Back It Up!  Back It Up!

Sep 30, 2021 | Blog

This is the fifth of a five part series examining simple ways to protect your data from data breach and data loss, all without costing an arm and a leg.  Part 1 of the series can be found here. These posts come from material that we present in our “Protecting Your Data” seminar for businesses.  The presentation also has 1 hour of CLE credit from the Alabama Bar Association.  Contact us to schedule a presentation or to find out when one is being offered.

What is Backup?

Backup is the procedure of making extra copies of data thereby protecting yourself from loss or damage of the original.  Backing up a computer used to involve things like tapes, disks, CDs and DVDs and possibly armed guards and storage like you would find in a bank vault.  Backup was a very time-consuming, costly and prone to error.  Thankfully, things have come a long way recently and now, you can easily find cheap and reliable backup.

Why Back Up?

Look at your computer to see what is on it.  Where would you or your business be if all your data disappeared or was encrypted by a virus like we discussed here?  Is all of your accounting information gone?  Would you know who owes you money or to whom you owe money?  Would you still be able to conduct business?  Would you lose irreplaceable pictures or memories?Accidents happen. When they do, they can damage or destroy a computer and the information on it.   You could spill coffee on your computer or experience a flood or fire.  The most common cause of data loss is actually plain-old hard drive failure.  The normal, annual failure rate is between 3-5%, but some models have a reported failure rate of over 20%.Many people think that just having a file synching and sharing (FSS) service, such as Dropbox or Box, is sufficient backup.  It is true that most of these services do offer some form of limited backup, however, this is not their primary purpose.  We recommend that everyone have a dedicated backup solution to protect themselves and their data, even if they are using a FSS service.Something else to note is that some regulations, such as HIPAA, require data to be backed up to prevent loss.  If you are not backing up your data then you are subject to fines ranging from $100 to $250,000 or more.

Types of Backup

The most common types of backup are file-level and image.  When selecting which type and solution to use, first figure out:

  1. What you need to back up
  2. How long you want to retain the data
  3. How long you can be without the information
  4. How much time, money and effort you can expend on getting back up and running in the event of data loss.

File-level Backup

File-level backup, as the name suggests, is where you only backup individual files.  In most modern solutions you simply select the directories that you want backed up, choose the destination and then the program will take care of everything behind the scenes.  This type of backup is very space-efficient as only the relevant files are stored.  Generally, it is also very reliable, cheap, and easy to use.  This is the most common type of backup found for PCs and Macs.  The downside to file-level backup is that if your computer dies, you either have to replace your computer or reload the operating system, then load your programs on it, and then get your data back.

Image Backup

When using image backup the software takes a “snapshot” of your computer so that you can restore your entire computer as it was at that point in time.  Many modern image backup systems will even allow you to “boot” the backed up snapshot so that you can get in and retrieve individual files, if you desire.  While this backup type has uses for PCs, it is most commonly found when dealing with servers. It is more complicated to manage than file-level backup, is more error-prone, and has a higher associated cost in labor and in storage space as it backs up everything on a computer.  Generally, it is faster to get a computer completely back up and running with image-based backup than with file-level backup.

To Cloud or Not To Cloud?

Ideally, your data would be backed up to at least two different physical locations, and even better, using two different methods or services.  Most people can get by with just having a single cloud-based backup solution, but a business ought to have at least two.  Most business should consider a local solution and a cloud-based solution.  This gives you the ability to recover quickly, from the local solution, in the event of a single computer failure.  Yet you still have the ability to recover from a disaster such as a fire or flood where everything in the office is destroyed. Most commercially available file-level backup solutions are designed to back up your data to “the cloud,” which is usually the vendor’s servers.  Carbonite, Crashplan, and Backblaze are all examples of this type of service.  Many of them will let you back up your files to a local destination as well, such as a hard drive attached to your network.  These solutions will also generally offer “continuous” backup where changes are uploaded every 10-15 minutes. Due to the size of the snapshots, most image-based backup solutions are designed to be backed up primarily to a local storage location.  Many of them can then also replicate the backup to an off-site, or cloud, location, but they will not back up directly to those.  You can take image backups quite often, but they take a lot of storage space, so you would generally do this no more than once or twice a day.  For our PCs, we take a snapshot between once a week and once a month depending on the computer.

Look Before You Leap

When selecting a backup solution, like with most things in life, you need to read the fine print.  Some cloud solutions offer “unlimited” storage but after you reach a certain size they restrict your ability to send more data, limiting its usefulness.  Some will also limit the size of the backup source, so if you have more than say, 1 TB of data you have to buy the bigger, more expensive, edition.  That being said, you should be able to find a cloud-based, file-level, backup solution that meets your needs for between $10-$30 per month per computer.  There is also software out there that will back up locally for free.With the low cost of cloud storage and backup there is really no reason today for any person or business to be unprotected.  For guidance or help with this process contact us and we will be happy to lend a hand.