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Backups are confusing. We never know what we should be backing up, how often we should be doing it, and sometimes it’s difficult to see the value in it. Backups are a bit like seat belts in cars. 99% of the time you think “what’s the point”, but when you have an accident you realise their value.

Why do I need to back up?

There are several reasons to back up your data, but all of them lead back to one thing: To protect your data and ensure business continuity in case of a disaster.

A disaster can be multiple things:

  • Hardware failure: The annual failure rate for hard disks is estimated to be around 1.2% – and for USB sticks it is much higher.
  • Natural disaster: Fires, floods, earthquakes. The world throws some crazy stuff at us and some of it can destroy data.
  • Disgruntled staff: People can do some strange things – in this example, an employee deleted £500k worth of data because he was being let go.
  • Accidents: What if you leave a laptop on a train? A USB stick falls out of your pocket? You accidentally press delete on a folder and it’s too big for your recycle bin?
  • Ransomware: Ransomware is a kind of computer virus whereby your system is totally encrypted and you are effectively held hostage, needing to pay to get your data back. If you have good backups, you can just restore from backup and pay nothing.

These are just some examples, but there are many more. It’s important to back up systems in case files are deleted – accidentally or purposefully – and you later decide you need to get them back.

confused

What do I need to back up?

Often people think they just need to back up everything. But it’s important to take a more pragmatic view, as backups cost money.

Let’s split this down in to Workstations (people’s individual computers and laptops), Servers, and Cloud Services.

Workstations

If, for example, you have 50 laptops in your organisation for users, do you really need 50 backups of all of the Windows system files? That’s usually about 15 GB per laptop, so about 750 GB total.

Our advice for workstations is not to do a full system backup. We recommend backing up your user data – that is documents, pictures, etc. Ask yourself two questions:

  • Did I create it?
  • Can I easily replace it?

It’s quite a quick process to reinstall Windows and put your applications back on, and often the disruption to your organisation (think organisation, not that user) is quite low, so it’s often not worth the storage costs.

Sure, you might have a critical user with some quirky installs or configuration that for whatever reason you may feel it’s necessary to take a full system image, but generally it’s not worth it.

Servers

Servers are usually more complex. They usually have a lot of stuff configured, and the time to get all that configuration back is huge. Along with that, the impact to the organisation of a server going down is usually far more serious than a single workstation.

For this reason we typically recommend taking a full system image of servers. A full system image is a snapshot of the entire hard disk – in the event of a disaster the entire disk can be restored as though nothing ever happened.

Cloud Services

Backups

Often overlooked for backups – people generally assume it’s taken care of – cloud services are absolutely critical for backing up.

How much of your data is stored in the cloud, in Microsoft, AWS, Dropbox, Zoho, Hubspot, Salesforce, etc? What happens if they go bust tomorrow? There’s no guarantee they’d give you your data back if they went under. It’s unlikely, but what would the impact on your business be if it happened?

Also, how safe do you think your data is in the cloud? Most cloud providers do not provide backups. Their systems are massively resilient, sure, but accidents do happen so it’s important you are covered. In fact, here is an extract from AWS’s FAQ:

As with any environment, the best practice is to have a backup and to put in place safeguards against malicious or accidental deletion. For S3 data, that best practice includes secure access permissions, Cross-Region Replication, versioning, and a functioning, regularly tested backup.  

https://aws.amazon.com/s3/faqs/

Other things

Don’t forget things like:

  • Your email
  • Your accounting system
  • Your CRM

There are plenty of systems we use that are critical to our business and it is key to make sure we have them all covered.

When do I need to back up?

It’s no use copying your data to a USB stick “whenever you remember” and thinking you’re done. It’s better than nothing – but it’s not great. “Whenever you remember” becomes weeks, sometimes months, and then before you know it your backup is 6 months out of date.

How much data changes in your organisation over 6 months? If you had to restore everything to 6 months ago, how long would it take you to get back to where you are now. Would you even be able to?

Regular backups are essential. These should really be done daily. Any decent backup software installs an agent on your machine that automatically kicks off a backup at periodic times.

But don’t worry, these aren’t as big as you think. Taking a copy of your files each day doesn’t mean storing multiple copies over and over. Backup systems use something called “incremental backups”. If a file hasn’t changed, it isn’t backed up again – meaning you aren’t needlessly wasting storage and bandwidth.

Where do I need to back up to?

Typically, we talk about the 3-2-1 rule:

  • 3 copies of your data,
  • one 2 devices,
  • at least one off site.

This ensures the most optimum way of protecting your data and provides the best safeguards for your business.

And how do we do this? For our cloud only customers who use Office 365, we typically recommend using OneDrive for Business on their workstations and using those folders as their day to day working areas. This ensures that data is synchronised to Microsoft on a regular basis and provides other benefits to them too like the ability to work anywhere. We then install an agent in their cloud to back up the cloud.

For customers with more complex needs, we’d typically recommend putting a NAS (network attached storage) device in their office and backing up to there, as well as backing up to a cloud service for the off site portion.

Don’t back up to a service provider you already use – it’s not advisable to back up your Microsoft 365 to Microsoft Azure!

I have OneDrive, do I still need backups?

This is a question often asked – if you use OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc, do you still need back ups?

The answer is yes.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. These services are all file services – they do not protect servers and cloud services.
  2. These services are all live file synchronisation tools. If you make a change to a file, it is immediately synchronised to the cloud. If you get ransomware, or you accidentally delete something, that encryption or deletion is synchronised to the cloud too.
  3. Whilst these services tend to have some file versioning capability, they are not designed for restoring from large scale incidents such as all of your files being encrypted – you’d find yourself having to restore each file individually. A dedicated back up tool has advanced restore functionalities.

Always Networks Cloud Backups

Always Networks can help. Our cloud backup service is powered by Acronis, a market leader in cloud backups. We can work with you to gather your requirements, work out what you need and help to provide it, including setting it up and making sure it stays working.

Are you confident that you are covered? If not, you should have a chat with us.

Nick Shaw

Nick Shaw

I'm Nick, a knowledgeable and versatile security focussed network specialist. I have years of experience delivering complex projects for large and small organisations alike. As a full-stack engineer, I look at the end to end requirements and come up with a solution to match, rather than focussing just on one aspect. When I'm not working, I have three main interests: my family, football (Barnsley FC) and motorsports.

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