Does backup win the prize for the most neglected application among SMEs?
If all the studies show that your business is utter toast if you have a data loss without decent backup, why do so many business owners dedicate so little expenditure to it?
You have read them or you have seen them quoted. The studies. The scholarly report. The grave proof that companies that don’t have back-up and then suffer a major data loss are usually out of business within months or at best a year.
Backup vendors the world over have been touting these studies for years, making them central to their pitch to businesses about how important it is to back up, and – bottom line – how they need to spend more money on backup and DR products and services.
To give them their due, they are doing a service to many here. Far too many businesses are blissfully unaware of how much their data is worth to them. They are usually also unaware about how close they are to losing due to one of the many risks that exist. So do SMEs spend enough on backup and DR, and if not, why not?
Backup vs Disaster Recovery
Well, first, let’s break this down a bit. Backup and DR are often talked about in the same breath, but let’s face it. They are quite different propositions. To be honest, I think the way they get merged into one discussion is often, inadvertently a problem. It’s about scale and the credulity of business owners that “it will happen to me”. Backup vendors tend to focus on really big things like catastrophic storage failure or even buildings burning down to create some dramatic effect and engender some fear and urgency from their target audience. The problem is that this fails the credibility test. People just don’t see that happening to them. They see through the sales ploy and just get on with their day.
Plus, needless to say, it is boring. It is one of those things that costs you real money and time, and seems to get you nothing at all. Nothing runs faster, no one can work more effectively and no one even notices that you have spent money on it 99% of the time. No wonder people ignore it.
In reality the more common causes of data loss are more mundane, in theory more preventable and usually smaller in scale. Things like cryptolocker malware, or the real biggy, human error.
The “oh crap, did I just delete a month’s work?” scenario is the one that is a routine occurrence in every organisation, and these are seriously damaging as well. One of these can not only wipe out the value of the work done, it will probably mean missed deadlines, disruption to delivery schedules or delivery of services, as well as a hit to morale while the work is re-done or cobbled together from the chunks of data that happened to have been siloed off during the process.
Malware, again, can sneak past even pretty well defended systems and cause havoc in a matter of minutes. You can either pay the hefty ransom for your data or find yourself trying to re-assemble data created over months or years.
These are the times when backup actually gets used. These are the times when you suddenly find yourself dusting off the manual for your backup service or calling your IT provider to get your data back. And these are the scenarios that business owners need to hear to make them take investment in backup seriously. These are scenarios they will believe and that they will think about parting with cash to mitigate. They have known it to happen to others. They have probably lost their personal photos from a holiday on their home NAS. This stuff rings true because it does happen. So then it is more of a conversation about doing it right.
First, you need to be realistic about which data needs to be backed up and why. This often boils down to selective backup of server data versus a rather bigger full image backup of a system, as well as how much of the server estate you need to worry about. In most cases, more data is just better. Backing up your SQL database (and leaving the server) is all very well and good, but are you prepared to pay your IT company hundreds of pounds and wait a day, while they rebuild the server from scratch? Probably smarter to do a backup that you can actually use more or less instantly with a few mouse clicks and backup the machine image.
Next, you need to consider why backups go wrong. 9 times out of 10, when you reach for your backup and it isn’t there, it’s something that someone would have seen coming if they were paying attention. Pretty much every backup system will tell you if it is working or not. The problem is that people don’t pay attention. Success reports turn into partial success reports, turn into blah blah blah email white noise. And 3 months later, you need to pull a client project from backup because someone inadvertently blatted your wok while on a hunt for space on the server, and pow! The backup has not been working properly for 41 days… If you are the IT guy, prepare to be shouted at. This is where you need to invest in a properly monitored and managed backup system or service, and proactively make it a KPI of that process to hit specific backup completion targets.
Last, you need to have a plan for how to respond if you do have a loss of data. Time is often critical in such a situation and having a clear, and preferably rehearsed, plan for dealing with a loss of a large chunk of data is a good way to avoid real disruption when an incident inevitably occurs. You also need to know where you are going to put your data if you main systems are really in trouble. This means making arrangements, probably with your IT company or a hosting provider, so that when the need arises, you have somewhere to push your image backup to so you can have a working system in the shortest possible time.
Garbage in . . .
Now, all of these things imply time and money. But when I sit down with a business owner and step them through the unvarnished reality of how these things play out, the need to do it right becomes quite obvious without having to resort to pictures of burning buildings. Backup and restore is a very good example of GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t cover the bases and don’t take the time, effort and, yes, money, to get it right then, when something goes wrong, and yes, something stupid, avoidable and infuriating will go wrong, then you should fully expect to spend 3 days flailing around paying your IT company through the nose to cobble some kind of recovery back together for you.
So yes, SMEs don’t spend enough time and money on backup. But I think the cause of this is the IT service sector not taking the time to give SME owners and operators the benefit of their real world experience and make it make sense for them to spend the money. This is real money that they are being asked to part with. How much do you spend on backing up your pictures and movies at home? Being able to demonstrate with concrete facts, not overblown hype, why spending money on backup is something they might positively want to do is the somewhat neglected duty of a good IT partner. This is why backup wins the prize for the most neglected application among SMEs.
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