Throughout history, the way we humans have stored memories has been fraught with unreliability. Before the written word, memories were passed down through stories, and each person retelling the story added their own flare, sometimes radically changing the substance of the story, until the line ran out and the stories were forgotten. Once scrolls, books and other archival documents were created, historians still had to deal with decomposing papyrus, fading ink, zealotry and the risk of disaster. Even recordings written in stone have worn down over time. Nature has this unfailing tendency to destroy everything in order to create everything anew.
When computers came along, many people believed the days of deteriorating memory storage were over. Once you write a bit of data into a hard drive, it’s there forever, right? The internet never forgets, right? Unfortunately, the same laws of entropy apply in the electronic storage of data as they did before. If I hadn’t downloaded all the code and assets from that GeoCities website I made back in high school, I would’ve lost it forever when GeoCities shut down. Most of my music library in iTunes would’ve been lost forever if I hadn’t uploaded it to Apple’s cloud before that hard drive stopped spinning. Of course, whenever I end up losing access to the Apple cloud, that’ll be the end of that, but at least I can access it for now.
The fact is, nothing material in this world is permanent. However, we still must operate under the assumption of continued business growth and perpetual operation. So how do we make sure we don’t lose all that important data, documentation, communication, history, that allows our businesses to keep flourishing and succeeding? How do we preserve the past so that we can learn from it?
By now, you’ve probably heard the word “backup” so many times it’s been driven into the ground. Whether or not you’ve heeded the warnings, whether or not you’ve experienced the calamity of data loss, the concept of backups has become a familiar one in our highly digital age. But despite its prevalence in our 21st century lexicon, a large portion of the population still doesn’t understand what it does, how it works, or why it’s important. Let’s take a look.
The Basics of Backups
At its most fundamental root, the term “backup” refers to a copy of your data saved elsewhere, so that if you lose access to the data, you can retrieve it from the other location. Backups are most commonly 1-to-1 copies of the data, preserved exactly as it was when it was copied over, making retrieval seamless and familiar. Backups are sometimes encrypted or compressed, which can alter the code, but as long as you are able to decrypt or decompress it, you shouldn’t notice any difference. This is a bigger IF though, so if you do encrypt your backups, make sure to store the decryption key somewhere safe, preferably offline, preferably in multiple locations, like on a piece of paper in your locked desk drawer, copied to another piece of paper in a safety deposit box at the bank. If your backup solution creates compressed backups or proprietary backup files, be aware that you will need that solution to retrieve content from that backup as well.
Depending on where your data is stored, different types of failures can affect your ability to access your data. Stored locally (i.e., on a hard drive connected to your PC, on a network-attached storage drive, on a server in your office), the integrity of your data relies mostly on physical considerations. Physical technology such as hard drives, fans, capacitors on circuit boards, cables, or connectors all wear out over time, it’s just a fact of physical reality. It is therefore important to have another, preferably newer hard drive connected onto which automatic backups of your data can be quickly copied and then retrieved in the event of a failure in your main device.
Then there’s the risk of catastrophic disaster: fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, super volcanoes, continental drift…. Nature (and sometimes humanity) has a way of surprising us with all sorts of dramatic tragedy. In this event, none of your on-site hardware will likely be recoverable, so it is also important to have an offsite backup of your data. Some will elect to get a couple of identical hard drives, one to be connected to the machine for backups, one to be stored in the safety deposit box or some other secure offsite location, then regularly switching out the two devices to keep the offsite drive’s contents up to date. Others elect to use cloud-based offsite backup solutions. Either way, with a backup stored somewhere else, disaster doesn’t have to mean a loss of all your company’s important data.
Data in the Cloud
These days, more and more businesses are taking advantage of cloud-based storage, even cloud-based servers are becoming more and more popular. The benefits of moving your company data to the cloud are many: ease of access, always-on, low-maintenance, general reliability, not to mention the ability to blame someone else if your data gets corrupted or lost. However, the risks of keeping your data in the cloud can be much greater even than keeping it in your office, depending on your setup.
Anything connected to the internet runs the risk of being compromised, as we have seen from all the news lately about systems and networks being hacked and taken down. The security of your internet-connected data is only as secure as the methods you use to access it. If you don’t have Multi-Factor Authentication enabled, if you don’t enforce strong password policies, if you don’t restrict access to cloud data based on the roles and responsibilities of the individuals accessing it, you are the low hanging fruit that internet saboteurs froth at the mouth over. If you are considering using cloud-based storage, the first thing you must consider is security.
The other side of cloud-based data storage integrity relates to the company hosting the service itself. Even if all your internal security measures are locked down as tight as possible, what happens if the company hosting your data gets compromised? What happens if they go out of business? What happens if they decide to cancel your subscription without notice? With all the uncertainty in the air these days, these possibilities don’t seem so far fetched as they did even a year or two ago.
For these reasons, even if your data is in the cloud, it is of utmost importance to back it up. Local backup solutions are good, having a drive in your office to regularly copy the cloud-based data down. Cloud-to-cloud backup services from third party providers are good as well, as it is rather unlikely that both your storage provider and your backup provider will go down at the same time. Utilizing both of these solutions simultaneously gives you the best chances of preserving your company’s data in the event of nearly any potential threat.
Here at Vermont Panurgy, we specialize in creating secure and reliable backup solutions for our clients. We can help you identify your storage locations, assess your risk-level, secure your network and connections, and configure your backups for optimal performance. We can even monitor those backups and catch any errors or failures before they cause the backup schedule to fall behind and put your newer data at risk. If you aren’t sure about the integrity of your company’s data, give us a call today and schedule a network assessment. We will provide you with the best recommendations to secure and preserve your systems and data, and we can help you set it all up and give you the peace of mind you need to focus on making your business the best that it can be. Call us today!