Remote Data Back-ups
Anyone who has used a computer for an extended period of time understands that digital information can and will be corrupted or lost at a moment’s notice – this is even without a bad-actor in play. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep information in digital form, it just means that we need to save our information, and then save it again. In dealing with information of the type that we keep in our offices and for our clients, it is good to save all of it in at least two places other than the original storage location, to a local back-up drive, and to a remote storage device. Additionally, it is good practice to periodically check your alternate locations to confirm that the right information is being backed up, and to simulate a recovery event to make sure that what you are doing is effective.
Keep in mind that when we say “Local Back-ups,” we don’t necessarily mean “local” to you or even local to your office. We mean local as it relates to the information that it’s backing up. We want our local back-ups close to the source. That way, in the case of data-loss or corruption, the back-up can be utilized quickly. Even though our information is being transferred via high-speed internet, it’s still faster to travel a shorter distance.
In many cases, a local back-up will just be an external hard drive attached to the machine that houses the information (usually a server). This external (or simply additional) hard drive, will back-up the information routinely and keep it close just in case. But if your information is stored in a virtual private cloud initially, then you will likely back-up the data to another machine located in the same or similar facility as the original. The back-up will still be local to the original.
However, keeping the only copy of your information in the same location as the original is a flawed security practice. If our data gets corrupted or destroyed by an event that affected everything in that location (like a flood), both copies of the information will likely be lost. It is good practice to save an additional back-up of the original information in a remote location reasonably far away from the other two data locations.
Depending on the size of your data, restoring from a remote back-up may take a significant amount of time. Ideally, you’ll never have to use it. But this aspect of your Data Back-up system is not built for speed or convenience, it’s here for resilience. Obviously, the fact that the back-up and the original are not close to each other means it is unlikely that they will be affected by the same physical event.
Generally, this information will be copied fully in an initial back-up which will likely take a long time. After the initial back-up, only the changes to the original information need to be sent over to the remote machine. This can be done either multiple times a day, or each night, depending on the importance of your data.
When copying files in order to protect data, it is not enough to simply keep one copy of the information in the alternate locations. If your problem is that you accidentally deleted a file and you don’t notice that for 24 hours, having a single copy of your information will not help you very much. In that case, you will actually be keeping multiple days worth of copies in each back-up location. We recommend seven to fourteen days worth of back-ups. Although, restoring your files from an old copy will mean that you lose any information that you changed in the interim, 1. it’s better than not having any of the data, and 2. many times, in order to solve the issue, you don’t need to do a complete restore. You may just need portions of the data.
Confirming your efforts
It is not enough just to have the practices in place. You office also needs to make sure that these actions are effective. We recommend implementing three periodic tasks to confirm that your data is in the state it needs to be. First, at least weekly, check a random file in your back-ups to make sure that you don’t have a fundamental corruption in your system. If it is good – move on. Second, at least monthly, audit your back-ups to make sure that the most important files are in the system and are uncorrupted. And third, at least twice-a-year, run a simulated restore of one of the copies of your files. Obviously, don’t actually replace your current files, but you want to make sure that your office knows how to get your files back, where they are, and about how long it will take.
There are many resources out there for data-backups and security, including some DIY software and applications. Our office is always happy to help you determine the best method for keeping your information safe. But, even if you are using another system, please make sure you are backing your data up appropriately – and ask questions of your provider.