: Initial cost is higher than some other backup methods.

5. Network storage

How it works: Using a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device is becoming very common in SME environments. Although more expensive than a regular external hard disk, one NAS can be used to backup all of the computers on a network which makes it more cost-effective than buying an external disk for each computer. Not all versions of Windows backup are compatible with NAS devices, however there are 3rd party packages that will work with any version of Windows to backup onto one.

Advantages: Large capacity. Good data transfer. Can accommodate backups of multiple users/computers.
Disadvantages: Higher initial outlay. Normally will not be taken off-site to protect against fire, flood, theft, etc.

6. Cloud based

How it works: There are lots of cloud storage providers, most of them will offer a small amount of storage (2-5GB) for free with monthly/annual fee options for larger capacities. Most of these providers also provide you with a system for backing up or synchronising your data with your cloud storage to make the backup very easy to set up. Because the data is sent over the internet, the speed you get will be much lower than the other methods mentioned here, and if your ISP uses some kind of bandwidth management to cap or throttle your usage then trying to backup large amounts of data will almost certainly trigger those. Slow backups are not usually a massive problem, however the slow speed works both ways so you won’t be restoring your data in a hurry either if you lose it.

Advantages: Low setup costs. Data is held off-site.
Disadvantages: Monthly/annual fees. Slow transfer rate slow. ISP issues. Security concerns.

Conclusion

So there’s a quick overview of the 6 most common types of backup used today. They use different technologies and media, all have their strengths and weaknesses, and none of them are perfect. There’s nothing to stop anyone from using 2, 3 or more of these methods to protect their most valuable data.

One of the most common methods is to use a NAS device to act as the main backup, and do a weekly backup to an external drive that can be stored off-site.

The most important thing to remember about all of the above methods is this: Every one of them is better than having no backup schedule at all.

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