Are you prepared for a disaster?

I have been building and running computer systems since about 1980 and I have had ‘a data disaster’ happen to me on a number occasions – so I have learned the hard way!

Hard disk drives do crash and you basically lose everything just like that! Now I run mirrored drives (RAID 1) for my operating system on my PC’s and servers. I have also deleted files by mistake or tidied up only to find I had been rather over-zealous! Now I have a backup facility that I wrote that automatically copies new or updated files to a backup drive and anything that gets deleted or replaced is placed into a dated trash folder. This gives me the advantages of a mirrored drive, but protects me from incorrect deletions and allows me to get older versions of files. Yes Windows provides a Recycle bin and also allows recovery of previous versions of files, but this is belt and braces for me on a backup drive.

I have lost complete database and server files for multiple websites in one hit because my annually paid hosting came to an end and I didn’t receive emails to renew – yes my own silly fault. So I had to pay a large fee for them to recover from backup (but backups are not always guaranteed or available).

The Big Question

From an IT perspective, the most important question you can ask yourself as a business owner is: How safe is my data and can I afford to lose any of it?

What would you do if tomorrow, you have no access to your customers details or to your accounting information. What if your PC won’t start up, or your website files and/or data were lost?

You need to consider for the different areas of your business, both the safety and the security of your data.

Data Safety

What happens if your hard disk crashes – have you backed it up or do you have it mirrored as a RAID drive? Or do you hold all your business files on a NAS drive so that it is safer and accessible across your business?

The first line of defense against hard drive failure (where you lose access to all your data in one moment) is to have it mirrored as a RAID drive? This means that everything written to drive 1 is mirrored on drive 2. You can’t protect yourself from accidental deletion of data, but you can continue working, replace the broken drive and have it copy to the new mirror drive as you work,

So you have your NAS drive configured as RAID drives, so now you are protected from hardware failure. Have you considered what would happen if your NAS drive were stolen or you had a fire? The answer here is to back up your data, or at least your most important data and store it off-site or in a firesafe. You can do this is by backing up your drives to an external hard drive(s) and removing to safe storage.

Data Security

Unless you are working in a vacuum, you will have details about your customers stored in your databases or in files on your computer systems. You need to consider how secure this information is and who has access to it. Although you might have staff accessing your customers information and being able to copy it, a greater problem would be having all your data copied en-mass either by an employee or worst still by a hacker.

As a business owner, you need to consider how sensitive the information is that you hold and how accessible it is to your employees and your support staff. Not an easy one and you cannot remove risk completely, but you still need to assess the level of risk and perhaps put into place appropriate restrictions.

Staff/Employees

For example, it would be prudent to not make it possible for your sales staff to be able to download all your customer details in one go. If you are a small business owner, having your most useful employee running your systems and managing all your customers is an interesting scenario if the decide to leave taking your data and customers good will with them to set up a new business on their own account. For these scenarios having a well written contract for your staff/employees would probably be a better solution than trying to completely bolt down access to data.

Websites

Outside access is most at risk where you have data close to a website. If you run your whole business from one server and that server is compromised, you might find all kind of information being sucked out of it. Most companies run their websites on dedicated servers or on externally provided systems, but a small business might look at self-hosting from their own premises and this massively heightens the risk.

If you have a website that allows your customers to have an account that contains business or personal information, there is always the risk of having your website hacked and the information sucked out of your database.

Another scenario is where you manage systems for your customers and they hold their customers information within your system. Now you are not only entrusted by your customers with their information, but they are also trusting you to hold secure the details belonging to their customers!

Malicious Behavior

Not only do you need to ensure your data isn’t stolen, you need it backed up in case it gets corrupted or wiped out. This can happen from a disgruntled employee, or from your database getting hacked.

 Backing Up

You need to consider backup intervals and to do this you ask the following question for each type of data (accounts, websites, design/development data); the question is ‘If this data were gone tonight, how bad would that be for my business?

So if you are doing a lot of accounting work each day and all the paper work and computers went up in flames tonight, your business would be so disrupted that you might never recover from such a disaster! However if you backup your data every night and take/send it off-site, you could pick up your business tomorrow from a temporary office – inconvenient, but you still have an operational business!

If you a a small business doing design, writing or development work each day and everything went up in flames tonight; a weekly backup may be fine for your business because you can recover back to last weekend (for example) and your staff will then have to re-do the work they did over the last few days. However if you have more than a small business this would not be acceptable and you so you will be having your IT staff doing daily backups so they can ensure a recovery to yesterday.

Summing Up

So it should be apparent that every person and every business should be taking consideration of data safety and data security and the amount of effort put in to managing the issue will vary from single person up to big business.

Even if you do not have a complete solution in place covering all aspects of your business, you should be managing the risks and ensuring you have enough in place to have the a level of risk that is acceptable to your business.

9 Comments

  • Dan Tredo

    Reply Reply 13 April 2014

    Wow Tony, quite a reminder of the importance of being able to recover when disaster stikes.

    I’m not as sophisticated as you, but we just bought a backup external hard drive and its sitting on my desk waiting to be unshrink-wrapped and installed.

    This post got me motivated to do it. So I’m on it!

    Thanks for this awesome post!
    Dan
    PS – stop by my blog sometime and comment when you have time. Love to have you over!

  • Dave Thomas

    Reply Reply 17 April 2014

    Hi Tony

    Back ups are something I’ve never done in any great way so suppose, if I am building an on-line business through John’s programme, it is something I should now consider!

