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Businesses need effective and comprehensive data backup strategies to prevent disruptions caused by data losses, breaches, and outages. But, how must IT leaders, CTOs, and CIOs go about planning their data backup strategy?

What are the fundamentals they must know while deciding the company’s backup strategy and systems?

The rise in the usage of digital tools and technologies in the modern workplace has bolstered productivity, efficiency, and output. However, as data generation and storage capacities increase, new vulnerabilities for businesses have also been created.

The threat of data loss by hacking, phishing, malware or ransomware attacks has increased manifolds in the past few years. Sensitive and proprietary business data has been stolen or manipulated, jeopardizing companies and their reputations.

In the wake of these new challenges, data backup strategies are being adopted by businesses to safeguard their data. There’s a lot more to building a successful and effective data backup strategy than outsourcing it to a third-party vendor.

Here we breakdown the importance, pre-requisites, methods, and steps to establish a comprehensive data backup strategy.

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Formulating an effective data backup strategy: The Pre-requisites

Designing the data backup strategy is like building the best approach and framework to create a copy (backup) of all essential data. These copies can be restored in case of emergencies, like data loss, breaches, accidental deletion, hardware failure, cyber attacks, or physical damage to storage equipment.

Studies suggest that as many as 60% of organizations that suffer a data loss are at a risk of closure. Furthermore, there is real and tangible impact on the company’s revenue and reputation, making it crucial to have an effective data backup strategy in place.

Before IT leaders, CTOs, and CIOs dive into building a robust data backup strategy, they must conduct an internal evaluation and need assessment. This exercise must include the following steps:

Identifying and prioritizing the data that needs to be backed up

The foremost step is to identify the data required to be backed up. This can be done depending on the importance or value of different kinds of business data, and datasets can be prioritized accordingly.

Once all data has been duly categorized, find out where it is stored and how can it be backed up. Remember, large volumes of crucial data may be backed up only on local servers or personalized hardware (like employee laptops).

In such a case, ensure that local servers and devices are routinely backed up and secure against attacks and threats. Additionally, consider backups on applications, databases, and communication as well.

Understanding the objective of backing up data

The data backup and recovery process must be aligned with the overall objective of the strategy. In other words, this means finding answers to questions like whether data restoration is given more importance than data recovery? Or whether the backup should ensure uninterrupted services in the event of data loss.

Understanding the ultimate goal of why a data backup is required will help design the entire backup framework that is oriented to fulfilling that goal. Having a clear understanding of the end-goal will also help choose the right vendor and service provider.

A Knowing about the various methods for backing up data

Depending on the type of data that is to be backed up and the objective of the process, the most suitable approach and method must be chosen.

Selecting the right frequency (daily, weekly, fortnightly), scope (full, incremental, differential), and location (local, offsite, cloud) of the backup is critical for the entire process to be seamless. Learning about the different ways of data backup and recovery, along with their pros and cons, becomes vital before making the backup strategy.

Comparing different data backup storage options

Once the fundamental questions have been answered and the goalposts finalized, it’s time to evaluate the different available options. The most commonly deployed backup storage options are:

Hardware storage

Hardware-based storage backups primarily consist of hard disks, flash drives, SDDs, and tapes. The data copies are stored on a storage equipment and can be safely kept at an onsite or offsite location. These storage devices are updated and upgraded periodically to ensure that the latest backups are available.

While hardware storage isn’t very expensive to purchase or maintain, the logistics, updating, and storage require manpower. What’s more, any physical damage to the storage equipment (say during transport or natural disaster) could result in permanent data loss or retrieval challenges.

How it works: The storage device is configured and connected to the main data centre and network. Usually, a separate OS or software is not required, and the equipment comes with graphical interface and ports to connect with other devices.

Software storage

Storage solutions that are software-based are widely used by enterprises to backup data routinely. Once installed on devices, the software simply backups and updates the data at set intervals.

Naturally, since they do not require physical storage space or setting up local data centres, they are easier to manage than hardware storage. Data retrieval is also usually a simple process in software-defined storage.

How it works: The storage software is installed on the systems and servers to be backed up. The software solution is licensed, which means that there is a fixed investment and can be migrated to new devices when changing the IT infrastructure.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage systems are fast replacing traditional data storage methods and becoming the preferred choice among organizations. Since cloud adoption has proliferated in recent times, most cloud service providers offer backup storage as well. This simplifies the process tremendously and automates the backup cycle.

