Backups… Great! You have one… is it working?

As a leader in your organization, when was the last time you thought about your backup system?  Can you answer these basic questions?


Do you know where your backup data is stored?

Is the system automatically backing itself up in a timely manner?

Does your system notify you about a backup failure?

What’s the plan to recover your data in case of a primary system failure?


Knowing the answers to these basic questions can make the difference between a momentary failure of your business and disaster of epic proportions.  But there is even a more critical question.


When was the last time anyone checked on the backup system to make sure it is still working?


Most companies these days have heard enough horror stories about primary system failures to have instituted a backup system.  Organizations spend time and money on making sure that their critical data is being backed up into a fail-over system so that if any issues occur in the primary system they are covered.  But, how long ago was that system put in place?  When did you last test it to ensure that backups are being created in a timely manner?  Imagine you come into the office one morning to find that there’s no data in your accounting system or your email has failed. “No problem,” you think to yourself.  “We have all this data backed up.”  But when you go to the backups you find that your system has not been backing anything up for the last 18 months.  What are you going to do about those emails that government regulations say you must retain?  What about the accounting information you need to get together for the IRS audit coming up?


Time and time again, we at Uncommon have seen companies fail to test their backup systems only to discover that the data is not there when they need it.  There has been no testing strategy of the backup system.  After all… the backup system never changes so it should continue to work.  It is still a system of hardware and software and can become corrupted over time simply through the process of running itself.  False comfort fostered by a system that is no longer functioning can be more crushing than not having the system in the first place.  If you never installed a backup system, at least your first thought would be, “I have to hire a team to try to recover the data from the disks.”  But if you believed you had backups and do not... now you feel betrayed.


Many of our clients do not want to spend the money on testing a backup.  If you have never done it, you might not even know what to budget for testing the system.  We at Uncommon have come across a rule of thumb that has borne out again and again... you could spend up to 10 times the amount of recovering data than you would in testing the system.  For example, let’s say you are a small business with a simple system and you find out it would cost $300 to test your backup system to make sure it is function properly.  As a small business, this can be seen as a big IT cost on a system that seems to be working okay.  However, if the system fails and the backups were not working properly, you could spend up to $3,000 simply to recover the data from the primary system.  In larger enterprises it can really hurt... a system that would cost $5,000 to test could cost up to $50,000 to recover the data.  And the larger the enterprise the less likely it is that you can “do without” the data that has been lost.  Even in large companies that have “rock star” IT teams, without tests of the backups at some regular frequency, these companies run the risk of having to hire outside specialists to restore their systems.


If you’ve never really thought about backing up data, this can all be a bit of a scary subject.  Other things we haven’t even touched on can include, has your primary system changed since you put your backup system in place?  In other words, are you really capturing all your data?  And if the worst should happen and your primary system crashes and your backups have failed, you’re now in a position to try to remember what data was in your system and re-create it.  Do you even have all the paper that you would need to re-create your computer data files?


Determining what your IT costs should be is never easy. As a small business you might have bought an external drive or as a big company you may have put in a network attached storage device.  You could have bought backup software or created personalized scripting to back up your data.  But without regular checkups to make sure the backups are actually taking place, all that money could have been wasted.  When you think about backups, don’t forget about the maintenance of that insurance policy.  Saying, “I’ll worry about that when it happens” is the most inappropriate and expensive thing you can do.


If you are unsure about your backup system or the cost of checking it, contact Uncommon Solutions for a free assessment of your environment.