Chilling Tales of Backup Gone Awry

October is coming to a close as is the season of scary stories to tell in the dark.  As we say goodbye to October, my thoughts remain on scary stories to tell about business.

One of the most frightening scenarios for businesses who rely heavily on technology is the possibility of data loss, and yet, few businesses have proper backup and disaster recovery tools in place to protect their most critical assets.  That’s scary when you consider that 70% of small businesses who experience a major data loss go out of business within one year of the disaster. I have hundreds of stories about business owners who slept easy at night, confident their critical business data was properly protected only to learn they were a scary story waiting to be told.

Consider, for example, the large medical practice generating tens of millions of dollars per year in patient billings. Three years into their business they learned the backup system configured to back up their medical databases had not performed a single backup in over a year. In addition, the backup system was never configured properly to protect their financial records and as a result, their financial records had never been backed up. A solution was installed for both data sets, but the firm did not have a single set of backup data!

There’s also the story of a local small business owner who was manually backing up his business’ data to a single backup tape each and every night.  He performed this activity faithfully for nine years. He later learned that the tape had stopped functioning properly and the data on it was many years old.

And finally, there’s the story of the company using portable flash drives to back up the most critical components of their business data. Their manager took these drives home nightly to ensure a copy of their data remained off site each night. While running an errand after work one night she left her purse in the car and it was stolen – along with the unencrypted business data that was stored on the flash drive in that purse.  The company not only had a missing backup to contend with, but also had to deal with the ramifications associated with a data breach as well.

These are just three of hundreds of horror stories I’ve seen firsthand as I work with businesses. The most common problem I see today is that limited solutions are put in place and never tested providing business owners with a false sense of security.

I do not have to educate you on the importance of creating copies of your business data or the need to maintain copies of your data somewhere other than in your office. What few people think about, however, is what is really contained on your backup media. If you are only backing up your data and not the systems, software, user accounts and configurations used to access, process and utilize the information, all you have is raw data.

Think about what would happen if your computers and servers were destroyed. Perhaps your office is flooded or your building burns. You may be thinking, “I have copies of all my business’ data stored on a hard drive in a safe at my house.”  Great. Now what are you going to do with that drive? Your accounting files, spreadsheet, word processing documents and specialty databases all require access to the software used to create the files in order to access and use the data.  Do you have the installation software and installations keys stored somewhere safe?  How long will it take you to reinstall and reconfigure all that software?  How long will it take to order and receive new hardware? How long will it take to reconfigure it upon arrival?  Most importantly, how is business getting done while you are dealing with all of this?

When was the last time you tested your backup system? I do not mean that you verified that your data copied correctly. I mean, when was the last time you performed a complete and thorough disaster recovery test? I would wager you have never done this, because frankly, no one does.

In a traditional environment – one where only data is backed up – disaster recovery testing is very difficult. First, you must purchase or have access to a duplicate set of server hardware. You must also have copies of all applications installed including their license keys. A thorough test requires you to reinstall the server operating system and all applications on the server. You must reconfigure the server, setup user accounts, and finally, download your data from offsite backup storage. It is a very time consuming and expensive endeavor, and consequently, no one does it.  And yet, not performing this activity at least once per year is very risky.

So what is the solution to this challenge?  The answer is cloud based disaster recovery. I’ll introduce you the benefits of this great innovation next month.

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