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7 questions to ask before creating a business backup procedure

Data backup is so essential to modern business operations that it’s easy to forget how important it is. That’s unfortunate because data backup is extremely important.

If something happens to your network—anything from a short period of downtime to a ransomware attack that completely wipes your system—your data backups are the only thing between you and a complete and total disaster.

That’s because your data backups are basically an insurance policy. If anything happens to your original data, there they are, waiting to save the day.

But it’s not enough to know that backups are important. You still need to develop a backup strategy for your company, and that’s where this article can help.

“Backups should be as frequent as possible while not impacting the service quality and performance of the system.” – CIO

There’s no one-size-fits-all option

Data backup is like so many forms of IT support for SMBs. A cookie-cutter, a one-size-fits-all approach just isn’t going to meet your needs. That said, some form of backup is better than nothing, so don’t ditch your current backup plan until you have another one in place.

But if you have no backup procedure (or if you’re updating your backup procedure), there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

The right way is going to be highly customized to ensure that everything about your backup process protects your data and sets you up for success if you ever need to restore your data.

Which brings us to the 7 questions you should ask before you develop your new backup strategy.

7 critical data backup questions

The questions below will walk you through the strategic process of determining exactly what you need from your data backup service. We recommend that you go over all of these questions and your answers with your managed IT services provider.

In fact, your MSP should walk you through some version of these questions before making any backup recommendations.

1. What are your backup goals?

The core goal of all data backup strategies is the same—protect and maintain data. But why do you want to protect your data?

Are you storing sensitive data about your customers or employees? Do you rely on historical reports for future forecasting and performance? What would happen if you suddenly lost all your data and had to start over tomorrow?

Answering this question is important because it sets the stage for the rest of your strategic planning. When you have a firm understanding of what’s at stake, it’s much easier to really invest in the process.

2. How much do you need to backup?

How much data are we talking about? The type of data doesn’t really matter—yet. First, determine the total amount of data you have.

That number matters because it will help you decide how much total backup space you need. And don’t assume a 1-to-1 ratio. The general rule is that for every 1 terabyte of original data you have, you’ll need 4-5 terabytes of backup space.

3. How big are the files you’ll be backing up?

Now that you have a total number, what’s the average size of each file? Are you backing up a few hundred text files? Those are generally small and take up relatively little space.

Or do you have a massive portfolio of images and videos? Because those can be much bigger.

Average file size matters because bigger files can take longer to transfer. You’ll combine your answer to this question with your answer to the next question to help decide what type of back (onsite, offsite or hybrid) would serve you best.

4. How important is speed when accessing your backup files?

Offsite backups are generally safer simply because there’s distance.

If something happens to your office, like a fire, an offsite backup will be unaffected. Your data remains safe. Onsite backup servers might not protect you as well.

On the other hand, offsite backup tends to take longer to restore. If speed matters, offsite backup alone may not be the way to go. You may want a hybrid backup solution—both offsite and onsite—so that you have the protection of offsite backups with the speed of onsite backups.

5. What’s the ideal scenario for restoring data from your backup files?

Let’s go back to that terrifying question. Suppose you lose all your data all at once and you have to begin the process of a full data restoration. What’s the best case scenario at that point?

Do you need everything back in place in a matter of hours? Would days or even weeks be okay? How will you maintain business operations if you need to work remotely for a while?

You’re planning for a potential disaster. Ask yourself what the smoothest possible recovery would look like for you, your staff and your customers. Now, what kind of data backup enables that?

6. Are you subject to any regulatory requirements?

If your business is subject to compliance rules, they may limit some of your data backup options. You may not be able to use offsite backups, for example. Or you may need to ensure there’s a specific level of security in play first.

The cost of compliance violations is high. You don’t want to go through all the work of developing a backup strategy only to discover you’ve left yourself open to a regulatory fine.

7. Are you sure about the security of your data backups?

Finally, give some thought to the level of security your data backup plan provides.

If you’re using an onsite server, do you have both software-based and physical security precautions in place? If you’re using an offsite option, does the backup provider guarantee cybersecurity?

Don’t assume everyone else out there takes security as seriously as you do. Think it through and ask.

The right backup option for you

If you work your way through these 7 questions, you’re much more likely to arrive at a backup strategy that fully protects your data. And don’t forget to reach out to a data backup pro if you feel out of your depth.

After all, protecting your data matters. Make sure you give this the time and attention it deserves.

Mitigating disaster risk and downtime for hospitals

In July 2018, Blount Memorial Hospital in Tennessee had a nightmare experience. Their electronic health records (EHR) system was offline for three days. During that time, 90 doctors were unable to access patient records.

Appointments were canceled. People didn’t receive care.

When the whole thing was said and done, the hospital’s board of directors made the decision to invest in a $30,000 backup system to ensure nothing like that would ever happen again.

What’s at risk

Hospitals and other medical services businesses are in a unique position when it comes to disaster recovery and downtime readiness. This isn’t just a matter of lost profits, damage to your reputation, or inconvenience for your employees and customers. The health and wellness of people are at stake.

As a result, every kind of medical services provider has an obligation to go above and beyond to mitigate the risk of downtime and prepare for possible disasters.

Practical measures

In advising these businesses about disaster recovery, the core of our standard advice is the same for hospitals, physician practices and other medical businesses. Prepare. Don’t just wait for disaster to strike. Have a plan.

When it comes to the medical industry, there are specific forms of preparation that are uniquely important. Below are some of the things medical providers should do to lower the risk of downtime and prepare for outages.

Expect downtime

First and foremost, let go of any expectation that downtime won’t happen to you. Your hospital isn’t exempt. Your office isn’t the exception. Downtime happens to just about every business. It can (and will) happen to yours.

That’s an important step in preparation because you won’t take a disaster recovery and downtime plan seriously if you think you’ll never have to use it.

Create a communications plan

A communications plan is essential for any disaster recovery plan. Your doctors and staff need to know whom to contact, how communications will be conducted, which channels will be used for what purpose, and what communication activity is most essential in the event of downtime.

Be specific. Spell out exactly who should be in contact with whom, and make sure everyone knows the plan well ahead of time. Update it when you have changes in your system, your policies and in your personnel, if appropriate.

Develop a downtime toolkit

Downtime toolkits “contain paper copies of clinical documents and procedures to follow when their EHR is not available.” A downtime toolkit may also include a read-only database of patient records as an emergency backup system.

This is a critical resource, but one that absolutely requires the help of an IT consultant. A doctor’s office that deals in non-emergency care may not need a full downtime toolkit, but every hospital should have some kind of system for continuing to provide healthcare, even if the entire local network goes offline.

Consider an on-site fallback generator

On-site generators can help in situations where a power outage is to blame for downtime. However, power outages are only one of several things that can take an IT network offline. While an on-site generator certainly makes sense (particularly for critical care facilities), this alone will not protect your hospital from every form of downtime.

Perform downtime drills

EHR simulation drills will give you an idea of how prepared your hospital’s staff are, and they will give your staff a chance to understand and experience what to expect when the real thing strikes.

As a recent article in EHR Intelligence notes, “Strategizing to fill gaps in care that crop up during EHR downtime simulations can help to reduce the risk of slowdowns, delays, threats to patient harm, or billing problems during real instances of EHR downtime.”

Enlist some help

Finally, no hospital should be without professional help when it comes to downtime readiness and a disaster recovery plan. If your in-house IT department isn’t fully prepared to take on this crucial task, find an IT consultant with experience supporting the healthcare industry to help you and your team.

With the right preparation, downtime won’t stop your hospital or medical practice from providing the care your patients rely on.