We asked about backup locations in our Five Minute Healthcheck. The responses suggest that specific backup devices (e.g. external hard drives or tape) are most popular while cloud storage wipes up most of the rest. Unfortunately very few take the precaution of storing backup devices apart from the main computer.

We have discussed the reasons for backing up and what needs backing up in previous posts. In this one, we would like to give you some help to decide what is the best backup solution for you.

How do I get my backup out of the office?If your office goes up in flames

This is one of the most important mantras, yet probably the one most likely to cause a backup strategy to fail. To make a backup, you need a backup device available to your machine – yet for a backup to be secure it needs to be held elsewhere.

For some people, the answer is obvious – the cloud. The internet is awash with companies offering backup services with simple interfaces and scalable storage. Before going down this route however, you need to be sure that the solution and package will meet your needs. It may not be feasible if you only have a slow broadband connection, or if you need to store vast quantities of data. When using the cloud, note that the initial full backup may take a long time and slow up your internet connection. Note that I am writing this in rural Herefordshire – a BT Infinity free zone!

Whose cloud?

Is backup in the cloud the answer?When choosing a company, you need to be confident that your data will be securely transmitted and held. You also need a reputable company – there can be little redress if your backup company disappears in the night! Remember also that your backup will increase in size as files deleted locally will not be removed from your backup. Extra space will also be needed if you are creating multi-version backups.

Check the small print of potential suppliers – the best should transfer data over a secure connection and store the data encrypted.

There is also the consideration of the location of the data store. For some businesses, storage on servers in the USA may be a risk not worth taking. For others, the alternative risk of not backing up is far more important.

or hardware?

or would an external drive suit you better?If the cloud is not for you, then you need to organise your backup device(s). Thinking logically, unless you are making minimal use of IT (e.g. weekly updates of a finance file and a few letters), you need two devices.  One will be actively backing up while the other is securely off site. The frequency of alternation will depend on the importance of your data – would a week old backup be recent enough to get you back on your feet after a disaster?  Then there is the location of “off site”. Is it in a filing cabinet at home, a partner’s home, the garage or where? Wherever it is, ensure that the data is preferably encrypted and at a minimum password protected.  Failure to do this could land you in deep water if the backup was lost or stolen in transit.

Backup devices do not need to be large and unwieldy.  You can get USB keys preloaded with backup management and encryption software able to do the job at the press of a button. These are likely to be better than a DIY job on an ordinary USB key. There is however a bigger risk of loss than with a shoebox sized device.

While you may have to manually manage your backup devices, I would suggest you automate the backup itself. If the required device is not attached to your computer, the scheduler will warn you of the problem. This saves you having to remember to “hit the button”.

Mix and match

For some businesses a hybrid approach makes sense.  A background backup to the cloud should protect you against catastrophe and ensures all your data is safely out of the office. Adding a versioned backup to a local device will allow you to recover a file you have deleted or overwritten. You can get away with a single external device and removal from the office becomes less of an issue.

Once your backup is in motion, you need to check it. A simple restore of a few files will prove that the backup is working. A better test is to dry run a restore of your whole system. This requires time and spare kit but will provide peace of mind and is well worth the cost for an IT reliant business. After all, if things go well, it should be the only time you have to do it!

When you set up your backups, make sure you will get any error messages and space reports delivered to you. It is bad news if the only thing that gets told about backup failures is the log file you never look at. If the backup fails – act on it straight away. If you do not, your most recent backup will suddenly be from last month!

You also need to ensure that the process continues: sort out alternative out of office storage when you go on leave and extra storage or spring cleaning when space starts getting low.