It was hard for Rob Emrich to justify spending money for anything
that wasn’t directly involved with daily tasks. The chairman and
founder of Road of Life, a nonprofit that educates children on cancer
prevention in Columbus, Ohio, stored all of the company’s financial
information on an external hard drive attached to the USB port of his
However, a year ago, Emrich came to work and discovered that he had
been robbed. The computer to which the hard drive was attached was gone
— and so was the drive with all of his financial records. The
employees of Road of Life spent the next two weeks unable to continue
their business; instead, they had to re-build their database, pulling
together paper copies of donation records and looking through old e-
mails saved on personal computers.
Backing up a company’s data may seem like a second-tier priority,
particularly for small businesses looking to put all of their resources
into generating immediate revenue or providing services, but in the
face of a disaster, a business’s backup files are all they have to keep
the business alive. Without proper backup, data loss can keep a
business from operating for weeks, even months, resulting in severely
decreased productivity as staff members work to recover the lost
Right now, tapes are the most common form of data backup. However,
with evolving technology, online backup services and DVDs also are
becoming popular methods, and with the proliferation of inexpensive
external hard drives, many companies are using them to create network
attached storage that can be used for larger scale backups. It’s also
common for companies to combine the different means of backup, to
ensure that their needs are met within their budget.
Here are some things to think about when comparing the different
strategies for backing up your company’s data.
- Tapes. Tapes are a very efficient way of backing
up data: They are inexpensive and can store large amounts of data. For
this reason, “they are the best option for long term, off-site
archiving in high capacities,” says Steve Berens, senior director of
marketing and product strategy for the storage devices business unit at
Quantum, based in Irvine, Calif.
Data tapes operate similarly to cassette tapes in that the
information is stored sequentially on a magnetic strip. This means
that the files are saved in chronological order, so file retrieval is
very convenient if a full recovery is required. In the event of a
single file being lost, however, tapes are extremely inefficient
because they require someone to rewind and fast-forward the tape in
order to find the file. Like cassettes, data tapes require meticulous
care; in extreme weather and humid conditions, tapes can easily be
ruined and the data on them lost.
- CDs, DVDs, and external hard drives. CDs and DVDs
have a number of advantages over data tapes: Storage and file-specific
recovery are quicker, and these media are fast becoming ubiquitous.
The problem with CDs and DVDs is that they can’t store as much data as
a tape can.
- Attached storage. An external hard drive, which
can be connected to a computer through a USB port or attached to a
network, also is a good, inexpensive option for storing data. The key
to using an external hard drive, as with any data storage device, is to
back up frequently and then take the files off-site. Experts recommend
making duplicates of the hard drive and storing a secondary copy
somewhere else, often in a different region, and occasionally in a
different country. “Even if you’re storing your data in the biggest
safe on the planet, guess what? It’s still just in one place,” says
Nishank Khanna, CEO of UnderTag.com, an online coupon
aggregator that had its own experience with massive data loss. “If
something happens in that one place, all of your data is gone.”
- Online backup. Online backup is still a
relatively new option, but its popularity is increasing because backups
can happen automatically, and typically only require a quick file setup.
“Online backup is a lot more secure and reliable than other options
because all of the data is encrypted,” says Jennifer Walzer, founder
and president of online backup service, Backup My Info (BUMI),
referring to the ease of password-protection on online backup servers.
Proponents for online backup also point out that because it is
automatic, there is less chance for human error.
“We have a program (script) on our server that kicks off every 57
minutes and does a backup and a compression of several databases and
then sends them to the off-site vendor’s server,” says Al Canton, owner
of Adams-Blake Company, the makers of JAYA123, a Web-based enterprise
application for allows small businesses. “It also deletes previous
backup files that are over 10 hours old,” he adds.
The negative side to online backup includes its comparably high costs
and speed of total recovery. Because backups are done entirely over
the Internet, your best bet for efficient backup and fast data recovery
is to use high speed connections, such as broadband cable or a T1
connection. Dial-up connections are less than desirable for this method
of backup, especially if you move large amounts of data on a regular
When considering what might be the best options for your company’s
data backup, keep the following points in mind:
- Security. Not only should you keep your records
secure for your company’s sake, but you should also protect investor
and customer information. Data encryption, or making data unavailable
without a password, is possible on each of these forms of data storage,
including tapes. Make sure that even if your data is stolen, others
won’t be able to open your files.
- Redundancy. Canton notes that even though using
online backup is fast, convenient and secure for his business, he uses more
than one backup method. “Redundancy is the key for any backup
scenario,” he says. “We also do a daily backup to a third location; we
make sure that no geographical location can have the same weather
pattern as the others.”
- Testing. Be sure to test how well your backup
system is working by recovering a randomly selected file each month.
This way you can be sure that your system will work when you need it
- Plan for the unexpected. Even if you keep your
own office secure, there’s no telling what your neighbors are up to.
Despite how much care you take to keep your office safe from fire or
theft, your neighbors might not be as diligent: A fire in an adjoining
office can quickly turn into a major disaster for your business. “Your
computer is 100% guaranteed to fail,” Walzer says. “The question is:
Will you be prepared when it does?”
Making a data backup plan is as vital to your business as selling
your product or service. Road of Life’s Emrich learned this the hard
way, but eventually decided on an online backup plan that would keep
his organization from having to experience data loss disaster ever
again. “The amount of productivity we lost from losing that information
exceeds any price that we would pay for data backup,” he says.