If your laptop happened to be left on the 5:15 to Newcastle, how would you replace the essential work documents stored within? If your computer or network inexplicably crashed in a spectacular display of error messages and burning smells, would your business find all its accumulated data reset to zero?
A failsafe backup system is essential for any business.
You can't predict when you'll need a backup
Backups might seem an expensive waste of time and resources when all goes well. But if we could always predict when disaster would strike, it wouldn't. You get no prior warning to back up your data when something goes wrong. Everything can seem 100 per cent okay right up until that very second when the careless tap of an [Enter] key turns your business upside down.
The only element of predictability is that you will experience some degree of data loss at some point in the future. It could be as minor as an accidentally deleted Word document or as major as the entire database corrupted by a software failure.
Backing up is only as good as when you start the process and how often it is carried out. Only back up daily and you may lose up to 24 hours worth of data in a crisis. Hourly backups will ensure you only risk losing up to 60 minutes of work. How often you back up should be determined by how much data your business could afford to lose without the possibility of recovery.
You may only need to back up a couple of hard drives and your computer, which is easily done. Most consumer external hard drives come with backup software installed, making the process a push-button affair, allowing you to create point-in-time images. This is important if you want to go back and restore a previous version of a document.
However, all those hard drives sitting together on your desk won't protect you if your office burns down or you're at a different location when the laptop spits the dummy.
A more reliable system is to use a RAID setup. You can buy simple RAID arrays - with two or more hard drives in a single unit - from most IT stores in the hard drive section.
RAID is an acronym for redundant array of independent disks and is a system for distributing data across multiple hard drives. As with all things, however, it isn't quite as simple as that.
A RAID 0 setup distributes your data across two hard drives for increased performance, but is not a redundant system. That is, if one of the hard drives go, the array no longer works. By contrast, a RAID 1 system writes the same data to both drives so no data is lost if one of them fails.
For the more ambitious among us, there is RAID 1+0, which combines a pair of RAID 1 units in a RAID 0 array for improved performance and redundancy.
Backing up to the cloud
Offsite backup is obviously safer than keeping all your hard drives in the same proverbial basket. The easiest way to achieve an affordable off-site backup is in the cloud.
Services like Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive may not be intended specifically for backups, but for small amounts of data the effect is similar. Your data is replicated in a cloud-based account and is synced to any other connected devices.
These tools are useful for protecting your most important documents should your smartphone get flushed or the PC pack it in. But beware: real-time syncing means if a document is deleted on one device, it will be deleted from all. So you can't recover documents in all disaster scenarios.
If you want a genuine off-site cloud backup service, you can automate and schedule for complete confidence - choose a service such as Backblaze, Carbonite or Mozy. Some also charge a flat rate for unlimited storage, so you won't suffer bill shock as your business data grows.
Feeling lucky? When was the last time you backed up your data?
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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Jonathan has worked within, and written about, the technology industry for many years. Before going freelance as a writer in 2012, Jonathan had worked for Netregistry (web hosting) and Ninefold (cloud computing). Jonathan has won awards for his articles on online business for Nett Magazine and his over-opinionated blog Atomik Soapbox. He continues to write for Chief Content Officer magazine.