Building network backups at your small business

Image via Flickr: Infusionsoft

For many businesses starting out, especially those experiencing waves of rapid growth, it’s easy to develop a backup strategy with little thought about the best way to protect a burgeoning network.

At this stage in a business, backup strategy can develop organically often consisting of a mish-mash of consumer, freeware, open source and trial products, which aren’t suitable for protecting the data on your network.

It’s completely understandable. You’ve got a business, it’s on the rise. Network backup is likely something far from your mind. You know that you don’t want to lose work or suffer downtime but backup is probably a to-do list project that keeps getting pushed into the limitless future.

In this article we’ll bring backing up your network to the top of your list; showing you how to quickly analyze requirements and then find the right solutions for small network backups.


1. What is your small network?

The first thing you need to look at is your physical network: how many servers do you have, how many workstations do you have and what type – including OS – are they.

Next take a good look at data and information flows within your business. I’d start with a map of your business and its people, determining roles that create or rely on data. You want to know:

  • what data is important
  • where is it created
  • where it is stored
  • how much you have
  • what is critical to keeping the business running

A great place to start is by asking each of the employees. You can then create maps of how data moves around. This information will tell you what hardware and software you will need to put in place a great network backup. I’ve done up a quick example below of what a map might look like.

2. Choosing backup storage

Choosing backup storage depends on two factors: reliability and cost. In recent years reliability has been increasing while cost has been decreasing dramatically.

Storage cost comes down to how much data you have and how quickly you want to be able to retrieve it. Solid state drives for example are much more expensive but more reliable and quicker to transfer data. Hard drives on the other hand are cheaper but slower to transfer data and are often quite fragile.

You should look at investing in a variety of storage types – generally two or three – at least one of which should be kept offsite. If one fails or something terrible happens to your business, you’ll at least have a copy outside of the immediate area.

When choosing your backup storage solution you need to know:

  • How much you will be storing
  • How much redundancy you want
  • How quickly you can retrieve data
  • If it is cloud, consider the regulatory and security requirements

Personally, for a small network I’d go with a NAS with RAID, daily tape backups and an offsite backup with Amazon Web Services’ S3 migrating to Amazon Glacier for archiving.


3. How often will you back up your network?

As often as possible. End of story.

Well not quite. Possible is a very loose term. You have to consider when systems are used and when data is created.

Backups like to be run when systems are inactive. For some applications, like active databases, a near continuous backup is going to be necessary. For others an automated night run when the office is empty will be more than sufficient.

Also to be considered is the schedule you want backups run on. It’s really important to have both regular backups that can be written over each week, and archive backups (like monthly and annual) that are kept in a secure location and never written over.

Scheduling is a whole topic on its own which we’ll be covering in the near future. In the meantime, our Backup Whitepaper (page 6), does a great job of explaining the benefits and use cases for different schedules.

You should also test all of your new backup jobs by performing a test restore straight away. This ensures that when everything is crashing around you and the business is resting on your backups, you’ll know they work.


Moving to back up your small network

If you’ve found yourself with a business growing up around you, designing a backup strategy is something you should be focusing on. As your business grows the number factors to consider in your network backup also grows and this article is only a starting point for the needs of most small businesses.

Taking stock of your network – who is doing what and where – allows you to effectively structure your backup plan. With a map in place it’s much easier to assess what storage you will need and how often you will be backing up your networks.

Before you start another project, bump out another iteration, build another repository – ask yourself: is your network backup where it should be?

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