The best data backup strategy for small businesses
Updated: Jan 12
As cybercrime increases in small businesses, there is simply no excuse not to have a data backup strategy in place. But what's better, local or cloud based?
Many small businesses do not consider data backup to be very important. Some common excuses are: “Our systems are too new to crash”; “We’ve never lost data before”; “We’re too small to get hacked”; or “Backup systems are too expensive.” Obviously, these are not good reasons. None of them justifies taking on the risk of losing everything and causing potentially catastrophic consequences for the business.
Companies that use computers to perform their jobs simply must have a data backup strategy in place. And this strategy should be incorporated into a larger IT defense strategy, especially since cyber attacks (such as ransomware attacks) against small businesses are on the rise.
On site or off site?
Clients ask, “Should we be backing up locally or to the cloud”? The answer is, YES!
It has always been important to keep a copy of your data off site in case of fire, flood, burglary, or some other disaster. But it is more convenient to have a copy stored locally for quick access. You should do both.
Traditionally, local backups were recorded to a tape and somebody would take a daily tape off site. This was a mostly risky and unreliable process. Also, tape backups were slow, expensive, and unreliable, and are now pretty much gone. A better choice for on-site backup is to use external hard drives. Backing up to external hard drives can be as simple as using individual USB-connected drives and rotating them, just like we used to rotate tapes in the old days. If you need more capacity or speed, you can employ a network-connected array of drives.
Off site equals security
But what about the necessity of the off-site backup plan? Having an individual take backup drives off site each day is still unreliable and a security risk. Fortunately, cloud backup services from the major providers have proven to be secure and reliable. People are wary of putting their data in the cloud, but it is surely much more secure than a person walking around with backup drives in a purse or bag, or stashing them in a car’s glove box. Cloud backup systems offer the security of 24/7 protection and are very affordable. High-quality unlimited data plan subscriptions cost as little as $10 per month.
On site means quick access
One might ask: “With a cloud plan, why bother with local backups?” The answer is quick access. If a large hard drive crashes and hundreds of gigabytes need to be recovered, this could take days over a typical Internet connection. So, the cloud backup really becomes an insurance policy in case the primary local backup fails.
What needs backing up?
Many businesses only back up their servers, not their workstations. This is an acceptable solution only if users are disciplined to not store important data on their computers. But, if important data is stored on workstations, then they should be backed up too. As with servers, workstations can be backed up to a local backup system and/or to the cloud. If the users mainly work remotely and off network, then they should be backing up to the cloud.
Keep in mind, we are mainly talking about data backup: documents, spreadsheets, photos/graphics, and other files. This is not your entire computer, which includes the operating system and programs. What this means is, if your drive crashes, you must first reinstall your operating system and programs. Once you have done this and have a working computer again, the data can be restored.
In contrast, an “image” backup does contain the entirety of your computer. Imaging is best done by a local backup system only, not the cloud. If your computers are simple, similar, or easily replicated, it is not necessary to perform regular image backups. If they are more complex, with many roles (such as a server), image backups are a good idea.
For a more complete review of your backup needs, especially as part of a larger IT security strategy, you should talk to an IT professional who focuses on cybersecurity for small businesses. Putting together a comprehensive backup strategy does not need to be expensive. The risks of losing your data are too high.