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Backup strategy for small business starts with best practices

Small businesses can't afford to go without a solid backup strategy. Thankfully, there are many backup for small business options, from tape to disk to cloud.

Although the subject of backup planning is almost always framed in the context of large enterprises, backups are every bit as important for small businesses, maybe even more so. A major data loss event could put a small company out of business.

Every small business should take the time to consider how best to protect its data and prioritize putting such a backup plan into practice. There are multiple competing backup products and numerous vendors that all claim to be the best. Rather than picking out a backup product and then trying to configure it to protect your organization's data, it is better to develop a comprehensive backup strategy for small business and then figure out which products will best fit that strategy.

Planning your backup strategy for small business

In order for data to be adequately protected, there must be three copies of the data. The first copy isn't really a copy; it's the production data that you use every day. The second copy is a backup that you keep on site, and the third copy is an off-site backup.

There are two reasons why you need two different backup copies. The first reason is for the sake of redundancy. If your on-site backup copy is unreadable (because of a bad tape or a similar problem), having a secondary backup copy gives you something to fall back on.

Having an on-site copy also gives you the ability to restore data quickly. Restoring an off-site backup copy is much slower, but having an off-site backup copy will ensure that a copy of your data survives in the event that the business suffers a catastrophe, such as a fire or a flood. Furthermore, an off-site data copy can act as a stopgap. If your business is attacked by ransomware, the virus may be able to destroy your on-site backup. Having a disconnected, off-site copy gives you a way to get your data back without paying the ransom.

Selecting a backup media type

As you plan your backup strategy for small business, you will need to decide what sort of media you will use for both your on-site and off-site backups.

As you plan your backup strategy for small business, you will need to decide what sort of media you will use for both your on-site and off-site backups.

Tape isn't quite as popular today as it once was, but tape backups are relatively inexpensive and reliable. Once a tape is ejected from the drive, it is disconnected from your system, so a ransomware attack cannot compromise the data stored on an ejected tape.

The disadvantage to using tape is that it doesn't work well for data that changes frequently. Usually, only one tape backup is made each night, so the most recent data will always be left unprotected. You will also have to find a secure way to store tapes to prevent data theft.

A common technique in a backup strategy for small business is to use portable hard drives as a backup target. This method has similar advantages and disadvantages to tape, but the hard drives tend to be a little more expensive and can't survive being dropped like a tape might.

Continuous data protection (CDP) constantly backs up your data to a series of disks within a backup server or an appliance. CDP backups run all the time, so even your most recent data is protected. The disadvantages, however, are that CDP backups are more complex than tape or portable hard disk backups, lack portability and can be very expensive.

Because CDP backups are not portable, it is common to copy backup data to a tape or to the cloud for off-site storage. While this enhances the level of protection, it also increases the cost and the complexity of the backup.

Another popular option in a backup strategy for small business is cloud backups. While cloud backups are reliable, they aren't well-suited to backing up large volumes of data. The cost of transferring and storing the data increases as you accumulate more and more data. Additionally, internet bandwidth limitations may make backing up to -- or restoring from -- the cloud impractical if you create large volumes of data. Many organizations use the cloud as a secondary backup for these reasons. Even so, cloud backup products aimed at small businesses are often designed for use by people who have minimal technical experience and can therefore be a good choice in organizations with limited IT resources.

Small businesses must consider their own data protection needs and choose a product accordingly. In doing so, consider how frequently the data needs to be backed up, how quickly a recovery needs to complete and what you can afford.

This was last published in May 2018

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