    I will never be that sophisticated in approach as you, but will definitely be looking for an answer for a local safety system on my terabyte storage system

    Thanks for the heads up

    DaveT

  • Elaine Summers

    Reply Reply 21 April 2014

    Hi Tony
    Just starting out in the adventure of internet marketing and only just really thought about backing everything up. Although my blog is in the early stages I could be very damaging to wake up and find it gone or hacked into. Will take some of your advice and look into backing up my most important files.
    Great post
    Elaine

  • Dave Thomas

    Reply Reply 22 April 2014

    Tony

    Must admit I’m now getting concerned about the safety of my blog so really need to do something about it.

    I’m using Google Drive for document storage, but have had suggested that Dropbox is better so might move over to that! I have a Terabyte drive on which I store important documents regarding my property business, but not sure if I should be using a second source elsewhere, maybe the Cloud!

    Just need to invest in a plug in to save my blog

    Like Dan, something I need to do now, just in case!

    Thanks for the post

    Dave T

  • Hollie Hawley

    Reply Reply 15 May 2014

    Gee, I thought I would be fine just backing up the files on my computer and using a plug-in on my WP blog. . . Maybe I need to think a little more.

    By the way, what do you think of outsourcing your back-up to Carbonite or another program? I’ve been relying on that for a while because it’s systematic, automatic and off-site. Any thoughts?

    • Tony

      Reply Reply 14 June 2014

      Hi Hollie,

      I took a look at Carbonite and it looks to be an awesome service. Depending on which flavour of service you buy, you get either a useful range of your files backed up, or all your files backed up. They also provide making a full image of your PC to your own external hard drive. If you you run Windows, you have access to all the services, Mac is limited and linux is not supported). The files are secured before upload and remain so on their servers, which is pretty essential really.

      What’s amazing is that (for personal plans) there is no limit to the space they will allow you to take up on their servers! What’s really useful is that it doesn’t keep everything you ever had forever, if you delete files on your PC they get deleted in the cloud 30 days later – so you can restore files you deleted by mistake, without having to restore all the old stuff if you do a full restore. One more great feature is that you can access your files from anywhere with their special app.

      This isn’t really out-sourcing as such, more like buying a service, because it’s an application you run on your PC that automatically sends your files up to the cloud as you create/modify them. If you have a slow broadband upload speed, this might not work so well for you, although once your files are uploaded and just new files/mods are being uploaded things will settle down. If you have to pay for data usage or have a fair use policy on your broadband service, you may well incur additional costs from your broadband provider. Carbonite used to throttle back the upload speed after the first day, but they no longer do that, which means it really does come down to your broadband speed as to how long it takes to get all your data up to them.

      I like the look of this service and the price that goes with it. I was thinking I might just use it for my main file server and although I do have a 10Mbps upload speed, my broadband provider might baulk at 3 Terabytes of data being uploaded. In fact, when I work out the time to transfer 3TB of data, it works out at 28 days!! At least if I had to do a restore, it would only take 4 days – now I see why they courier a disk to you if you are a prime user.

      In conclusion, I’d say this looks really good if you just want to back up your documents, emails, photos and music files; and it looks good if you want to back up everything but without being excessive. And of course you have the security of having everything backed up in a remote location.

  • Pauline

    Reply Reply 8 June 2014

    Hi Tony,

    Like Holly I have been backing up my blog using a WP plugin. I thought that would be enough.

    Very interested in the ‘mirror’ drive you mentioned. Must look into it.

    Would this be easy to set up for someone who is very new to the internet and not very techie, in fact not techie at all.

    Would love to hear your views on that.

    Pauline

    • Tony

      Reply Reply 14 June 2014

      Hi Pauline,
      I was talking about what I do on my computer systems in my office, whereas I believe you are asking about your hosted Blog. So let’s talk about that.

      Firstly, if you are backing up using a WP plugin –
      1) are you backing up to a remote location by email or ftp?
      2) are you backing up to a folder on the web server you are hosting your Blog at?

      Secondly, are you –
      a) backing up just your database
      b) backing up your database and your files (media, plugins, themes)

      If you are backing up and emailing your backups to yourself, you are already creating a copy at a separate location on separate storage. So if you are backing up both your database and your files, you can recreate your blog should your web host go away or have a disk failure (more on this in a mo).

      If you are just creating backups on the web server, you are just taking snapshots that you can recover from if you totally mess up your database or plugins. These snapshots are safe provided your web host performs backups of their file systems.

      Your web host may well backup their file systems and may well guarantee restoring your files from their backups if they have a failure, or you may need to pay a bit more for that protection. Either way that gives you protection from failure and so your blog (it’s data and files) is. BUT there’s nothing safer than having a recent copy of your database AND your files in your own hands – I’ve learnt that the hard way!

      Here’s the question to ask: If I could not get my hands on my data and my files, would I be able to recreate my blog on a new server?

  • Kathleen Plitt

    Reply Reply 30 November 2015

    Hi Tony:

    Yours is a cautionary tale. I asked myself the question that you posed, and my answer is that it would be devastating to say the least. You have certainly given me a lot of food for thought. I am going straight to my “Carbonite” and web hosting accounts and making sure that I allow automatic rebilling. Just the thought of losing everything and all of the time that I have invested makes me want to heed your advice that you have been so gracious in detailing what to do.
    Thanks again,
    Katz

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