Not backing up everything We recommend that your backup system be capable of, and configured to backup everything. Too often, we hear of clients who need to restore a piece of information from their backups, only to find that it is not contained on the backups. Some people only backup the data from their main accounting system for example, and not their other important data such as Word and Excel documents. Your backup device or service must be large enough to fit all of the data from your computer or servers. This means that when you are upgrading the hard disk capacity of your system, you need to confirm that your backup device or service is still appropriate! There are a range of solutions that can be used for this purpose – an outline of these is included at the end of this article. It’s also best if you have backup software that automatically runs the backups at a time when nobody is using your system so that all of the data is available to be backed up. Many of these software packages include functions to provide confirmation that the backup has completed in the form of an email which is also highly recommended. If you have a server computer, then you may think that backing up the information on the server is enough. What you also need to consider is that there may be data stored on individual computers too and also on smartphones and tablet computers!
Not backing up Email data With the greater reliance on email, we are receiving more requests to restore emails. In our experience most people do not backup emails at all. These are often the only record of communication where in the past there may have been a series of letters and or faxes. If you have your own email server in-house, you may need to install an additional backup program or agent in order to properly process the email information. Many clients use Microsoft Exchange, which often requires a backup agent for your backup software so that it can properly backup the email data. Even if you have the right agent for your mail server installed, there can also be limitations on how you can restore the mail data. This has to do with the design of the email and backup software. It may be the case that the entire mail database must be restored in order to get back a single email. Of course this can increase the time and inconvenience associated with performing a restore. Similarly, if emails have been archived by the auto-archive feature in Outlook then they are probably stored on your workstations hard disk instead of your server (and therefore are probably not being backed up!) If you don’t have your own mail server, then your computer is probably storing the emails on your local hard disk drive rather than the hard disk of your server. Files on local hard disk drives are not usually backed up. Your email software should be configured to place these files on the server where they will be automatically backed up. Another issue with email backups is that emails which are received and deleted on the same day may not be able to be restored if your backups take place only in the evening, meaning that the email must have existed in your mailbox for at least one night to have had an opportunity to be backed up. This same limitation applies to all of the data on your system if you are only doing nightly backups.
Insufficient “depth” of backups Most people don’t have the resources to keep backups forever. If backing up locally to disk or tape, then you will need to overwrite older backups unless you are happy to keep buying more disks or tapes. If you are backing up to an online service, then there is usually a limit to the amount of storage that you can use too. This means that there will be a limit to how far back you will be able to restore. A common backup system is to keep 5 backups, one for each day of the week. This means that if a file were accidentally deleted or corrupted, and you didn’t discover this for longer than a week, then you will not be able to restore it from backup, because all the backups that contained a “good” version of the file would have been overwritten. We suggest that you keep a number of weekly or monthly backups to provide protection against this. Free and entry level online backup services are often worse and may only keep 1 version of files. If using a backup service it’s important to understand their depth of backups (often referred to as retention policy) when you start out rather than finding out too late that their system is unsuitable for you.
Not backing up frequently enough How often you backup (along with the depth of backups you keep) determines the choices that you have when it comes time to restore and will vary depending on your requirements and your budget. It is possible to backup as often as every 15 minutes, or as little as daily or weekly. Why doesn’t everyone backup every 15 minutes then?
* Because the more often you backup, the more space your backups consume (therefore you need to buy more disks, tapes, or offsite storage)
* Backing up can reduce the performance of your system while the backup is taking place
* Time taken to complete a backup. If your backups run for longer than 15 minutes (some can take several hours to complete) then this too will limit how frequently you can backup
* Some systems are unable to be backed up while they are being used. Depending on your backup software, it may not be able to backup data that you are working on or you may be “locked out” of some parts of your system while the backups take place.
Not keeping some backups offsite One of the reasons for doing backups is to protect against disasters such as fire or theft. So it is important that some of the backups be kept offsite to ensure that all of your backups are not destroyed or stolen along with your system. This is one of the reasons why using offsite backups services is appealing as your data is kept offsite. Where this can be a problem is that the speed of backups can be too slow to enable you to backup everything (see point #1 above!) and in the event that you need to restore, it can take a long time to restore
Files not backed up because they were open In general, your data can’t be backed up while it is being used. For example if you have an important Microsoft Word document that you are working on and you leave this document open overnight, some backup software will not be able to back it up. This is more serious if someone remains inside your accounting system which can often mean that the entire accounting system is not backed up. This is becoming less of an issue as many current generation backup programs now have the ability to backup open files. You should check that yours is able to!
Incorrect restores If you find yourself in a situation where you need to restore, proceed carefully! We have seen occasions where a client has set out to restore a small amount of data for a two week old backup but instead has restored their entire system. This can be disastrous. Usually your backup software will provide the option to restore files to a different location. This option should almost always be selected. Once restored, you then copy the files across to their original location. It’s also important when restoring from physical media such as tape or disk to make sure that you write-protect the backup media (or to suspend online backups if you are restoring an old backup and it is likely to soon be overwritten) before you start. This is to protect against your system automatically doing a new backup over the top of the backup that you want to restore!
Backups are not checked Successful backups depend on the correct operation of your backup software and hardware. Over time problems can develop that might stop your system from backing up. Unless you check your backups regularly you might not be aware of that there is a problem. For example, tape drives can develop a hardware fault which prevents them from backing up, but does not prevent them from loading and unloading tapes correctly. Windows updates or installation of new software, that you would think is unrelated to backups can also “break” your backup software as an unexpected side-effect. So it is important to be looking deeper at what it going on with your backups to be sure that you will be able to restore should you need to.
