Small business backup basics

Small Business Backup Basics

Topics: data backup, small business data backup, small business backup, backup basics, business backup

Last week I did a short presentation for the members of one of my weekly business networking groups. After the presentation many of the people I am in the group with came up to me and indicated that they were able to finally understand what services my company provides and that they would like me to come in to their business as soon as I could to assess their current backup processes. Huh? I’ve been getting up for the past 6 months giving different 30 second pitches only to find out now that few people understood what the heck I was talking about.


That really forced me to think about how I’m presenting what I do and how to do it. I guess I’m taking for granted what people understand when it comes to technology. Understanding isn’t really a big deal if you have someone else doing your backups. Those aren’t the people I want to reach. I’m trying to help those who are trying to accomplish the task themselves who have little understanding regarding how to do it right so they can protect their business investment. So, just in case I have lost some people out there let’s start from scratch (and I mean scratch). The following is what I presented last week. Keep in mind; I usually wing it with a point form list to reference so the following is a mind dump of what I could remember.

My presentation

For my presentation today I would like to take this opportunity to share some backup basics that you can refer to when considering what will be included in your small business backup processes.

I’m going to start by first making a statement. In most situations, and for most applications, a typical backup is not a complete copy of every file on your computer. Now there are situations where it can be. We call these particular processes ghosting, cloning or bare-metal backups. I’m going to shelve this topic for another time as it is significantly more technical and prone to more issues than a regular backup process.

So, if a backup is not a copy of all the files on your machine then what is it? To answer that, let’s looks at what really is on your computer and how we can cover our butts with replacing everything if we ever need to.

The first and base thing you will find is an operating system (Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Mac OSX, Red Hat etc.). That gives you the framework to support and operate the second thing which are the software applications or programs you use on a daily basis at home or to support your business (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, MSN Messenger, Internet Explorer, Outlook, Milano for Spa’s, AutoCAD for Design, Photoshop, Illustrator, I could go on forever). This also includes external device drivers and software like printers, scanners, video cameras, cameras etc. The next thing you will find on your computer are your application preferences. These are basically settings detailing how I’ve got my software setup. For example, an engineer can spend years setting up his AutoCAD just the way he likes it. Graphic designers can have Photoshop setup a certain way to optimize their use of the software. We all work (or play) differently and have adjusted our software to work in ways that make the most sense for us. There are customization options in just about all operating systems and applications. This also includes things like bookmarks of all the important websites you use, cookies for all your automated site logins, messenger lists etc. The last thing stored on your computer is the raw data generated through using software, applications and devices. This could be a contract a lawyer would author through Word, it could be the accounting data an accountant enters into Simply Accounting, it could be the contacts we put in our contact lists, the email we receive, the scans or pictures produced by external devices like scanners or cameras. This is the meat of it all, the data specific to our business operation. And that’s basically it in a nutshell. Now, how do we backup all this stuff so that if anything ever happens we can get back up and running again with everything the way it was before?

Backup is all about redundancy. In the past and still today, if you have important documents or very important items you would keep them, or copies of them in a safety deposit box, out of your home or business. This protects you if you ever have an incident where they may be lost or destroyed through fire, flood and theft. Backup is no different. Multiple copies is the key.

So, to backup things like operating systems and applications we likely already have the original install discs provided via DVD or CD. In order to introduce redundancy all that needs to be done is to copy those application discs (including serial and license files) and store them safely offsite. For internet delivered software, copies will work if restore time is critical or one wouldn’t have access to the internet. If these are not issues then an application list detailing download/install links and license/serial numbers will work just fine.

Now, for personal and business critical information like application preferences and raw data. There are a lot of options available to you but first you need to identify and prioritize what it is you need to backup and how critical it is to your business operation. How long can you go without having access to that data before you start losing money and clients? How long and how much would it cost you to reproduce that data or setup your applications or systems so that they perform the way you want them to?

Armed with that information you can now investigate a backup process which will meet your recovery time objective. This essentially means a pre-established amount of time you can go without the data before it starts to hurt you.

Now, it is important to understand that every backup process has risks and limitations. None of them are 100% but when used together your risks are significantly decreased. Again, I’m back to redundancy. Multiple copies in different places will ensure your best chance of recovery.

Some of the options you have at your disposal for onsite and offsite storage are as follow. I highly recommend utilizing both an onsite and offsite strategy to cover all your bases and to eliminate downtime.

1. Optical Discs
2. Magnetic Tape
3. Hard Disks
4. Solid State (USB, Flash, Jump)
5. Remote Offsite Backup

I hope this shed some light on what files need to be considered when backing up your computer. If figuring out what needs to be backed up; finding a solution that meets your recovery time objective; performing the backups daily; rotating them offsite and performing tests periodically to make sure the data is recoverable; seems like a lot of work, then hire a professional. You can never be too careful with your data.

Sean Sweeney is a chronic entrepreneur, small business development die hard and creative marketing specialist. He provides business consulting and development services aimed at achieving strategic advantage in modern organizations. You may contact him through his blog at

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