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I've been talking to a number of business owners recently about their backup scheme, and for the most part, it's been barely adequate. In an age where cloud backups like DropBox, OneDrive and Google Drive are free and very available; and disk space & USB hard drives are reasonably cheap – there's really no excuse to ignore backups.

I backup everything once a month, how good am I!

That's a start. But let me ask you, can you afford to lose a month's worth of data or updates? What about a week's worth? To help you make this decision, you need to know your data and know how often it updates. For me, loosing a day's worth of data would be really annoying. But to loose a week? Yikes!

Ok, you got me. I need to back things up more – but what do I do?

Well, as you would assume, the main idea behind backups is getting the data duplicated and off-site. So that if the worst were to happen (or even a slight mishap), you haven't lost everything. The more business critical the data, the more frequently it needs backing up.

The first decision you will face is where it's going to be backed up too. I see two or so choices here:

  • The Cloud: a service as noted above or a private remote server (basically your own cloud),
  • Locally managed physical drives: USB drives that you switch manually.

Your first thought might be revolving around cost, but what about data sensitivity? All backup options have downfalls under different scenarios. Cloud services would be a target for hackers. Physical drives are open to physical damage & theft. The selection really depends on what your data is.

One point of difference for cloud backups over a more traditional disk based arrangement is file versioning. You will be able to go back and see previous versions of files (assuming this is available on your plan), allowing you to retrieve that file someone accidentally deleted a week ago, or that has been inexplicably corrupted. You can achieve this with a physical disk arrangement, but it means you have larger number of disks in rotation.

Other points are:

  • you can access your backed up data from anywhere that has an internet connection,
  • you are trusting your data to be held securely in a system that someone else maintains,
  • if you choose a larger provider, they have to have it secure – but hackers would be probing them constantly,
  • the more you store, the more you pay,
  • you have to be online to update / get updated files.

Points of difference for locally managed physical disk drives are:

  • it's essentially offline, meaning that while the disk sits in a draw or safe off site, it cannot be hacked.
  • you (or your staff) are in charge of it's functionality fully,
  • you need to diligently check & verify the backups to ensure it's working.

Understanding Your Data

Understanding your data is the most important thing about choosing what backup method you should use. So, what is your data? Is it just a bunch of files? What about emails? Address book? Browser bookmarks? Encrypted password files? In other words - what is it that you can't do business without?

Once you know what your "data" is you need to know where it is. Is it already centralised on a file server or shared disk? Is it on each individual computer in the workplace? Is it with your staff – on computers at their homes, or on the road all the time on laptops?

Knowing where it is can allow you to work out how big it all is too; allowing you to work out what size physical disks you'd need (note: allow for data growth), or if it is larger than the free cloud services allow and you need to look at a paid service.

As a side point, certain programs (like MS Outlook) lock their data file. So you cannot effectively back those files up while that program is open.

So I just have to pick one, right?

Yep. Or you could pick both. As long the over all result is manageable and effective, there's no wrong answer.

NB. There are also some products & operating system features that allow you to encrypt files & folders. Using these would ensure that cloud providers and physical disks have an extra layer of protection against prying eyes.