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Cloud busting: Business continuity myths debunked

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

We’ve all lost data. And it hurts. Even worse is having to explain the loss to the other people affected– your team, your business partners and your customers.

Woman writing on board

Most businesses reckon they’ve got data storage and back-ups under control, but even the biggest names have lost time, money and data. Are you making any of these mistakes?

We’ve all lost data. And it hurts. Sometimes it’s a slow realisation that the file you’re searching for is gone, a kind of digital dementia. Other times it’s the sharp shock of finding out that when your machine crashed you lost days’ worth of work and business. Even worse is having to explain the loss to the other people affected– your team, your business partners and your customers.

Losing data because you didn’t have a proper back-up process is particularly embarrassing. It’s not easy to ‘fess up to, particularly in the era of Cloud computing.

But there are plenty of misconceptions around Cloud backups, too. The Cloud won’t automatically take care of everything you need to think about when storing data, so let’s bust some of the biggest myths now. 

Myth #1: Back-ups are the same as archives

Back-ups and archives are not the same thing:

  • Back-ups typically reflect a fairly recent state of play for your data. They should be close to hand and allow you to quickly recover from an error (whether it’s caused by machines or people). Most back-up systems are not built for long-term memory.
  • Archives are organised collections of data intended for longer-term storage. Accessing an archive almost always implies going back to an earlier version of data. Confuse the two at your peril.

Film-maker Francis Ford Coppola made headlines in 2007 when his “computer back-up device” was stolen from his Buenos Aires home and he lost 15 years’ worth of data. Would a Cloud back-up service have saved him? Maybe. Better still if he’d had a decent archive in the cloud.

Memory tip:

Create archives from your back-ups periodically and keep copies of your data in at least two different physical locations.

Myth #2: Back-up processes are set-and-forget

It’s tempting to think of back-ups as something you can set up once and then leave to their own (physical or virtual) devices. They’re not. Remember:

  • Systems change and data moves around
  • Your back-up system is only as good as your recovery processes

In the early 1990s, one of the authors of this article, Michela Ledwidge, was working at the National Library of Australia. The Library had a team of technicians working around the clock to manage a massive library of back-up tapes. In the mid-1990s she needed a copy of her account on the Library computer system from a few years before, but after putting in the request discovered the recovery process had failed.

In those days back-ups were stored on tape drives, which were both expensive and slow. The sluggishness of data access on these systems sometimes meant that the organisations using them to dutifully record back-ups didn’t spend nearly enough time testing that files could be recovered. It’s all about priorities.

Champions Group, a group of eight IGA stores in regional Victoria, also used tapes to back-up data. However, after having to physically send tapes to get repaired - which was a drain on efficiency - they switched to a cloud back-up solution to help get time back and improve productivity.

Memory tip:

Test your back-ups periodically so you are reassured files can be restored. It doesn’t matter whether the restore is from the Cloud or not – the only way to really know your process is working is to re-assemble a system from restored files.

Myth #3: It's all about the documents

It can be tempting to focus on the data you understand, like large presentations, video assets and customer records. But it’s also vital to back-up every file you’ll need if you have to restore systems as a whole.

File sharing and email are backed up more often than e-commerce and online applications, according to research conducted on behalf of Telstra by Ovum. While 69 per cent of businesses back-up file sharing tools, and 66 per cent back-up email and messaging tools, only 31 per cent back-up e-commerce tools. For an online business, not backing up their e-commerce site leaves their core shopfront vulnerable!

Memory tip:

Back-up strategies are best devised by people close to your data. Any good systems administrator will tell you that it is often only through the recovery process that problems with the initial back-up plan surface.

Myth #4: Backups help remove the risk of human error

A good back-up system is an extra line of defence from operator error. One of the best documented back-up horror stories comes, no surprise, from the film industry again.

In his book Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation, shares how 90 per cent of Toy Story 2 (one of the world’s first wholly computer-generated movies) was accidentally wiped by a careless one-line command. The true horror of the situation was not that this deletion ever happened but that the tape drive back-up had failed for an unrelated reason.

Luckily this story had a happy ending: one employee on maternity leave had an old copy of the entire film at home – but it still took weeks of painful work to get the production back on track. Scared yet?

