4 Essential Steps to Effective Data Backup

Backing up your computers hard disk drive is really not a complicated task. There are a number of ways to copy your data to a backup device that will provide a basic level of protection against hard disk failure. Ensuring that you will be able to recover from a data loss is an entirely different matter. Most people who rely on a simple backup to a USB drive, CD, or DVD, don't have sufficient protection from common data loss events. It is not a question of IF, but WHEN will your next loss of data occur. Follow the guidelines in this article to ensure that your next data loss will not be permanent, and minimize the loss of time and money.


One of the first things you must consider is what data needs to be backed up and how often. Think about the data that you would need to recover first if your computer was completely destroyed. Then think about how quickly you would need to recover that data to minimize loss of productivity or money. Be realistic; instant recovery of all data on your computer will require expensive resources and procedures. For example; you may need to recover your accounts receivable data within a few hours to avoid financial losses. On the opposite end of the urgency spectrum; you will probably be happy to get your family photos back within a few weeks.

Consider how often your data needs to be backed-up. That usually depends on how often the data changes. Data that changes daily usually needs to be backed up daily. Data that rarely changes can be backed up less frequently. But keep in mind that even though some data changes infrequently, you may need to back it up soon after it changes. Monthly backups can expose you to loss of up to month's worth of updates. Some data can easily be rebuilt without a backup, e.g. there is no need to backup your Google Desktop index because it can be rebuilt with little consequence.


Even the best backup plans fail when they are not executed. Any reliance on human effort is an opportunity for problems. Unplanned events and a myriad of other reasons can be attributed to backup tasks being delayed or skipped. Automating the backup processing is the only cost-effective way to ensure that backups will run on a defined schedule.

Many backup plans require at least some minimal human intervention, such as changing a tape or other media. This is often the reason a backup fails; the human did not perform the function as required. Media libraries are available that will eliminate most of the human interaction required to change media for each backup, but these devices are expensive to purchase and maintain. One of the best ways for a small business or home computer owner to fully automate is with a good online backup solution.


Even the best backup systems will occasionally fail. Once your backup plan is automated, it should be monitored. Alerts should be sent to responsible people when a backup encounters an error. Even better, alerts should be sent when a backup job does not run as scheduled. In addition to the error alerts, reports should be produced and reviewed with some frequency. Most good backup software includes built in alert monitoring, some will also generate periodic reports. Even with automated alerts and reporting, you should still mark your calendar and periodically review your backup and recovery plans to make sure they are not only working as planned, but also that they are adequate.


The last essential step is to periodically test your ability to recover important files. Your backup system may allow you to restore a file to an alternate location. You may also be able to rename or move an existing file, and then restore it from your backup system. Don't just restore the file and assume all is well, you should also open the file in the application that you normally uses it. For example; if you restore a QuickBooks file, then open the file in QuickBooks and make sure it is usable. Testing of backups by restoring data is an often neglected task. However, it is very possible for a file to be backed up, but cannot be restored for various reasons. You may find that the reason you can't restore a file is due to security or other easily correctable issues. Finding out about these types of restore problems before you have a disaster is much better than finding out about it when you are desperately trying to recover your files. Other problems with restores may be more severe; corrupted files, missing files... find out about these backup and restore problems before you have a disaster and you can correct them before they cause you serious problems.

The backup functionality of backup and recovery software is used frequently and bugs will likely be exposed quickly. The restore functionality may be used much less frequently and bugs can go undetected until you or someone else attempts a restore. Follow this advice and make sure you can restore your backups. Test your restore process periodically. Specifically test your restore process when things change; backup software version, new hardware, operating system upgrades, security software upgrade, or anything else that has a remote chance of affecting your backup and restore.

Everyone is exposed to data loss to some degree. Follow the 4 essential steps in this article and you will be prepared.

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