Poor labelling/recording of backups When you find yourself in a situation where you need to restore a file to how it was last Wednesday, you don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to figure out which backup is required. Investing a small amount of time to appropriately understand your backups and how they are rotated/overwritten can save a lot of time and anxiousness when you need to restore. Where media like removable disks or tapes are used labelling them clearly and keeping a manual log of which media was rotated on which day (and if the backup was successful) is recommended. For online backups, making sure that you understand how to review backup logs and to select an individual file from a particular backup (you will sometimes want to restore an older version of a file, not the most recent backup of it and this can be difficult or in some cases impossible to restore an earlier version of it.)
And a Bonus: Mistake #10: Bad folder structure Keeping your data in a logical, tree-like folder or directory structure will make it easier to find the information you are looking for. This is just as important when it comes time to restore information. Most times people want to restore just a few files, and you need to be able to locate these files in the backup software before you can select them for restore. Having a logical, and not overly complex directory structure makes this easier. Many servers also allow you to set permissions on folders and files. Without making this too complex, it is also be a good idea to set appropriate permissions at the folder level so that the number of people that can access and modify your data is just those that need to.
Considering these Mistakes, you now need to fix the problems and implement a Backup Solution which works best for your business. By selecting the right Backup Technology, you’re ALMOST done.
What are the most important features when choosing the best Backup Software?
Automatic Scheduling of backups Advanced backup software is capable of automatically scheduling the backups. No doubt you have lots of other responsibilities and things to think about! So backups, a bit like insurance, are not going to be at the front of your mind until there is a problem! Save yourself the worry and make sure that you implement a solution that automatically launches the backups.
Full System backups If your full system is not being backed up then chance are some important information is being missed. Modern computer systems create and use tens or hundreds of thousands of files and even to IT experts it’s hard to be sure that you are selecting all of the important information. This is why we feel that it’s important to backup all of the data on your system.
Backups of Open Files If you or somebody else is in your accounting system or editing a Word or Excel document you don’t want it to not be backed up. Ironically this is probably what you most want to be backed up so make sure that your software is smart enough to deal with open files!
Backups of Databases Again, not all backup software handles databases like Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server correctly. Some software requires that you purchase additional modules and/or to configure backups in a certain way to be able to successfully restore them. Other databases, such as Oracle for example, are not supported at all by some of the major backup software packages and you may find that even a backup that you software labels “successful” will not get you all of your data back!
Monitoring & Alerting Probably the most important feature, yet one that is very often neglected. Even if your backup system is fully tested and working today something could change in the future such as a (and sadly we have seen all of these!)
* Backup hardware failure
* Backup software failure due to compatibility issue with a Windows or other software update
* Backup software failure due to changing a user or administrator password or other permissions
* Backup software failure due to a bug in the software that is not immediately triggered! Most or all of these problems will be detected early if you have the appropriate backup monitoring and alerts in place. You can monitor backups yourself, locally, or you can enlist professionals to monitor your backups remotely.
Disaster Recovery When the unthinkable happens, your choice of backup software and the selections that were made in setting up the software can have a huge impact on what happens in a disaster. Before disaster strikes you should be thinking about:
* How long you can get by without access to your IT systems?
* How long will it take to restore your whole system in the best case?
* Which systems features are most urgent?
* What hardware/software you need to recover your systems?
* Do you need to restore to identical hardware? (for MOST software and/or configurations you do!) This means you need to have spare, identical servers on standby.
Email Archiving Is really a separate topic, but one that is increasing in importance. Even if everything is setup correctly to do full backups of your email, restoring them can be complex and costly and yet may not recover all of the information that you need if the email was sent and deleted between backups, or was deleted some time ago. With many backup scenarios you can’t see the individual emails contained in a backup until you restore it and so you may have to complete multiple costly and time consuming “restore cycles” to retrieve the emails you need. Or even worse you might not find them! A dedicated email archiving solution is the answer here. And of course you will still need to backup your email archive as well!
HOWEVER, that’s not the end of the story. Great software TOOLS will only solve PART OF THE PROBLEM. You also need the right ADVICE, PLANNING, TESTING and SUPPORT to get the best results with any backup solution.
For many businesses, there is a real risk of a Disaster. An event which can be caused by Mother Nature (such as flooding and Cyclones or Hurricanes), or a Power problem, a Fire, a Virus or Malware, or any other unforseen potential problem which could render your computers inoperable.
Now I have shown you what the problems are and what to look for in a potential backup solution. The rest is up to you.
To help you evaluate your current backup solution, start by Answering these Questions. This 12-point checklist may help you to pinpoint problems with your backups!
Is everything on your system being backed up?
Who checks that the backups worked and how often do they check?
Do your backups run automatically?
Is there a WRITTEN backup log showing who checked the backups (and for backups to disk or tape also showing which disk or tape was used?)
When did you last restore from a backup?
Have you ever done a full restore of your system?
How many copies of your backups do you have?
Are some of these backups kept offsite?
Are the offsite backups stored securely?
How is the security of the offsite backups protected?
How far back can you restore your accounting system?
Can you recover an email that was deleted last month?
How did you go with Questions? Are you confident your business will be safe if an unforeseen event occurred?
If you couldn’t answer all the questions above, or if your answers left you realizing that you are unprepared, or lack the required knowledge to protect your business data, don’t despair. You fit into the same category as most businesses! Find yourself a professional partner with expertise in Backup and Disaster Recovery.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this report is general in nature and does not take into account your particular situation and requirements.