With all the flooding in Louisiana, we figured that it would be the right time to remind everyone about having good secure backups. A few things to keep in mind with backups are:

  1. Using an external drive can be a very inexpensive way to backup the company server, however, these backups need to be kept off-site in case of a disaster whether natural or un-natural i.e. flooding.
  2. Having an off-site realtime backup, like Carbonite, is always the best option. This also makes it possible to be back up and running much faster given that files can be accessed from anywhere. If you've taken the next step and started having the company server hosted by a service, then the team could log in and continue working as if nothing ever happened. 
  3. A final note is to regularly verify backups. We've seen far too many times where someone thinks they have a valid backup only to realize that either important files are missing or the backups are unusable.

Again, backups are extremely important and, in the long run, very cheap insurance. As always, if you have any questions, feel welcome to send those our way.

Four Common Backup Mistakes

Few things that are done each day are as important as backing up critical data. Unfortunately, backups often aren't given much thought until they are needed. Over the years we have seen a number of mistakes that have been made regarding backups. Here are the four most common.

1. Not Doing Them. People might be surprised how often this happens and often times it's simply because someone forgot. Always make sure someone is responsible for performing the daily backups and make sure it is getting done. This has been made easier with services like Carbonite. Backups can also be scheduled on any PC within the administration section and set to run on a schedule that works best for your specific schedule.

2. Not Verifying That The Backup Works. Jump drives and external disk drives are reliable, but they should still be verified for a successful copy of the data. If a service like Carbonite is being used, then chances are that the backup worked. However, it's never a bad idea to take a minute and check for critical files. A little time is worth a large amount of insurance.

3. Not Taking The Backups Offsite. Years ago, one of our clients had been diligently backing up their data, but left the backups on the desk beside the computer. One night, the building burned along with EVERY backup of the company's data. The client lost their inventory files and accounting records. If you're backing up on site with an external device, then make sure to either take it off-site or place that copy into a fire/water proof container. Again, we encourage our clients to use a service like Carbonite since it can backup in "real time" and is off-site.

4. Not Having A Secondary Copy. People make mistakes. We've heard stories of operators accidentally deleting data instead of copying it. Having a secondary copy prevents major issues and an extra external drive is very cheap insurance. Always have more than one copy of your critical data.

It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark...

Start the Plan

Howard Ruff, author of numerous financial planning books has been quoted as saying "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark”. His reference was to financial planning, but the same notion applies perfectly when it comes to planning for disasters. Many business spend a great deal of time planning on how to grow their business while ignoring what might happen if they ever experience a major disaster such as a fire or hurricane.

Don’t feel alone if you don’t have a plan. According to industry statistics, despite major disasters like Hurricane Sandy that struck the east coast in 2012, less than one-half of all businesses say they have a disaster recovery plan. When asked, most of those businesses with disaster plans said they had not tested their plan. Not testing the plan is almost like not having one.

The consequences of not having a plan for a disaster are sobering. The numbers vary depending upon the source, but according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 25 percent of all businesses do not reopen after a major disaster.

So where is the starting point? Unfortunately, this typically is not a problem to be solved in one short meeting over coffee. Planning for disaster recovery requires time and resources and it needs become an integral part of the business plan. The following points will give a good "jumping off" point.

1. Develop Your Plan. The first step in developing your plan is to bring together the people most impacted by a major disaster. Start asking the question "What do we do if?” For example, how would we know what our customers owe us? What do we do if we can’t process invoices or pay bills? How do we notify our customers and what do we tell them? How do we order product? Is our data protected?

2. The next part of the plan is to Assign Responsibilities. Who will get the message about the disaster out to our customers? This person will be responsible for emailing, calling, texting or faxing every customer to let them know what has happened. 

Assigning someone to develop an inventory of what the business owns is important for insurance claims.  

Give someone the responsibility of scanning important documents. This will include insurance documents, tax returns, payroll records, etc. Scanning doesn't have to be expensive. The Neat Company markets an inexpensive scanner that is simple to use and quick to setup.

Assign someone the task of installing a backup product, like Carbonite, to automatically backup everything that is on the PC. Carbonite's backup is simple, easy, continuous and in the event of a disaster the company would have access to all of the important records.

As part of the plan, make sure that company data is not only backed up, but a copy is stored off-site. This should go beyond the basic backup that Carbonite performs. This backup should be a restore drive/mirror image (a copy of the server drive with all software and files) that could be installed into any server. Most software providers are also providing cloud based systems that eliminate servers and give access to company data through the internet.

3. Work Your Plan. After all the time invested in growing the business, it's best to make sure that the new plan functions the way it was envisioned. In the beginning this may mean regular meetings to check on progress and to see if an area of the plan needs to be adjusted. The point of working the plan is to make sure that progress is being made, documents are being scanned, data is being backed up and the proper procedures are in place.

4. Audit Your Plan. The final step is to periodically audit the plan. It's great to have the backups automated but more than one company has backed up their data only to realize, at the most unfortunate time, that the data could not be retrieved. In other words, test your backups.

Make sure that all needed reports can be found easily and quickly. This might look like asking the person in charge of the financial reports for a specific purchase journal from last year. Regardless of the process that is tested, the point is to make sure that the plan is functioning properly.

None of us know when disaster will strike. We don’t know when the next earthquake, tornado or hurricane will hit, but history has proven to us that they do happen and they will happen again. Being prepared will significantly improve any companies chances of recovery.

Just remember what Howard Ruff said "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark”

A little more maintenance

I've been talking about computer maintenance here lately and now I've got a little more to share. This article has two basic tips that work hand in hand to help your computer perform at its best.   

Tip One: Watch What You Download. Not only is it important to know where the download is coming from, that it is safe and legitimate, but whether or not that program is downloading other programs. When downloading a new program, look to see if a box is checked for a new toolbar, trial version of an anti-virus, etc. Unless the program is something that is needed for the computer it will simply be taking up valuable space and computing power. 

Tip Two: Make sure to Create Restore Points. Before downloading a new program it’s always a good idea to create a restore point. Creating the restore point doesn't take much time and if something bad happens in the download, the computer can be back to normal with just a few clicks.

Backups: Fire and Waterproof

Weather seems to constantly remind us that we can't control it. We don't know what's next, but we do know that there's a need to make sure that we all have good backups. Backups are like insurance and this insurance is very inexpensive. The hope is that it never has to be used, but no one regrets having the backups when they're needed. The following are a few tips that we always tell our customers when setting up their backups.

Tip 1: Now would be a great time to Take an Inventory and make sure everything is backed up. This would include data files, the operating system, and any other programs that are being used. 

Tip 2: Store the backups in a secure place. Fireproof and waterproof safes are good, off-site is better. Multiple copies provide an additional layer of protection and if the data files are not too large, USB drives make an excellent low cost backup.

Tip 3: Verify the backup to be certain that it can be read after the it's completed. The best insurance is backing up over the Internet to an off-site server. It's very cheap insurance and most internet based backup products run automatically so the backup is never forgotten.

Final Tip: Don’t procrastinate. Do a backup inventory today. None of us know when that next natural disaster is going to strike.