This post is from guest blogger Peter H. Mantos of Albuquerque business consultancy Mantos Consulting, Inc. (Also a long-time SWCP customer)
The business community is well aware of the need to backup critical computer systems. However, very few small businesses have actually tested their backup system by performing a recovery. Business managers operate under a false assumption that they are protected from the worst. This article explains some common reasons that “successful” backups fail to meet business continuity needs. It encourages business owners to ensure that information technology (I.T.) systems can be recovered through actual testing.
You’re smart. You know that while wise use of computers (information technology, or “I.T.”) offers competitive advantages, they have now become a requirement, a “necessary evil” to stay in business. You also know that I.T. sometimes fails and without it, you are dead in the water. So, being smart, you do your backups; perhaps even regularly and even automatically. Perhaps you don’t back up every computer in the office every day or every week, but at least you back-up your important data; maybe even using an offsite service or by taking copies offsite. Good for you! But have you ever tried to recover using those backups? If not, don’t be smug about being backed-up! Many people have been unpleasantly surprised when the fickle finger of computer fate strikes. Some find that the backups don’t really restore the data or the functionality they need to stay in business. What do these people do in that case? Like you, they are smart, resourceful, and resilient; they start over. But in the meantime, they lose time, orders, customers, and money.
2. Common reasons backups fail to restore
There are many ways a backup can fail to restore systems. Among the most common is simply that the “automatic” backup doesn’t run. Perhaps someone verified that the backup was running months ago. Perhaps just last week a copy was taken offsite to the fireproof vault. However, no checks were in place to verify that it was really running. Then, when it comes time to really use the backup, you find that the removable backup drive is empty or contains three month old data. In that case, you don’t have to start over; but you just reset the business back three months – at least! Another common reason the restore fails is that people incorrectly specify what needs to be backed-up. For example, a company might have a common “Company Data” folder on “the server” and think that by backing up that area, the business is covered from disaster. These people are then shocked to find after recovering the data that critical files necessary to run the business are not really stored in that area. For example, an employee might maintain the “pending contracts spreadsheet” on a personal desktop or laptop that crashed or was stolen. You need a backup strategy that considers what you need to run the business. That strategy will dictate what needs to be backed up and how often; depending on how much data and time you can really afford to lose. Another similar issue is that many computer programs automatically store key data such as “last check number” or “data encryption key” on the “C:” drive under “My Documents” or “application Data” or in the registry of the bookkeeper’s computer. Without backing up and restoring those little pieces of data, people find that the huge data file on the shared server is worthless. Sometimes people use the wrong backup tool. Many times, I have seen people who were shocked to find that after “successfully” restoring a server, an email system, or a database; that the file was unusable. Some programs require that you use a specific, proprietary backup tool to create consistent “snapshot” files, which are then backed-up using traditional tools. Examples of popular programs requiring specific backup tools include Microsoft’s Exchange server and various SQL databases and common bookkeeping tools such as Intuit’s QuickBooks and Sage’s Peachtree. Unless the proper backup tools are used properly, your backups may be worthless.
3. Man does not live by data alone
Even if all the data is properly restored and useful, people find that they can spend an entire week reinstalling programs (assuming you can still find the cd’s and licenses) and setting customizations to get back where they were prior to the crash. Consider all the shortcuts your browser might have stored, the shortcuts on your desktop, or the printers to which your word processor might normally print. Unless you have such configurations backed-up, plan on another week of frustration after you have “restored” your computer.
4. Conclusion: Trust, but verify
How can you be sure that your back-up plan works? As stated before, you are smart, so the answer is obvious. Test the backup, systematically and regularly. Yes, it’s a pain, but worth it. You’ll sleep better knowing that you are ahead of the pack because you’ll be back in business when you need to be.
Mantos Consulting, Inc. (www.mantos.com) helps people find I.T. solutions that fit the business, including backup strategies and tools.