Work through this scenario with me. Things are going great this year, your business seems to have taken off, and profits are better than ever. You’ve managed to work through any technical issues you might have had, your brand is popular and easily identifiable, and you think you’re doing great. Now you just need to sit down and do some bookkeeping, you open up the files where all your information is kept and—they’re gone. What do you do? If you haven’t taken the time to backup your data efficiently, your first answer might be “Panic” (and maybe your second and your third). But when dealing with anything stored electronically, data loss is always a possibility. Here are some tips to backup your data efficiently, so you can tell that looming specter to go away.
Make Physical Backups
No, I don’t mean print every single page of data so that you can store the hardcopies in a vault and painfully transcribe them back into electronic format after a data loss incident like monks in the age before the printing press (although you can do that too for small, crucial documents), but there are other methods of data storage that you can use to put your data into something you can store in a physical place. USB sticks are the first thing that come to mind. You can buy a USB stick for cheap, and they can contain a surprising amount of data. The problem with USB sticks is that they tend to be small, and small objects are easily misplaced. You also need to be sure to make multiple copies if you’re planning on going this route (it’s not hard for a USB stick to become completely destroyed), but the same thing goes for a lot of these strategies.
If you have a little bit more cash on hand and want something more substantial, a good way to backup your data efficiently is to invest in an external hard drive. The research laboratory I work in does this—we have one or two hard drives that we use for backups of the raw data (turns out that science boils down to a lot of numbers that can be summarized in a paper in three sentences). Solid-state drives are also a good option for people willing to pay the price and tend to be more secure than typical external hard drives (they usually come with a bit of a speed boost too). Network storage servers like the FreeNAS Mini would also be a good option to consider (but again, you’re looking at another jump in price). These systems are optimized for network storage, but can have a lot of other uses as well depending on your needs.
Look Into Online Backups
If you’re running a business, you’re probably working with some sort of cloud-based system, and most of those systems have some form of data storage and recovery. The problem is that each company has its own policies about how long data is kept, so when choosing your cloud services, it’s important to read the fine print. You need to know if the service you’re choosing has some form of data recovery in the event of a disaster and what those policies are (and what exactly ‘disaster’ means in this context). You want to backup your data efficiently, so it might be prudent to spend the extra money it takes to keep your data safe. After all, by making sure your data is secure, you’re only protecting yourself and your interests in the long run.
Outside of your own cloud-based service, there are other services on the internet that exist purely for making good backups. Look into those and see if it’s worth keeping a backup of your data on their systems (but beware the inherent security risk that comes with putting your data in someone else’s hands!)
Try to Have a Mix of Both
It might be tempting to have purely online back-ups or purely physical back-ups, but the best option is to have a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B. The end goal is to backup your data efficiently, and efficiently means not overdoing it, but that doesn’t mean that you should just pick one option and be done. There is no ‘one size fits all’ plan for backing up data, and every solution comes with its own risk. If there’s a fire in your building that wipes out your local files, there’s a good chance it will wipe out whatever physical backups you’ve made too, and data you store online is always in danger of getting corrupted, either through a virus or through some other glitch.
Remember, at the end of the day, protecting your data begins and ends with you. Be responsible, know the pros and cons of each solution, and backup your data regularly. If you keep these things in mind, you should be well on your way towards keeping yourself secure and prepared for any emergency (and not panicking as you watch the last year of work slowly slip off into the ether).