Communication Technology

You Are Only as Good as Your Last Backup

Avoiding Data Loss After Unforeseen Disasters 

How bad would it be if your data was lost and couldn’t be recovered? What if years of financial records or tax returns disappeared; all of your contracts, receipts, and emails gone in a moment?

I asked these questions in a meeting with the General Manager of a large community association and watched as they turned pale and had to stop the meeting until the wave of nausea passed!  Realizing the chasm that existed between just how important the data was to the organization, and of what little had been done to protect it, resulted in a very rude awakening.

You are only as good as your last good backup. With so many different ways that data can be negatively impacted (i.e. data corruption, human error, ransomware), best practices need to be observed and followed to ensure the protection of data from risk. The level of risk is determined by the importance of the data, and every community association has several different levels of risk.

A simple Word document with a list of holidays that the association observes might be considered extremely low risk, whereas the database that holds homeowners personally identifiable information (PII) would definitely be at higher risk. Financial documents that include social security numbers, credit card information or bank accounts would be among the highest risk.

What kind of backup plan should a community association employ? A typical real-world scenario that we commonly see is one where the receptionist is responsible to swap out “tapes” every Friday and take home the tapes so the backed-up data is off-premises in the event something happens at the office. However, no one is verifying that the backups are actually taking place, nor are they verifying that the backed-up data is viable and able to be restored in the event it is needed. Clearly, this is not sufficient.

As technology has continued to advance, backups have become more sophisticated. There is now something available to handle every backup need. Since that is the case, let’s review some best practices:

  1. Backup often – depending upon the nature of the data, backups can range from weekly (on the outside of the backup window) to real time (the moment data is saved) for critical data.
  2. Backup locations – at the very least there needs to be both local and a remote backup. With Internet speeds today, data should be backed up to a remote repository (in the cloud).  Data should be able to be encrypted in transit (while it is being copied offsite) and at rest (where it is sitting at its final destination).
  3. Backup monitoring – backups should be monitored to confirm that they are indeed happening. Automated monitoring is included in most solutions offered today.
  4. Backup verification – this is a critical, and often missed step in data backups. The frequency with which this is done will largely be driven by the level of risk aversion, but typical recommendations are monthly on the more aggressive side and usually every six months.
  5. Backup audits – these need to be established to ensure that:
    1. All pertinent data is being backed up
    2. All needed backup types are engaged (files, databases, bare metal, virtual machines etc.)

Backups should be a central component of a larger disaster recovery plan. Community associations need to take into consideration business continuity planning, which would include business insurances, hardware and software availability, and accessibility of data in the event of disasters.  That of course, is a subject for another article.

By Tony Schwartz

Tony is President and CEO of Halo Information Systems. A network engineer, commanding CIO/CTO experience, with nearly three decades of experience in the IT industry, Tony founded Halo in 2003. His primary goal is to assist businesses bridge the gap between their individual technical needs and the myriad of solutions available. He is adept at assisting organizations implement the best IT practices for their unique environment resulting in practical, cost-effective solutions. When not out saving organizations from technophobia, Tony enjoys fishing, boating and spending time with family and friends. He can often be found playing frisbee with his black lab, Vader.

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