As a business owner, you’re probably already aware of the threats looming over data security in today’s digital environment. The irretrievable loss of critical data could drive your business to ruins. Apart from the financial fallout directly associated with data loss, it could also damage your reputation.
While backups can help your business recover after a disaster, you must understand that backups can also fail. The last thing you need after a catastrophic data loss is to find out that your backups have also bit the dust. For backups to work perfectly, they must be tested regularly to ensure that your critical data is accurately preserved and can be retrieved when required.
In addition to the obvious benefit of business continuity following a disaster, regular backup testing can also help you save a great deal of time, money and energy. Let’s find out how.
Components of effective backups
There are typically three backup components that organizations must incorporate as part of their backup strategy. By adopting these measures, you can ensure consistency in your backup tasks and implement a foolproof system to combat unexpected backup failures.
· Creating a backup schedule: Many businesses don’t follow a consistent backup schedule. In some cases, the schedule can also be insufficient.
For instance, if data is the lifeline of your business, backing it up once a week may not be an adequate protective measure. If data loss happens even a day before the scheduled backup date, you will lose a week’s worth of data. You need to make sure that the schedule you create compliments your business requirements.
· Monitoring backups: The next critical step in your data backup strategy involves monitoring your backups. Monitoring helps you identify data failure at an early stage before it becomes completely irrecoverable. It could also help you identify the reason behind the failure so you can implement necessary fixes.
· Testing your backups: Imagine consistently backing up your data without fail but not being able to retrieve it when you need it. It would be a waste of storage space, time, money and effort. You need to periodically test your full restoration capability as per your requirement (weekly or monthly). If critical data is involved, you need to test restoration more frequently. By comprehensively testing your recoverability, you can rest assured that your backups will ensure business continuity even under dire circumstances.
Benefits of regular backup testing
Regular backup testing is an essential part of your disaster recovery readiness. However, it also comes with a few other benefits. Here is a list of reasons why regular backup testing should be a part of your backup strategy:
· Disaster recovery readiness: The most important benefit of testing is the most obvious one – readiness. By regularly testing your backups, you can be fully prepared to deal with an unexpected disaster when it strikes. Since you already have experience restoring all your backups, you can get your business operations up and running within a reasonable time and prevent massive financial loss.
· Compliance adherence: Testing is a mandatory part of various compliance regulations. According to most of these regulations, a disaster recovery plan has no value if it does not work when required. The testing requirements, however, may differ from one regulatory standard to another.
· Deduplication avoidance: Duplication of backups may not sound like a major issue, but it can waste your limited resources on unwanted storage. When there are multiple duplicate backups, it takes up a lot of resources and forces you to spend more time processing it. You need to perform deduplication periodically to ensure that you have backed up only the essential data that is critical to your requirements.
· Optimized data: With proper testing, you can organize your critical data and manage it effectively. This is an essential requirement for organizations of all sizes. By organizing your data better, you will get an idea of where everything is stored and recover the right information when needed. This helps you streamline the backup process and ensure proper restoration.
· Understanding your infrastructure: Implementing backup testing will help companies get a better understanding of their data storage infrastructure. For instance, you can get a high-level view of your infrastructure and understand the different components associated with the backup process.
· Commitment to stakeholders: Having a solid backup strategy indicates that you are committed to the security of your customer data. Testing your backups regularly is a better way to show your customers and other stakeholders that you are doing everything in your power to ensure business continuity.
Making Sure Your Backups Are Ready
Backups play a critical role in any data protection strategy. However, if you are entirely dependent on your backups for disaster recovery and business continuity, unexpected backup failures can prove disastrous for your business. When backups are scheduled automatically, you risk falling victim to media failure, software issues, cyberattacks or even a simple human error.
Fortunately, you can avoid backup failure to a great extent through consistent monitoring and frequent testing. This will ensure proper data restoration when disaster strikes.
Here we will explain the step-by-step process involved in monitoring your backups, testing them and ensuring proper restoration during an unexpected disaster.
Backup status monitoring
Most businesses that rely on data for everyday operations have a consistent schedule to back up their generated data. Depending on the criticality of the data, the schedule may vary from hourly to weekly or longer.
However, if your backup fails at some point, you might lose your data till the point of the last successful backup. By identifying these weaknesses early, you can mitigate your overall losses and fix the issues.
This is why backup status monitoring is crucial. Failing to monitor your backups might result in a snowball effect that could continue unabated until it gets detected.
By now, it’s clear that you need to make backup monitoring part of your backup strategy. However, while monitoring is essential, most businesses cannot afford to perform it every day.
The frequency of monitoring can be based on your recoverability objectives. For instance, you could set up weekly monitoring if you deal with critical data essential to your business. This will help you identify any problems instantly and allow you to fix them without affecting your backup goals.
Backup monitoring for the scattered workforce
Implementing a backup system for all devices can be challenging when employees work from different locations. However, this doesn’t mean you can compromise on the safety of your data. This is where you need the cloud to be a part of your backup strategy.
More specifically, a 3-2-1 strategy is ideal where you have at least three copies of your data — two on different platforms and one at an offsite location (cloud). With a centralized remote monitoring and management tool, you can get complete visibility into your backup tasks and remotely monitor and validate them.
Spot-checking for accuracy and quality
This is a relatively simple approach used in backup testing. Once you’ve backed up everything in your environment, you can go to the backup drive or cloud to ensure that the files or folders are available. If you are unable to access any of the files, you might have a problem with your backups.
In this case, you need to check your backup configuration and drives to ensure everything is functional. You should perform these backups in multiple areas to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Full restore testing
This is more advanced than spot-checking and tests your ability to recover from complete data loss after a disaster. To perform this, you should prioritize critical files essential to your immediate recovery and test them successfully.
Prioritizing files and folders for testing
When prioritizing data for testing, you need to begin with data, applications or systems that have a low Recovery Time Objective (RTO), which refers to the maximum allowable time or duration within which a business process must be restored.
Determine the testing approach
There are various aspects to consider when testing your backups. For instance, you can create individual scenarios of virtual machines and test their ability to recover a system. You could also consider a disaster recovery approach in testing that focuses on simulating the entire environment and performing various scenario-based recovery tests.
Here, the ultimate goal of testing is to verify the integrity of the backups you have created. You need to choose a testing approach suitable for your business and your IT environment.
Frequency of testing
How often should you test the integrity of your backups? To answer that question, you need to consider various factors like workload, applications, systems and more in your environment and come up with a testing schedule that works for you.
In addition, you need to consider your Recovery Point Objective (RPO), which is the maximum duration your business can survive after a disaster. Always ensure that the testing frequency is well within your RPO if you wish to conform to the business continuity parameters.
For instance, if your RPO is 24 hours, you need to test your backups at least once a day to ensure a good copy of data is available to recover from a loss.
Making all this happen will require continued effort and may seem like a difficult task, but with the right partner by your side, you can ensure your backup data is tested and your recovery strategy is solid. We welcome the opportunity to show you how we can transform, protect and support your business IT needs. Our IT experts are here to help.