Data Protection and Backup – Your Business Disaster Planning

If you are thinking about starting a business, the information system will probably join your plans at some point. The business will need the necessary information built from some kind of application software and applications – whether the solution is just an Excel spreadsheet or something more advanced and automated like QuickBooks Pro or Enterprise Resource Management System. Disaster recovery, data security, cybersecurity, web filtering, etc. are topics that entrepreneurs should think about. This is the first of a series of articles that will introduce new, and experienced, business owners to information technology intricacies that should be included in your business plans. The first issue introduced will be the idea of disaster recovery and data backup.

As a business owner, you have to define what constitutes a disaster, how long it should take to restore operations, and what systems are important to the business function. If no system is available, how long can the business operate in a degraded mode, or not at all? How about email? If your email is not available at all, how long can you live? What about your phone system? Your accounting system? Your website?

What constitutes a disaster for a business?

Here are some events to think about:

a). Upgrading software, servers, or workstations that fail or corrupt data.

b). Migrating data to centralized storage that fails or corrupts data.

c). Computer theft.

d). Fire, flood, storm, and other acts of God.

e). Virus Breakout – Both medical or cyber.

f). Hazardous materials incident, chemical spills, gas leaks, etc.

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g). Failure of communication systems.

For disaster recovery, recovering data has two components – backup and, most importantly, restoration of data. These are two very important distinctions. As an example, I was doing some side work for a small health facility that was electrocuted and I was recovering network connectivity. After I got the network up, I left in the evening. The next day, the president of the company was working on the accounting system and accidentally hit the key that closed the end of the year on the books and it was only October.

The conversation went like this:

a). “Can you please come in and restore accounting data? I accidentally closed our books for the year.”

b). “Do you have a backup?”

c). “Yes, we come back every night.”

d). “Perfect, I can get there in about an hour.”

When I get the facility, I asked where I can find the machine that did the backup and where the tapes were located. The software was BackupExec, I knew that software well. I bring up the management screen and see when the backup last went. Last night, Perfect. Now, what was the backup? Uh-oh – Two directories, one was the WordPerfect directory and the other was the user’s home directory. I saw other tapes – the same thing. No other network data was being backed up, or at least there was nothing important to the accounting system.

I had to go to the president of the company and deliver the bad news. I’m sorry but your backups are worthless. The backup machine does not have sufficient access rights to successfully back up the data that needs to be saved. The last thing I did, before I left, was set up a backup to login with an account that had enough rights to view all the data that needed backup. I came back the next day that the verification ran successfully and the data was backed up correctly. I noticed that the data was getting backed up properly. When I started doing backup work, the company hired someone full-time to take care of networks and computers.

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The problem here was for this small disaster, to successfully backup all the data, the backup process must be run as an administrator-type user who can read all files and folders.

There are three takeaways from this incident:

1. Look and verify backup is being done, finishing without errors, and supporting everything identified as important.

2. Identify the backup being done properly to be responsible for seeing and verifying someone. The person may not have to recover the backup, but it will be the person’s responsibility to ensure that the backup is corrected.

3. Verification backup is complete, only half of the work. You should practice to recover files and verified data is recoverable.

Restoring data is the most important task of backup. This concept is obvious but is almost always missed. You can set up a backup and run for months without worrying that data is being backed up as the logs are being viewed. Then, the day comes when you have to restore a file, an application, or, even worse, a server. This is not the time to learn how to restore a file. Business is down, people cannot work because data is unavailable.

If the business has only one person and computer, then find an online backup service that will back up your data for a fee to your business. Some of these services can be very economical. You can also think about virtualization. Depending on how computer-savvy you are, you can use a utility from VMware in which you can know a virtualization technology as a physical to virtual (P2V) conversion. P2V will allow you to virtualize your computer while keeping the physical machine fully intact. In the event, something goes terribly wrong (a disaster), in due time, you can run your cloned computer. The virtual machine may not be completely up to date, but at least you have not lost everything like payable or receivable information or all your important customer databases and contacts.

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For large systems with centralized servers, a virtualization is a good option but in the above scenario, the data may not be up to date. Then, there is another do-it-yourself option, in which, the business takes the cost of backup software and media. A “do-it-yourself” option for a backup solution is an open-source solution called Zamanda. The first benefit is that the software is free to install and use. Just make sure that you read all the requirements necessary for a successful implementation. Larger implementations can also be outsourced. I personally am opposed to not having complete control over data, but the solution is like any other “cloud” solution. If you do not have in-house expertise, then an outsourced solution may be the best for your environment.

The Conclusion

Data protection and Backup is an integral part of any organization’s IT operations. The remote backup service is rapidly gaining popularity as it provides convenience and security to users in terms of data backup.a)