As most enterprises use some version of cloud systems provided by third-party vendors (public or hybrid cloud), system maintenance and upkeep are taken care of. Additionally, data records are usually encrypted, safe, and permanent.

How it works: Cloud vendors usually offer backup services that enable organizations to provision and run storage backups from the cloud infrastructure. No additional effort, installation, or configuration is needed as the cloud assets have pre-installed backup agents.

Hybrid storage

Organizations can also put in place a combination of the above solutions, depending on their requirement. For instance, all business-critical data can be backed up in several places using both cloud storage and local in-house backups. Less valuable data can simply be updated less frequently and at one destination only.

How it works: An all-in-one solution allows storing sensitive and regulated data that needs to be compliant with certain codes and laws separately. Organizations are free to use the software or cloud storage as they please.

Selecting the most suitable backup data storage

With an array of choices, it can be overwhelming to make the right decision. The following factors, other than budget and cost, need to be considered while choosing the most suitable backup storage option:

Future requirement: Establish the scalability and expansion of the backup system before setting it up. Always invest in storage capacities that can not only meet the existing requirements, but also keep up with the growth in volumes of data. The backup storage system must be synchronized with other storage systems and infrastructure for best results.

Network and connection: Some large organizations with high volumes of daily data generation physically transport multiple storage devices periodically for regular backup. This is because backups that take place over the internet might consume a part of the internet bandwidth and connection. Since this might impact ongoing business processes and operations, check the network usage before deployment.

Available personnel: Most large and medium-sized organizations usually have entire teams to data storage and backup. With large amounts of data that needs to be secured, stored, and backed up, appointing dedicated personnel is usually a necessity. So, determine whether there are enough storage and backup experts to oversee and manage the process. If not, is there a need to hire more backup experts?

Going for the most suitable backup option will involve a trade-off between their benefits and shortcomings. However, experts suggest that having multiple backups is ideal to ensure a fool-proof data backup strategy. Following the “3:2:1” method is considered standard, wherein three copies of the data are stored using two different mediums, ensuring that at least one of the copies is stored offsite.

Setting up a data backup framework: A step-by-step guide for businesses

Finally, after the assessment and deliberations, it is time to put in place a strong data backup policy. Here is a chronological guide for businesses and IT leaders on how to go about the process:

1.     Set up a well-defined plan

Gathering information and insights from the preliminary research and assessments, set up a realistic timeline on how the strategy will be formed, approved, and implemented. Involve critical stakeholders and take their concerns, opinions, and expertise into account while designing the overarching strategy.

2.     Select a method for backing up data

Based on the utility and requirement, select the different approaches to data backup storage. The right approach must be selected on the basis of the benefits, ease-of-use, priority, and sensitivity of data. Decide the intervals at which different kinds of data will be backed up.

3.     Budgeting

Once the basics are in place, take budget constraints into account. Work within the given range to allocate the budget in different categories like vendor payments, training, fixed costs, hiring, and maintenance. This will help answer questions regarding the best plan and services. For instance, whether going for a monthly, annual, or pay-per-usage plan is more suitable.

4.     Select a vendor

Compare the service and value offerings of different storage and backup vendors to shortlist the ones that meet your requirements. Send them enquiries and get estimates regarding the cost, services, and support. Discuss all aspects, like, the estimated timeframe for implementing the backup, security measures, and other integrations. If possible, go for vendors that specialize in their storage and backup method and get demos or run pilots with smaller datasets.

5.     Deployment

Work with your vendor to layout how the storage equipment/software will be deployed without disruptions to existing processes. Create master backups before migrating from existing systems, and if there are large volumes of data, break down the process in several steps.

6.     Get acquainted with the recovery plan

Be sure to discuss how to retrieve lost data with your vendor. Set failsafe checks and mechanisms that initiate data backup and recovery if there are potential threats of data loss. Get an estimate of how quickly your systems, data, and applications can be reinstated when required.

7.     Test the backup storage system

Finally, be sure to test the backup storage systems once they have been synced. Train the right people to hand the equipment or tools to manage backups and check if the backups are taking place as scheduled. Try to recover information and data periodically from the backup to see if the entire system is working as intended.

Conclusion

Data loss and breaches are rising threats that pose grave concerns and obstacles to the digitization of enterprises. Thus, no matter the industry or size, all businesses must set up a sound backup strategy to ensure that operations are not impacted due to cyberattacks. Spending adequate time and effort in planning and implementing the company’s backup systems today will pave the way for a secure future.