Critical questions for mission-critical business backups

mission-critical business backups

If you’re starting to hammer out a strategy for business backup, STOP!  Stop what you’re doing right now.  Because when it comes to your business’s mission-critical systems and data, there are some core questions you need to address right away.

Trust us, if something goes wrong you don’t want to be asking yourself these questions in hindsight.

All too many businesses take a lackadaisical approach when it comes to backups.  Most are aware that backups are important (although depressingly there are still some who haven’t even made it this far), but too few take the time to sit down and think a solid strategy through.  By asking yourself some simple questions before you begin, you’ll be setting off down the road to secure business backups in no time.

Here are the questions you must be able to answer before implementing a strategy.  Resolve these questions before you even start considering hardware or software options, because this is what will help determine which hardware/software components will make up your backup solution.

What is your mission-critical data?

mission-critical business backups

Mission-critical means data or systems that your business couldn’t survive without.  Period.

It doesn’t include that PowerPoint you did a few years ago.  We don’t care how late you stayed up or how many people patted you on the back after the conference.  When it comes to business backups, prioritizing is the first step towards implementing a truly effective strategy.

Prioritize which systems, applications and data are “mission-critical”, which are “business-critical” and which are simply “desirable”.  Mission-critical means your business could not continue to operate without it.  This will depend on the specifics of your business, but generally it will include systems and applications that your day-to-day operations depend upon.

Business-critical means it’s important, but if the worst came to the worst you could soldier on without it.  Many file-level backups may probably fall into this category, although again, it will depend upon your business – some may well earn a spot as mission-critical.

Desirable means you don’t want to lose it, but nobody’s going to shed any tears if it does happen.  Your artistically inspired PowerPoint we spoke about earlier, for example.

At the end of the day, your business is going to be backing up all of the above – but the frequency and the method by which this is done will depend on how important it is.

Once you’ve prioritized your applications, systems and data, we have a couple of articles that will help you in choosing the right backup method and implementing an effective backup schedule.

Who’s responsible for implementation?

who's responsible for business backups?

Business backups are important.  That means you need to be absolutely clear about whose responsibility it is to ensure they’re being properly maintained.  If the task falls to your company’s Sys Admin, all well and good – but what happens when he/she’s sick for a week?  Is your business going to be unprotected?

If he/she gets fed up and walks out the door, will you trust your data and systems to chance in the weeks or months it takes to find a suitable replacement?

You need to have more than one person who’s intimately familiar with your business backup strategy as a whole, as well as the procedural details of how it’s implemented.   You also need to have a clear hierarchy in place that covers who’s in charge of what and when.  When it comes to business backups, ambiguity is something to be avoided at all costs.

The same obviously goes for restores and recoveries.  Because if your business burns down the same week your Sys Admin is sipping cocktails in the Bahamas, you’re going to be up a certain creek without adequate propulsion.

How will you ensure business backups are restorable?

restoring business backups

The answer to this one is simple – test, test and test again.

Yes, your backup software will probably include some form of Backup Verification, and this can be a fantastic indicator that your backup is healthy.  But the simple truth is that there’s no substitute for a good ol’ fashioned manual test restore.

Simply select a mission-critical backup, access it, run the restore job and then pay close attention to the results.  Whether it’s an archival backup or a daily onsite backup, you’ll be in a much better position when disaster strikes if you know with as close to 100% certainty as possible that it can be restored if required.  Here’s some further information on testing backups and performing test restores.

You should also establish a routine for testing important backups – designate who should be doing it and how often.  That way, there’s no chance that you’ll never be standing over a brand new server and discovering a vital backup file is corrupted, while listening to “Well, I thought Fred tested it” or “Sally said she’d test it next week”.

Testing is easy.  Not being able to restore mission-critical business backups is hard.  Both on the heartstrings and the wallet.

What happens if you lose your onsite backups?

business backup disaster

This is where Disaster Recovery planning comes into play.  You do have a Disaster Recovery plan, don’t you?

A big part of a solid DR plan is to have offsite File Archiving backups in place.  This means that if you lose your onsite backups for whatever reason, you can just restore whatever’s lost from offsite.

Offsite backup is important, because there’s no point in meticulous backups and pedantic test restores if the same tragedy that takes out your main systems also wipes out all your backups.  Whether your offsite backup strategy involves some kind of new-fangled cloud solution, or trusty old tape backups tucked away in a fireproof/waterproof safe at a different location, as long as they’re not in the same place as your servers you’re off to a good start.  Here’s a helpful article about scheduling offsite backups.

Of course, there are some additional concerns you’ll want to consider when it comes to the cloud.  Just like there are pros and cons to tape and disk and every other method of offsite backup you can think of.  If you haven’t picked up on this already, there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to business backups.

Many in the industry recommend that a good business backup strategy should follow the 3-2-1 method: i.e. 3 copies of anything mission critical, 2 different formats, 1 offsite backup.

How will the strategy scale into the future?

future business backup strategy

Foresight is a wonderful ability.  One that hardly any of us use anywhere near as often as we should.

When planning out how to approach business backups, it’s important to consider not only what’s necessary now but what will become necessary within the next 5 years (or more!).  We’re going to go ahead and make the assumption that your intention is for your business to grow in that time.  That means its backup requirements will grow to match.  Here are some further questions you should address in order to answer the larger question:

  • Is your backup media able to increase in size?
  • Will your backup selections support the next versions of Windows?
  • Is your hardware vendor still supporting your backup destination?
  • Will virtualization become more important for your business backups?
  • Will you need to support roaming users and backups from hot desks?
  • Will new applications require different backup add-ons and backup types?

If you don’t plan for all that now, then you’ll find yourself back in this same position down the road.  Or even worse, you’ll just assume your mission critical data and systems are still protected – until a disaster strikes and you discover otherwise.

The best backup solution will always give you flexibility to expand your horizons and continue protecting your mission-critical data as required.  Take a moment (or preferably longer) to think about where your business will be in the future (both ideally and realistically), what different business backup requirements it may have, and how these can best be addressed.  Your future self will thank you.

Once you’ve got all of the above question sorted, you’ll finally be ready to start thinking about which hardware/software combinations will best fit your needs.  And that’s where the fun really begins


  Can you think of another business backup consideration we haven’t mentioned?
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