Backups – a critical thing for all businesses

So the other week my wife was trying to get her new Apple Watch working with her iPhone and something just wasn’t working right. Now as expected I am the IT support for the family and so I went to the first step of IT support – If it isn’t working then turn it off and on and try it again.  She rebooted the watch and I rebooted the phone.

The watch rebooted quickly but the phone did not.

I was sitting there staring at the apple logo on the screen for quite a while before I realised that the phone wasn’t going to come back on. Thus started the fun and games of trying to get the phone to boot again without having to reinstall the OS.  Well long story short – I couldn’t get it to start up again and I had to restore the phone from backup.

The main problem here is that the last backup was a month old. That means the last months worth of photos and text messages were lost in the matter of seconds.

So what does this have to do with your business? Well imagine that those photos and messages were critical for your business. Photos of upcoming products, key SMS messages from clients, etc.

But what do I need to backup?

Of course you don’t need to be told to back up. Everyone knows that we need to do backups! But do you know what to backup? It’s surprising how much software and how many services we use in our day to day business.

Phone

Let’s start with the obvious one based on my story above – your smartphone! So much business is done on our phones these days that it’s probably one of the most critical things to backup and often the one most forgotten.
If you are using an iPhone the simplest way is to use apple iCloud for backing up the phone, however if you don’t have enough space then you should do regular backups to your PC. Instructions for both of these are here.

Android users have a similar cloud option built in to the phone, which can be enabled using the instructions here.  For local backups I’m afraid it’s mostly bad news.  There is no standard google provided option for achieving this, however there are a number of apps in the google play store that can do this.  Some phone makers provide tools specifically for their phones so if you need this then also check out your phone’s manufacturers website.

If your phone has been rooted (Android’s version of jailbreaking) then I can highly recommend Titanium backup for making backups onto an SD card attached to your phone.

Photos (smartphone and normal cameras)

If you are anything like me you have way too many digital photos sitting on your hard drive or even across many hard drives.

The best solution I have found is using an online photo service to upload them. This can take forever, especially when you live in an area that still only has ADSL1. My preferred option here is google photos free option, however if you go down this path note that the image quality may be slightly reduced, but you get unlimited storage!

One of the great advantages of google photos is that your smartphone images can be automatically synced. Any other photos can be synchronised using their app or using the website to upload directly.

Website Content

Do you manage your website using a CMS (Content Management System)? Are you using WordPress, Joomla or Drupal?  If so you will be best looking for a plugin that you can install into your CMS that can do the backups for you automatically.

I’m a WordPress user so I am using UpdraftPlus, one of the most popular backup plugins, to backup to my google drive.

Email and email and even more email.

We all get an abundance of email and most likely access it from many devices such as computer, phone and tablets. This is possible because your email is stored on a sever and each device accesses the server to display them to you. Try this out… delete an email from one device – note that as soon as that email is deleted on one device it disappears from the others? Oops I hope that wasn’t a critical email you tested with!

My preferred way to backup my email is to use the mail client (Thunderbird) on my PC to synchronise all folders and then making sure the files are backed up in my full computer backup. If you are using Outlook or Apple Mail then you can use the same method. The beauty of this method is that the emails are easily accessible.

Desktop wars – Mac vs PC

Well I’m actually a Linux guy, myself!  But that doesn’t matter.  No matter what OS you use it’s a good idea to keep a backup of your whole machine.  If you have an issue and have to start with a new machine you can restore everything in one go rather than spending days installing all of your software and getting the configuration just right again.

  • I’m running with the Mac crowd
  • I’m a Windows sort of person
  • Linux is my thang
    • Then you surely already have something in place and if not you should have the technical know how to sort yourself out?

Other Online Services

Any applications that are installed and store their data on you computer will be backed up using your whole computer backup above, however there are a number of cloud based services that businesses use these days. This may be an online CRM, Accounting, Project management or similar service. Yes most of them take backups for use in disaster recovery, however this is in case of their disaster. If you accidentally delete critical data they are usually not keen or even capable of restoring your data.

My recommendation is to find the “export backup” function (if you can find it) and store the file on your Online File Host or include in your PC backups. If you can’t find this option then talk to your service provider to find out if it’s possible to get access to the backups. If not then you need to start asking then the question about what happens in the situation above! If they won’t help then you may need to start looking at alternatives.

Online File hosting services.

As well as backing up the whole computer I like to use online file host for storing most documents that I am working on.  While technically not a back up solution it can help keep copies of your files safe.

Dropbox used to be the king in this space but many of the other providers have caught in terms of features and price. So you have plenty to choose from including Dropbox, Box, MS Onedrive, Google Drive, Apple iCloud and others. There’s also a number of self hosted (that means you run it on your own servers) open source options like Owncloud and Nextcloud if that is more your thing.

For me the most critical requirement of this is full 2 way synchronisation since I access my files from many machines and file versioning. In fact file versioning is the most critical since this gives you the ability to go back to a point in time and retrieve a file. This is great so that when you accidentally mess up a document, you can retrieve a copy from just before you messed it up.

Automate…. Automate….

Backups are best when they happen automatically so wherever possible you need to automate the whole process. Yes there are a lot of different parts to consider, however most of the above have options to set up a schedule of when the backups happen. You need to make sure this is scheduled for a time that won’t interfere with your day to day work otherwise you will be cancelling it, which is no use to anyone.

Who’s site? Offsite!

My preference is to use offsite backups. This means the drives that contain the backup data are stored in another physical premises from where the actual machine lives. Your backup drives are no use to you if they are destroyed in a fire along with your machine.

Using cloud backup services this is already taken care of for you. However if you can’t or don’t want to use a cloud based backup service then take your backup drive and store it somewhere off site. You want this to be somewhere you regularly visit (parent, sibling or best friends house?) so that you can rotate the offsite disk. It’s a simple matter of taking your latest backup next time you go and bring back the old one to update with a new backup.

Whew, we are finally at Recovery

A backup is only useful if you can actually get the data back again. I highly recommend testing recovery where feasible. Obviously doing a full PC recovery is not feasible, however how may be able to read the files within the back to confirm that it has worked.
So there you have it – a not so quick run down of what you should be backing up and some tips on how. If you need help with setting up your own automated backup processes then get in touch.

Posted in Operations.

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