Disaster Recovery Storage — 04 December 2012

- Jamie Brenzel, CEO at KineticD, says:

It’s a worst case scenario – the network is underwater and the entire organization’s critical applications and associated data have disappeared. It is every business owner’s fear. Whether it’s due to theft, a hard drive crash or a hurricane, the loss of company data can cripple progress, leaving businesses stranded and holding the proverbial bag.

Business owners often don’t think about the procedures necessary to backup data, much less the recovery process involved in the event of a system failure. Unfortunately, what many don’t realize is that the stalwart back up methods of the past such as tape, DVD’s or CD’s, have become painfully old fashioned in today’s data-centric world.

While many small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) think ALL of their data is being captured and stored in a safe place, the reality is that very often they are wrong. The truth is that many mission critical programs are not being backed up because, when left open, they are outside the parameters of standard backup procedures.

The golden question all business owners should ask is simple: “If my computer disappeared tomorrow, could my business survive without past emails, contacts, work schedules and accounting data?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to take a closer look at your backup and data recovery procedures.

The Dilemma

Critical non-standard databases, such as QuickBooks and Outlook along with other accounting software and legacy applications, as well as databases such as MS Access and MySQL, may not be VSS-aware. This means they lack the standard that allows files or databases to be backed up when in use. This lack of functionality leaves many SMBs and IT managers empty-handed in the event of a system failure or disaster.

QuickBooks and Outlook data is infamous for being left out of standard backup routine practices. The ongoing dilemma of backing up this critical data continues to be the fact that most employees, even CEO’s, forget to shut down these programs when leaving for the day. Unless special precautions are taken, it is likely that when attempting to restore these critical data files they will be outdated… or worse, corrupted. This is true of many mission-critical programs that keep businesses running.

Outlook is a critical application for businesses of all sizes. If it is not closed, many backup tools are unable to access the ever-important .PST files, leaving companies open to a potential disaster should the program crash. The .PST contains all of your Outlook data, including emails, contacts, calendar events, notes and schedules; and file backup doesn’t necessarily happen automatically. Regular backup of the .PST file is critical for restoring your most recent data.

For those of us who are email hoarders, keeping all email correspondence in Outlook can cause the .PST to reach gigabyte proportions very quickly. These large and unruly files can produce unexpected problems when backing them up.  Many backup systems can “time out” or even worse, demand an extra tape or CD to complete the backup routine when your office is closed and employees are gone for the day.

A good starting point is to look for a Microsoft Certified backup vendor that follows the best practices set by Microsoft. Selecting backup software that doesn’t conflict with Windows or other low-level drivers, such as antivirus programs and software firewalls, should be a key element in identifying a backup vendor.

Our personal data and financial records rank high on the list of importance. This is especially true for business owners. QuickBooks, the popular accounting software is another application many SMBs can’t do without. The absence of an Application Programming Interface (API) presents ongoing challenges for protecting corporate financial data. An API allows third party companies to integrate special functions, such as requests for a data dump for easy backup. Currently, there is no safe method to programmatically dump your QuickBooks data to a secure place for easy backup at the end of the day, and without an API, developers can’t create one for QuickBooks.

Scheduling QuickBooks to back up automatically to a specific folder is recommended, which allows your data to be verified regularly. From there, schedule your third party backup software to back up to that folder. This ensures that QuickBooks is in a good state before your backup software runs. Not following these best practices could lead to a corrupted QuickBooks database file.

QuickBooks files that your company must make sure are backed up:

.QBW           =    quickbooks Primary Data File

.QBB            =    quickbooks Backup File

.QBA           =    quickbooks Accountant’s Copy File

(May also be a .AIF [Accountant’s Import File])

.QBA.TLG   =    Transaction log file (for the accountant’s review copy)

.QBM           =    quickbooks Portable Company File (for version 2006 and above).

.QBI             =    quickbooks Crash Roll Back File

.QBX           =    quickbooks Accountant Transfer File

.QDT            =    quickbooks United Kingdom Accountant Data File

The backup challenges of these programs are unique; so considering the alternatives that address this lack of functionality is important. Some data backup companies provide solutions that include the ability to continuously back up your programs and data, no matter where that device is located and even while the programs are open and in use.

Data Security Drill

If you are questioning how secure your data is, you should test it. Just like any safety drill, the best way to make sure is to put your backup method to the test. If possible, locate a spare computer, wipe the drive and attempt to do a complete restore of company applications and associated data. Then ask the following questions:

  • Are you able to restore your backup files in one simple step?

  • Do you have easy access to those applications and have you kept track of the associated upgrades?

  • Do you need to re-install all of your applications individually?

  • Does your Outlook, QuickBooks and other proprietary data install easily?

  • Do you end up with the most current data when you have completed the restoration?
Keep track of the time it takes you to complete the restoration from beginning to end, then multiply that by the number of computers you have within your organization. Many SMBs are unaware that the secret of data recovery is the time it takes to restore the data, which is generally governed by your company’s Internet bandwidth restrictions. When your computers are down, every minute counts.

Conclusion

Data backup is as important to your business as an insurance policy. Computers can be replaced if lost in a disaster, or stolen during a break-in. But if you don’t have a reliable, secure method of restoring your data, all the money in the world isn’t going to bring back those missing files.

Ideally there would be no need to back up your company’s data; computers and hard drives would last forever, outside threats like malicious hackers and natural disasters would be non-existent and employees would never forget to save a file, or close a program. Unfortunately this perfect world does not exist. For this reason, businesses of all types and sizes should take the necessary steps to protect their data at all times if they wish to remain in business after the fact.

About the Author

Jamie brings over 15 years of experience in investment banking and entrepreneurial startups to his role as CEO of KineticD. Jamie holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario.

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