Memory tip:

Again, you need more than one backup option and location. Keeping multiple copies in other locations will help avoid human error, and multiple devices, such as cloud and external hard drive can help protect data. The frequency of backing up is also important; the more recent a back-up is, the less re-work there is.

Myth #5: Location is irrelevant

The convenience of thinking of online storage as “the Cloud” is a luxury no systems administrator or tech management can afford.

The Cloud isn’t a magical place - where your files are physically stored actually matters. The location of Cloud servers can affect the speed of access, pricing and even your liability under legislation.

Data sovereignty laws apply to backups and archives as well as live data. Backups to unauthorised locations can cost contracts, careers and lead to fines or worse.

So if you trust your precious data to a third party, do yourself a favour and keep tabs on where it is.

Memory tip:

Ensure your backup strategy is compliant with your industry and government regulations. Don’t forget to plan for lag between getting you data back and the impact on your business. 

Myth #6: Personal service doesn't matter

In any business relationship you need to know if you are seen as a number or a person.

When it comes to Cloud operations, you may not be getting the personal service you need in an emergency. Look for a service that provides communication channels and find out what service you will be provided with.  It’s important to understand the service level agreements to help get the most out of your service provider.

The most common causes of data disruption are human error, accounting for 28 per cent of failures, while natural disasters only account for 8 per cent of disruptions.*

Memory tip:

You need service when things go wrong beyond materials published on a website. Most data disasters are caused through human error or omission, not the failure of technology products.

Myth #7: Expense equals peace of mind

Any investment in a backup project needs to be carefully managed to get the best result. All the planning and brainpower in the world won’t save your data if you don’t regularly review and test your recovery processes. Spending more up front does not necessarily equate to greater protection.

Aside from the critical recovery tests, the documentation and processes around backups are often key in a crisis. Here are some traps for the unwary:

  • Where are the manuals kept?
  • How are files being versioned?
  • Is the data being scanned for viruses?
Memory tip:

It’s not uncommon for recovered files to be next to useless because not enough attention was paid to their context. Document your data precisely.

Myth #8: Cloud means fast speeds to files

Consider the importance of upload speeds, not just download speeds for backup solutions. Small businesses, in particular, that don’t have fibre connections need to be careful around using Cloud backup solutions.

This conundrum was well documented in Forbes magazine’s “The Myth of Online Backup” (Forbes, 23 July 2013), which looked at a photographer’s library. Having signed up for an unlimited online storage service, she discovered that even after six months of the service, she was still trying to upload her initial set of 200GB data – rendering the service useless in practice. She had super-fast download access to an incomplete backup.

De-duplication, or eliminating redundant data, can help save the amount of files that need to be updated to the cloud every day.

Memory tip:

You need to calculate how long it will take to set up and maintain data connectivity for your files. Internet speed is why Cloud backup services are less useful for large data sets (for example, video files) and more useful for more compact data (for example, scientific numerical and financial data). 

Myth #9: Out of sight, out of mind

If you were to summarise all the myths of Cloud backups into one, it would be something like this: “backup and restore operations are the lifeblood of business continuity”. But businesses that delegate this crucial responsibility without carefully researching their options and choosing a reliable Cloud provider may come to regret it.

It can be very tempting to simply outsource mindshare of data processes to a price-competitive cloud provider to cut costs, but can you really afford the risks? A cheap Cloud service provider may be able to withstand the loss of your business in the event of a data disaster, but can you? It pays to have someone thinking about this at all times.

Memory tip:

If you can afford to keep redundant backup and archive copies close at hand this can prove very handy. Just because someone else is managing data, doesn’t mean you can forget about it. Remember to review your data strategy regularly and that the service you choose meets your growing business needs. 

Myth #10: Cloud providers know best when it comes to data loss prevention

It’s ironic that the common understanding of Data Loss Prevention (DLP) has next to nothing to do with back-up and disaster recovery failure.

DLP describes security failures, or the loss of security measures around data. It’s true that data theft and hacks are what grab the headlines and, as a result, security against such attacks tends to be a priority for the Cloud services industry. The reputation of big Cloud providers is paramount when it comes to businesses trusting them with their data.

But be careful. It’s your responsibility to implement security measures and controls into your business.

Memory tip:

Data storage technology continues to become more and more robust. Business can and should consider Cloud back-up solutions for the benefits they provide. 

*Research conducted on behalf of Telstra by Ovum

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