The Top Seven Backup Mistakes Your Business Can Make

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Let’s face it; we all make mistakes, right? It’s part of life. And when you’re running a business, sooner or later, human error is going to occur.

That’s what backup software is all about; it’s the safety net when you or another make that inevitable slip. Without it, things tend to go the way of Humpty Dumpty—the overwhelming odds say you’re not going to be putting those pieces back together again.

Of course, having the safety net is one thing, but you’ve got to properly set it up! Here are the biggest business mistakes we’ve seen people make when it comes to backing up their data; our stories straight from the IT trenches.

The Seven Biggest Backup Mistakes You Can Make

1. Not having enough storage room on your backup media

It happens so often. Excited after buying their ‘set-and-forget’ automated backup software, your business’s SysAdmin faithfully sets it all up. Several months later, there’s a server crash. “Not to worry!”, they announce, “I set up some backup software to copy our server, every week, to our dedicated backup media.”

That overwhelming confidence, however, turns to despair when they go to check it… and find out the last successful backup was three months ago. The reason? That’s when the backup media ran out of space, and so every backup job since then has failed… meaning your business has lost three months of work, not to mention customer data.

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Unworkable: Whether it’s data or something else, having no space is a problem.

The way around this is to make sure you’ve properly calculated how much storage space you’re going to need for your backups. If your backup strategy requires you to have a set number of server backups at any given time, do the math. If you’re keeping five daily backups, five weekly backups, twelve monthly backups, and one yearly backup, this is at least 23 backups of your server you need to keep – so you need at least that much storage space.

The next thing you can do is have backup software that gives you automated alerts and reports on the success and failure of your backups. Some will let you set up mailing groups to keep everyone who needs to know in the loop, so when your backup destination fills up, it doesn’t come as an eleventh-hour shock.

2. Not Having Offsite Backups

Whenever you’re ensuring your business continuity, you want to make sure there’s no single points of failure—something bad that if it occurs, stops your entire business dead in its tracks. It’s disaster planning 101.

If you’re only keeping your backups on-site, then you’ve got a big single point of failure. Imagine your backups are kept in the server room. Filled with electronics, something catches on fire, and everything in that room is ruined. Since your backups are kept in there, you haven’t just lost your live server—you’ve lost the backups you had prepared just for such an emergency.

Let’s change the scenario, but change it to a flood, storm, earthquake, theft, or employee sabotage. All of these situations end the same—you’ve lost everything in one swoop, and all your business data along with it. No matter the quality of your backup software, if you keep everything on-site, you’re opening yourself to risk.

The simplest solution to this is storing at least one backup off-site, either physically or with a cloud provider. This way, even if your entire site was to go down in flames, you’ve still got your business data to resume operations at a different venue.

3. Not Rotating Your Backup Media

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This is another incredibly common pitfall. People will keep backing up to a single local or external drive, usually because they’re too busy to switch or unplug them. Then, when disaster strikes—whether it’s hardware or human error, a virus, or something else—they’ve lost the only backup device they had.

This is a big problem when it comes to malware, which will first infect your system and then travel on to any connected device. This means your business data, and the backups of your business data, are both taken out in one fell swoop.

Airgapping is a great way to get around this. Airgapping your backup means you physically isolate it from any form of internet or LAN access. The simplest way to do this is to back up onto an external hard drive, disconnect it, and store it somewhere offsite. To learn more about Airgapping, read our guide.

Of course, not everyone has the time to take their backups offsite, or a good place to securely store them. There are services that exist for this sort of thing, which you can read about here.

4. Not backing up regularly enough

When you’re putting in place a backup strategy, you should always ask yourself this question: ‘How much data, measured in time, can we afford to lose before it causes unacceptable damage to the business’?

The answer to these two questions is known as your Recovery Point Objective (RPO), and a lot of people don’t have a backup strategy that meets it. For example, you may be only backing up once every 24 hours, but you can only ever afford to lose a maximum of 10 hours of data. In this scenario, you need to be backing up at least every ten hours to meet your RPO.

Ask yourself if your business is currently meeting its RPO. If it’s not, then your business is at risk of suffering irreparable damage from a data disaster.

5. Using Only One Kind of Backup Media

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Hardware Failure: Whether its nature or backup devices, diversity is key to survival.

This is almost as bad as using only a single backup device. Imagine you’re using only a certain brand of tape to backup your business data, and it just so happens that brand isn’t very reliable. Unfortunately, when disaster strikes, you go to recover your data only to find out they’re all faulty.

This sort of issue is easily avoided by just using two different kinds of backup media. Make sure they’re not just different brands, but entirely different kinds of backup media (E.g. Tape and NAS).

6. No Outage Plan

When disaster strikes, the last thing you want to be doing is running around figuring out whose responsibility it is to deal with what, and what you’re meant to do. You want your backup strategy all figured out step by step, so business operations are disrupted as little as possible.

Find out what kind of technical support services your backup software provider offers. If they do offer technical support, it will help you out greatly when you’re performing a disaster recovery—they know the software you’re using inside and out, and they help people like you survive IT disasters dozens of times a day, all year round.

Here’s a guide on everything you need to include in your business’s outage plan. Even if you have one, it’s worth a read to see if you’ve checked all the boxes.

7. No Test Restores or Trial Runs

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This is the most ignored rule and by far the biggest pitfall when it comes to business backups. People assume that because their backup software or media is top of the range, that they will be able to restore their data 100% of the time in a disaster, without fail.

The honest truth is this: the universe doesn’t like data. No matter how securely you back it up, physics is out to get you. Stray particles can quite literally zap zeros to ones, introducing corruption when your computer is turned off.

And it’s not the only cause of corruption. Magnetic drives can lose orientation. Electrically charged media loses its charge. Optical media breaks down as plastic degrades. And then there’s the chance your backup job simply failed, or one of your applications caused corruption in it. There are so many reasons it can happen.

In short? Corruption in your backups, even if you’ve got the best backup software and hardware in the world, is something you’ve got to actively fight. And the best way to do that is a test restore.

So whenever you backup your data, immediately try restoring a few files from it. It’s a simple lifesaving trick that tells you if the backup is corrupted. If it is, you can figure out what went wrong and perform another device backup.

Sound simple? It really is. But even some professionals don’t test restore their backups and end up paying heavily for it. There is nothing worse than going to restore from backup data and finding out they’re corrupted.

Performing a test restore is also a great trial run for what you need to do in an emergency, like a fire drill. It also lets you see how reliable and fast your chosen backup software is in an emergency. For a business, it gives you an idea about how long you’ll need to wait before getting your data back—a question employees or your boss will no doubt be asking you.

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