4 Steps to Prevent Data Loss at Your Small Business

Your small business probably has a lot of important, perhaps even irreplaceable digital information. Think of everything you, your employees, your suppliers, and your customers interact with every day – trivial things from your digital letterhead or to critical accounting database files. Or maybe you have an e-commerce store with 5,000 product images that you’ve paid a professional photographer for.

Unless you’ve taken the proper precautions, you’re only one power outage or hard drive failure away from complete data loss. Here are my 4 steps, drawn from my experience helping friends, family, and companies, on how to prevent data loss at your small business.

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First let me say that there are a lot of ways to secure and backup your data; it can be pretty cheap, incredibly expensive, and everywhere in between. These are just my recommendations; leave your own in the comments.

I should also add that this post was inspired by a recent near-disaster involving some data loss. I’d like to publicly thank Tom Duke with Innovativ IT here in Houston, TX for his outstanding work in retrieving my data.

Step 1: Move from “My Documents” to Network Storage

Cost: $400+

This is the most expensive and technically laborious step of the process – the rest is all downhill and pretty cheap.

If you’re storing your critical data in your My Documents folder or on your desktop in 2012, it’s time to evolve. If your computer is like most of the computers in a small business, it probably has one physical hard drive with that user’s information stored on it. When that drive fails because it’s been spinning and spinning for years, that user’s data is gone forever.

The solution is Network Attached Storage, or NAS.

A NAS device attaches to your network and is always “on” and available to store data on. Whether your network consists of you, alone, plugged into your cable / DSL modem, or 25 computers at your office, it is important to centralize your data storage

Tip: Since you’re moving all your data to the NAS, I suggest that you simultaneously reorganize your files so they’re easier to find.

I highly recommend a NAS that also provides RAID functionality. RAID is a system by which data is stored on multiple hard drives. The most common form of RAID (RAID 1) consists of 2 drives with identical content. Store a picture on your NAS, and that picture is stored on 2 drives, ensuring that if one drive fails, you have that picture mirrored to another functioning drive.

I have had positive experiences with QNAP and Synology NAS/RAID products.

Tip: For RAID, it is preferable to have two identical hard drives – and they have to be capable of RAID. Many entry-level Western Digital brand hard drives are not capable of RAID, but Seagate (Barracudas) are.

Step 2: Backup the Backup

Cost: $150+

Now that you and your team are storing your sensitive data on a NAS, and that NAS is further securing your data with RAID, it’s time to backup your backup. Yes, even RAID needs backup, because even though you’re storing data on two identical drives, that entire NAS unit could fail and corrupt both of your drives.

I recommend a simple external hard drive. This drive connects directly to your NAS and serves as a backup for your NAS. Simply connect your external drive, log into your NAS, schedule a complete and recurring backup (e.g., over the weekend, every weekend), and walk away. Most external drives connect via USB, but newer drives and NAS units will have external SATA (eSATA) interfaces, or both.

Step 3: Keep the Lights On

Cost: $100+

All of this extra equipment is no good if the power goes out while you’re in the middle of accessing or moving your data. Not only will your data be inaccessible while everything powers back on, but files (or hard drives) that were being used at the time of the outage might also be corrupted and lost.

Invest in a UPS. Not the package courier, but an uninterruptible power supply. A UPS is like a power strip, or surge protector, but with a large battery attached. High-end UPS units will supply your devices with pure sine wave power, provide load balancing and surge suppression, keep your devices powered up during an outage, and even automatically shut down some attached devices. Tripp Lite, APC and CyberPower are leading brands that I endorse.

Step 4: Send it All to The Cloud

Cost: $30+ monthly

Good news! Your small business’s data is backed up really well. For around $600 you’ve evolved from squinting at icons on your desktop to an organized, well-structured, redundantly backed-up hardware configuration. The bad news is that a meteor might fall on your office and destroy your new hardware investment and your data.

The solution in this case is remote backup – store your information on another server somewhere else on the Internet. There are a number of companies that provide this service with automation, including Mozy and Carbonite. Some NAS devices, like many of QNAP’s products, have Amazon S3 updating built in.

Step 5: Relax and Prosper

Cost: $3.00 each at happy hour

It’s 6:00 PM, everyone has gone home, the office is locked up, and you can rest assured that your data is safe, secure, and backed up across multiple networks. This is one of those cases where the cost of prevention is much cheaper than the cost of re-acquisition, rebuilding, and re-creating – assuming your data isn’t already unique and priceless.

Protect the future of your business with these smart and affordable investments today – and of course, contact me if you have questions or need help.

About Dean Peckenpaugh

Dean offers small business consulting services at DeanP, LLC - specializing in e-commerce and operations. Visit the contact page to request a consultation.