used with permission from SBA.gov
by Caron Beesley
Small businesses are widely adopting data back-up practices to ensure data is retrievable should a disaster occur, but gaps remain. According to a July 2012 study by accounting software company Sage, the bulk of small businesses are backing up key data such as financial information, but most businesses back up that data on-site only. Furthermore, the study found that only 38 percent of surveyed small businesses have a formal emergency or disaster preparedness plan.
Given the brutal impact of Superstorm Sandy and other disasters that affect small businesses on a regular basis, these are worrying statistics.
“Backing up on-site may not be sufficient to protect small businesses from natural disasters – particularly if the business is located in an area prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, fires or flooding – or more common crises, such as theft or hardware malfunction,” said Connie Certusi, executive vice president and general manager of Sage Small Business Solutions, in a company press release.
“The development of a preparedness plan that includes solutions for protecting critical information, such us backing up off-site, could be the difference between getting a business on its way to recovery and worrying about its survival.”
So what’s the best way to make sure your small business data is secure and available at all times? Here are four tips:
1. Automate Your Back-Ups and Build in Redundancy
Whether you’re a freelancer or a 50-person firm, an automated back-up system is a must. Many of us know the value of backing up to a local hard drive (you can buy one that will store terabytes of data for under $100) or server. But you should also consider backing up to a third party or off-site service. If your business property (along with your back-up device) is destroyed in a disaster, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that your data is retrievable.
Cloud back-ups are increasingly popular, whereby companies such as DropBox, Symantec and Carbonite will securely replicate, back up and store your data in the cloud (basically a shared computer hosted by a third party on the Internet). Cloud services are particularly beneficial for small business owners who may not have an in-house IT team to help them manage and administer server back-ups.
2. Consider Server Virtualization
According to a survey by CDW, 25 percent of small businesses have virtualized at least some of their servers, with improved data protection cited as a direct benefit. But what is server virtualization? Server virtualization allows you to take one physical server machine and run several virtual server environments (for example, your email, database, and web servers) on it. Essentially, one server performs the work of many. Along with cost benefits, virtualization also makes disaster recovery easier. Read more about the ins and outs of server virtualization in this Server Virtualization Guide for Small Business on Small Business Computing.com.
3. Run a Full Service Security Suite
Safeguarding data is about more than backing it up. Intrusion attempts, computer viruses and malware all can compromise business data and threaten your systems.
Consider installing a hardware firewall. Most firewall systems protect your software, but by the time most firewalls are activated, the threat is already inside your network. But a secure appliance-based firewall between the Internet and your business data will block intruders and threats before they enter your network.
Anti-virus and spam filters represent another security layer that protects incoming and outgoing data. Use content filters; they protect local computers from malware threats by blocking entry to potentially harmful websites.
4. Have a Big Picture Disaster Preparedness Plan
Approximately 40-60 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors after a disaster (source). While the value of our business data is incalculable, protecting your business and your employees by ensuring you are prepared for the eventuality of a natural or man-made disaster is equally critical. Create a plan of action to lessen the impact of disasters, and a disaster recovery plan to ensure you are up and ready for business sooner.