Designing a Backup Strategy for your Business


Most small business owners know they should backup their data, but for many it stays on the to-do list until it’s too late, which is a hard and costly lesson to learn because downtime equals lost business — 29 percent of small businesses lost revenue and 52 percent lost productivity due to a typical outage. For small businesses, this is a risk you can’t afford to take.

Data loss statistics

The following statistics were gathered from various sources:

  • 6% of all PCs will suffer an episode of data loss in any given year. Given the number of PCs used in US businesses in 1998, that translates to approximately 4.6 million data loss episodes. At a conservative estimate, data loss cost US businesses $11.8 billion in 1998. (The Cost Of Lost Data, David M. Smith)
  • 30% of all businesses that have a major fire go out of business within a year. 70% fail within five years. (Home Office Computing Magazine)
  • 31% of PC users have lost all of their files due to events beyond their control.
  • 34% of companies fail to test their tape backups, and of those that do, 77% have found tape back-up failures.
  • 60% of companies that lose their data will shut down within 6 months of the disaster.
  • 93% of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. 50% of businesses that found themselves without data management for this same time period filed for bankruptcy immediately. (National Archives & Records Administration in Washington)
  • American business lost more than $7.6 billion as a result of viruses during first six months of 1999. (Research by Computer Economics)
  • Companies that aren’t able to resume operations within ten days (of a disaster hit) are not likely to survive. (Strategic Research Institute)
  • Every week 140,000 hard drives crash in the United States. (Mozy Online Backup)
  • Simple drive recovery can cost upwards of $7,500 and success is not guaranteed.

Although these statistics are for American companies and refer to the 1990s, the situation in South Africa today is likely to be the same, if not worse.

Where to start?

The important thing to remember is that there is no one-size-fits-all, perfect data backup and recovery system. What works exceptionally well for one company may not work well at all for another.

An effective small business backup strategy must start with a plan detailing requirements such as how far in the past it is required to access data. Too often the decision-making process begins with budget, which often defaults to $0, leading to free services that miss business requirements.

If you own a micro-business, you may think a simple flash drive will serve as a backup. But that’s a very limited plan. If something happens at your business or home, you can lose that flash drive just as surely as anything else. In almost all cases, a cloud-based backup and recovery service is a good choice, especially since you can automate regular backups so that you don’t forget to run them.

For small and mid-sized companies, an on-site or blended recovery plan may make the most sense in terms of cost and recovery time.

Questions to ask yourself

Pretend that you’ve lost all your data. Now think about which data you need to retrieve first, how fast you need to retrieve it, and how you want to retrieve it. This exercise not only helps you prioritize your data so that you don’t lose time retrieving the wrong info after an emergency, but it also gives you a good idea which storage and disaster recovery options are best for your company.

For example, do you want to retrieve the data immediately using any mobile device? This could be handy if your entire facility is destroyed, and you have no servers at the moment to download the data to. In the case of a huge storm like Sandy, you may not even have a store nearby where you could buy new servers, nor can shippers easily deliver new hardware to your door. Also, your employees may be geographically dispersed after such a disaster or otherwise unable to physically report for work.

If you want immediate access from any device, then cloud-based backup and recovery services are a good choice. But don’t just decide to use the cloud and think you are done with selecting the best option.

Spend the bucks and get the services you truly need. In this case a penny saved is not a penny earned but rather the price of a ticket to disaster.

Remember too, that disaster survivors don’t receive a get-out-of-jail-free card. You still need to meet compliance and security requirements for your data. Make sure that whatever data recovery option you select meets those requirements.

While cloud services excel at keeping your data far from the disaster site, keep in mind that your data isn’t really in a cloud hovering over the earth. It is stored at an actual facility somewhere. Make sure that facility is far enough away that a regional disaster will not affect it or, better yet, that your data will rollover to another facility if the first one or two are affected.

12 Small Business Data Backup and Recovery Tips

  1. Consider an image-based backup solution that takes periodic snapshots of the system, application and data for total protection. Image-based solutions are much easier to use and deliver fast backup and recovery. They also enable more frequent backups to help reduce the risk of data loss.
  2. Look for Bare Metal Recovery technology that can slash system recovery time compared to building a server from scratch. This helps to reduce business downtime.
  3. Examine solutions that protect both physical and virtual server environments. Organizations can avoid the unnecessary cost and complexity of using two separate solutions by choosing one of the many solutions available that effectively support both environments.
  4. Look for a solution that offers granular file and application recovery, which is much faster than having to recover an entire volume or database. One example: shops with Microsoft Exchange should consider solutions that offer granular recovery of individual mailboxes, emails and even attachments along with complete Exchange database recovery.
  5. Consider a host-based backup approach to protect all the virtual machines on a hypervisor. It’s faster and easier.
  6. Seek a solution that offers comprehensive security features like access control, auditing and data encryption to address compliance requirements
  7. Use data deduplication to reduce storage requirements and associated costs.
  8. Look for central management and reporting capabilities to help ease IT support and improve productivity.
  9. Take a look at virtual standby and high availability technologies that help you quickly recover an entire system after an outage.
  10. Consider using an archiving feature to reduce primary storage. Some solutions allow archiving to disk, tape and even public cloud.
  11. Consider a SaaS solution, which converts what would have been large capital expenditure (CAPEX) into a smaller, more manageable operational expenditure (OPEX).
  12. Evaluate a solution from a Managed Services Provider (MSP) where you can leverage their knowledge, experience, resources and even facility for backup, disaster recovery and business continuity.

Data Backup Wrap Up

It’s important that you understand the three basic types of backup solutions: software, appliance and cloud/hosted. SMBs should also evaluate how virtualization and cloud computing can help in their backup and recovery efforts.

Don’t fall into a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. Backup systems need to be actively monitored for changes in the environment and for errors that need to be addressed quickly. Leveraging technology that automatically identifies and protects new virtual systems as they come online can help with this.

Reevaluate your disaster preparedness strategy and test its effectiveness at least once per quarter.



Perhaps the most important step in ensuring that your strategy is effective, is to regularly test it. How sure are you that your data will be available when trouble hits? Rather than assuming or hoping that all will be well, create a clean test environment and restore your backed up data to it. Does everything work as expected?

Although this process can take time and be painful, it is the only way to be sure you’re not wasting your time with everything you’ve put in place.