Safety first

Technology has become the base from which almost all small and mediumsized companies operate.

Although smaller companies face similar technological challenges as their larger counterparts, they lack a degree of sophistication when it comes to storing information.

Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, says many SMMEs neglect creating effective back-up and recovery systems.
He says research conducted by the company earlier this year shows about 60% of SMMEs only back up their data on a weekly or monthly basis, if at all.

‘The problem with doing it with this kind of frequency is that it increases the risk of losing large amounts of information. Imagine that your company has the main computer fail, or it gets stolen or it’s destroyed in a fire before the weekly or—even worse—monthly back-up? Even though your insurance would replace any hardware, you would still have to recreate the work manually that was required to generate the information in the first place.”

The cost to a small company—many of which operate on thin margins—could be catastrophic.

‘The ideal situation for companies is to back up critical data on a daily or a continuous basis,” Goldstuck says. ‘The back-up media should be stored at a different location to ensure that, should something happen, such as a fire or robbery at the company’s premises, the core business information would remain safe.”

The way companies back up their data has also changed over the past 10 years. A decade ago tape was almost exclusively used to protect vital information and disk storage was viewed as too expensive or not reliable enough.

Goldstuck’s research shows that only 5% of companies use tape systems to back up their data, although 52% use an external hard drive and 18% a USB flash drive to protect company data.

Although there are services that allow companies to back up their information ration online, Goldstuck says the number of SMMEs using this kind of service is still very small.

‘Part of the reason for this slow uptake is the high cost of bandwidth in South Africa,” says Michael Law, managing director of online back-up company Attix5. He says because the majority of South African SMMEs are still using ADSL as a primary connectivity mechanism, they are concerned about costs.

‘With the restrictions on the amount of data that can be transferred companies are hesitant to use online services because they are concerned about the cost of the bandwidth it requires,” Law says.

‘But with the cost of bandwidth set to drop, the online option is going to become increasing compelling.”

He says SMMEs in the financial services sector are pioneering the use of online back-up as they have to comply with regulations governing the storage of their vital data.

Some companies have chosen to use international services for their back-up. Although this is cheaper in the short term it is more difficult when it is necessary to restore information from a back-up.

The costs can escalate because international bandwidth tends to be more expensive and slower than local servers. Law says all companies must decide which data to back up and to what services.

‘We find that companies pay particular attention to core business systems and rely on backing up to CDs and DVD for larger files such as email files.”

Tips to back up data correctly

  1. Make sure you know what information needs to be backed up. If you don’t know what information is vital to your business and what is not, then you may end up backing up the wrong information.

  2. Set out your data structures properly. Make sure you have the information that needs to be backed up in a clearly defined set of folders. If your information is scattered all over the place you will end up backing up more information than you need to.

  3. Don’t assume you are doing it right. Keep checking back on your back-ups on a regular basis. Check that they actually are backing up correctly so that you can get your information back when disaster strikes. As the amount of information grows, make sure you remove what is no longer relevant. It will soon become apparent there is a particular set of information that needs to be protected.

  4. Do not underestimate the importance of data stored on notebook computers. Gartner estimates that 7% of company information leaves the office every night. If these computers get lost, stolen or damaged the cost of recovering from that loss could be extremely high.

  5. Use a local service and write the initial back-up to some sort of portable device. Then deliver that back-up to a service provider who can then copy the back-up directly to its systems. This will save time and money as you won’t have to copy massive amounts of data across the network.

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