Five key questions to ask about your backups

Person holding a pencil waiting for their laptop to finish backing up

The survival of your business may one day depend on the data backups you took to guard against IT equipment failure, data loss or malicious hacking

Many businesses don't realise their backups are inadequate until it's too late. Ask yourself these five questions – and answer them honestly – to understand how well your business is protected.

1. Are you backing up all your data?

Keeping tabs on important data is becoming a real challenge for companies. The amount of data they create is growing and the number of devices available to store it on has rocketed too.

Sure, you may have a shared drive where everyone is supposed to save everything, but what about your company smart phones, mobile devices such as laptops and tablet computers, memory sticks and cloud storage services?

You'll probably want to know where key data is for your own peace of mind, but if your backups are managed by an IT supplier, it's important they know too.

In particular, think about your financial data, your emails (including people's inboxes and sent items), calendars and company contacts, plus key files and documents. It's important to know where these items are, because otherwise you can't be sure you're backing them all up regularly and effectively.

2. How often is your data backed up?

Ideally, you should back up your data every day. While you can manually save to CDs or memory sticks, this is laborious and these days the amount of data most businesses have makes this impractical and expensive. Online back up options are quick, convenient and cost effective - and the wide range of providers means there is probably one that offers just what you need. You could consider Dropbox, Mozy, Livedrive, BackBlaze or Trend Micro.

If you decide to stick with a central server, it costs less than you might think to get software to schedule your back ups for you. BackupAssist is one good option.

Make sure you consider archiving your data too. This means taking a complete copy of everything and keeping it somewhere safe. You can do this weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly, twice a year, once a year … or whenever seems right for your business.

Again, your IT supplier should be able to advise on how to do this.

3. Who is responsible for your backups?

Using an online backup service to back data up over the internet is a good way to automate backups and it has become far more cost-effective to use.

The most cost-effective backup system is one you can handle in-house. With a good daily routine, you can back your files up each day in two minutes. Keep a different hard drive for each day of the week, so all you have to do is connect the relevant day's hard drive.

Make sure a named person is responsible for this, with a deputy for when they're not in the office.

4. Do your backups actually work?

If you don't test your backups regularly then you can't be sure they'll be any use in an emergency. If you take care of backups yourself, actually go through the steps of restoring your data to make sure the backup files are usable.

The quickest option is to restore a random file every once in a while. If backups are handled by your IT supplier, ask for evidence that they're working properly. Ask them to show you the screen that confirms backups are being made. If they duck the question, be concerned!

5. Do you have the right backup checks and balances in place?

It's all very well entrusting your backup procedures to someone in your business, but how can you be sure they won't forget?

Most good back-up software can be set up to email you each day to tell you if there was a problem with a backup. This gives you a gentle reminder each day to change the drive, just in case you've forgotten.

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