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What are the best practices to ensure an effective data backup strategy?

Dec 7th, 2018

By Chris de Bruyn, Department Manager at Gabsten Technologies

Insights gathered from data have the power to completely transform the way businesses operate and reach their target markets. The value of this data, coupled with the regulatory requirements imposed on business to protect personal and financial information, are compelling businesses to comprehend the importance of correctly backing up and storing their data.

There are many best practices advocated by both data experts and compliance frameworks that businesses can adopt to ensure they are backing their data up in the best possible manner. I have identified three that we believe to be the most critical to ensure any business’s data backup strategy remains robust and carries them as the organisation evolves, develops and grows.

1. Plan for growth:

Most businesses fail to plan adequately for the growth of data and many are between 12 and 24 months behind their data growth curve. Often, organisations lack the monitoring capabilities to develop an understanding of their data and the applications used. In addition, there are usually budget constraints at play, which prohibit proper data growth planning.

Unfortunately, while planning for data growth may be tricky, failure to do so can leave a business’ data at risk and may prove expensive in the long run as more and more storage is required.

Within the data management strategy, businesses should ensure that growth projections are accurately planned for and that data growth is aligned with these projections – as it happens. This allows businesses to identify and correct anomalies as and when they occur and avoid outgrowing their storage capability. In order to plan better, businesses can enlist the services of a provider to assess their business and data storage requirements, and suggest solutions which will cater for growth.

Businesses should ensure their data storage and backup is scalable. Cloud solutions offer businesses the flexibility and scalability to quickly and affordably scale up or down as needed, factoring in annual and seasonal data growth without the need for large, lump sum investments in storage hardware and solutions.

2. Ensure backup plans are aligned to business needs

‘One size fits all’ approaches to data backup policies are impractical and outdated, and can leave a business at risk. Different businesses within various industries all have distinctive data requirements, based on regulations and data importance. For this reason, businesses need to ensure their data backup policy aligns with their business requirements.

Businesses’ backup teams should engage with application owners and users, risk and compliance officers, and operational teams to ensure they properly understand, prioritise and protect data accordingly. Backup teams aren’t necessarily aware of what data and applications are most critical to the business or which security policies to attach to data. This engagement ensures that priorities and policies are communicated and aligned.

Engagement with the business also allows backup teams to establish which time windows work best for backing up, and how long they realistically need to not only backup, but also restore their data in order to minimise the impact on the business.

Backup plans should be reviewed and updated at least every quarter, taking into account the shifting prioritisation needs of the business. Any changes should be properly communicated across the business, whether from a backup perspective or from the business perspective. These reviews ensure that changes are quickly adapted to and adhered to.

3. Test, test, test.

A backup strategy is only effective if it works and it can only be confirmed as ‘working’ if it is tested regularly and can successfully recover the protected data. Businesses need to ensure data recoverability and this process must be tested frequently – only doing successful backups mean nothing if the data cannot be restored and/or recovered. Most organisations asses their backup plan annually, however, this is not often enough, especially with businesses that are rapidly evolving. For backup strategies to be robust and effective, we recommend testing at least once per quarter, preferably in line with service pack and software updates.

It’s also key that businesses engage with the right service provider to ensure a proper analysis of the backup. Although conducting tests internally may seem more efficient, they are not always accurate and can be skewed. Proper testing of a backup plan typically forms part of a business’ audit process. As such, no disaster recovery or backup team wants to fail and may have unwarranted bias which could prevent accurate testing.

Enlisting the aid of an external provider eliminates bias and ensures that all the right procedures, processes and policies are tested within the parameters of an audit.

There are many additional best practices that help businesses to get the best out of their backup, including creating redundancy, providing proper training and applying the right security parameters. All of these are important. However, if a business does only three things to ensure an effective backup strategy, it should be the three best practices mentioned above.