If you are a small or medium business, you may have left your data backups in the hands of outside help or, even worse, to chance.
Disclaimer: This post is not one of those list-based offerings, with biased recommendations leading to affiliate links, but instead an indication of the tools available to prevent data loss. Whether free or budget solutions, all providers will offer a free version or a time-limited trial. Take the time to try before purchase and select the tools best suited to your requirements.
A recent Reddit post demonstrated that there are some companies out there that still lack a proper backup solution. Companies that ignore backups are not risk-averse, considering the impact of data loss and the plethora of potential causes (whether ransomware, hardware failure, extreme weather conditions, fire, theft or accidental overwrite). Rather than criticize such companies on their lack of foresight, it’s possible to speculate on the mindset involved and suggest ways to remedy the situation.
The scenario typically applies to smaller companies that falsely believe that because there have been no past issues, no action or investment is necessary to protect and backup existing data. In such a situation, complacency has set in and IT is limited to general maintenance, perhaps outsourced to a local ‘IT guy’ who is paid to ensure staff can send emails and use whatever productivity software needed. It may also be true that the company activity does not involve IT at all, perhaps offering professional services, consultancy or is a product or service provider operating from a physical, brick-and-mortar premises.
Whatever the situation, backing up the data created is critical, especially if its loss would impact on the business or related compliance and regulatory requirements. Data loss could cause downtime, financial penalties, and extreme situations could finish the business entirely. However, all is not lost, as there are many free and budget solutions available to ensure your data is backed up.
Types and Methods Of Backup
The type of software you use is determined by your requirements and available expertise. Examples include cloud backup, backup as a service (using a managed service provider), computer backup software (for a small number of machines), file backup, disk image backup, automatic backup, server backup, and mobile backup.
Required features could include but are not limited to remote backup, disaster recovery, scheduling, encryption, disk imaging, file versioning, incremental backups, compression, and online backups.
Clearly, tool selection must be driven by company requirements…
Free and Budget Options
If your organization does not have a backup strategy, disaster recovery policy or similar processes, then it is very likely that cost is a major deciding factor. It is also probable that your organization does not deal in Big Data, AI or any activity that involves processing of large data sets. The little data you do create must be backed up, just in case the original (and only) copy is lost. The most cost-conscious solutions (if a small business is involved) is to utilize system-based solutions that are free or low-cost. The aim is to preserve your data if the worst happens, allowing you to restore it from backups.
1. OS Solutions
For the purposes of this post, Windows is the OS of choice for most and has its own backup and restore functionality. Simply choose a source and destination and press the button. Other OSes such as Linux have their own proprietary options, and Mac users will be familiar with Time Machine.
2. Drive Imaging
My Windows 10 OS is on a dedicated SSD drive and I don't use the standard ‘Documents’, ‘Videos’ or other system-designated folders for storing files, using an additional hard drive instead and my own folder structure. The reason for this is simple; I don’t want my files integrated with the OS in case of system failure. If my SSD drive fails, then I can simply move my other hard drive (with all documents and emails on it) to another computer until I replace the SSD. Imaging the SSD on a regular basis (once a month) means that setting up the new SSD (with the OS and all installed programs) takes minutes rather than hours. I use Aomei Backupper Standard. The free version has all the features I need and made my transition from HDDs to SSDs a simple one, without having to reinstall the OS or programs from scratch. Of course, there are other options that will clone a hard drive if you wish to try them out.
3. File Backup
Now that the OS and programs are covered, it’s time to look at files/folders/precious data. Again, there are many options available in this area. I’ve used Allway Sync Pro for many years, as it allows me to have fine control over backup destinations, scheduling, automation, versioning and more. Pricing per license varies according to volume purchased but a single lifetime license is $25.95 with an additional license costing $15.95.
Regardless of the selected tool, it is crucial to know where your user data is stored.
For example, it is vital that all emails are backed up as losing them could have serious consequences. Ditto, contacts and business documents such as invoices, contracts, and other proprietary data required for business operations. ISO compliance, for example, would be difficult to maintain if the data lost includes processes, procedures, manuals, and logs. How would you even begin to replace all of it? How long would it take to do so? It is worth noting that since Vista, Windows has included Sync Center, which can aid file/folder synchronisation to other destinations.
Depending on the amount of data involved and whether you intend to include drive images as part of the backup process, storage is necessary and must be purchased if not already available.
Storage options include but are not limited to memory sticks, external hard drives, optical media (DVDs, tape or Blu-ray), network storage (NAS), a shared network location or remote storage over FTP or with a cloud storage provider.
Whatever you decide, bear in mind that storage can fail so choose more than one option or multiple instances of the same choice i.e. store 1 backup on NAS and another on another network location such as a server hard drive. Multiple backups are advised and for maximum protection, at least one should be stored offsite. Hard disk drives are cheap these days so there is no real excuse for an inability to store data backups.
In conclusion, backing up your data is essential as even personal users take precautions with family photos and other irreplaceable files. Of course, the most important consideration in any backup strategy is making sure that the backups work correctly. How frustrating would it be if backups fail when needed? Would you blame IT? If they’re responsible for backups, sure. If no backup strategy is in place, the fault is your own…