December 3, 2021

Backup Basics

Gavin Smith, Founder & CEO of DataFort, explains why data backup is imperative for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and how to begin to get a robust system in place.

Release date: August 2005

When it comes to IT infrastructure, there can be nothing more fundamental to the success of a small or medium-sized insurance broker than backup. As employees constantly demand more access to information on an “anytime, anywhere” basis, more data storage is being brought in to cope. At the same time, FSA guidelines on document retention (and that now includes emails!) are becoming a key part of a broker’s IT strategy. However, independent research shows that 83% of UK companies have an inadequate back-up strategy. So what would happen to your most valuable asset should viruses strike, thieves break in, or tapes get mislaid?

Data risk is everywhere and what managers don’t realise is that computer users experience disaster daily, in the shape of power surges, hardware crashes, human error, theft, fires and other accidents. The results are threefold – the administrative cost of lost data, its legal implications and – not insignificantly – the financial loss from downtime. September 11th brought disaster recovery plans to the forefront of the technology agenda, but while businesses are now more prepared to back up, the way in which the data is stored is still the weakest link in their disaster recovery plan…

A recent survey conducted by SunGuard Availability Systems revealed that 90% of companies are backing up using tape. Although back-up tapes may be advantageous as they are easily portable and can be transported to a different location where they are secure from fire or theft, they are more easily misplaced, lost, or damaged due to environmental conditions or simply age.

With the financial expense of implementing a disaster recovery strategy, off-site storage and business continuity services have been aimed until recently at enterprise level and corporate users. Small and medium-sized businesses are less likely to have plans in place, and those that do still struggle to recover from a catastrophe. Analyst group Gartner estimates that two out of five companies that experience a disaster go out of business within five years and with recent figures from the DTI revealing that 99% of UK companies are SMEs, this is a very worrying statistic. So how can a small or medium sized insurance broker – or any business that has a ‘hands on’ approach to it’s infrastructure - prepare?

The most reliable and simplest solution for a company of any size is for data to be sent to secure off-site datacentres, where their information is mirrored to ensure the safest possible option. Historically, this has only been an affordable solution for larger corporates, but in the last few years, broadband internet access has enabled a new breed of off-site solution to emerge, providing back-up and disaster recovery as an affordable, easy-to-use online solution.

With costs coming down and reliable back-up now affordable for all SMEs, when it comes to allocate a technology budget, the cost of a viable backup plan needs to be balanced against the cost of losing data. Here are some guidelines that will crystallize that process.

1: Believe it can happen

The word ‘unexpected’ exists to define something that actually happens… The implications of FSA rulings on document retention have been discussed in detail in General insurance and, that aside, it’s worth remembering that laptops and hand-held devices are usually the first things that disappear in a burglary.

2: Audit your data

Whatever back-up solution you are looking for, the size of the data and the cost of storage will be the two main considerations. Physical solutions have a finite capacity, while hosted off-site services usually charge by the megabyte. Either way, prune your data, delete what you don’t need and only backup files that you really can’t afford to lose.

3: Take data off-site

Whether you work in a large office or study at home, business-critical data must never be left on-site. Backing it up to a server or a CD-rom is all well and good if a single PC is stolen or fails, but if the building they’re in burns down, you may as well not have bothered.

4: Check back-ups regularly

Ever since the floppy disc was invented, computer users have come to expect recordable media to fail - except when it comes to backups. If you do use CD-Roms, ZIP or tape drives the mantra is “check, check and check again” that you can access and retrieve data. Companies that legally have to rely on and retain digital information should NEVER rely on local physical storage.

5: Develop a routine

Humans are fallible - we forget things, especially important things like initiating a back-up, changing tapes, or taking back-ups home at the end of the working day. Make your back-up routine part of every-day IT housekeeping or look into outsourced or automated services if your business doesn’t have the resource in-house.

6: Think about the recovery position

If the worst happens, what will your business need to get up and running again quickly? PCs and phone lines can be begged and borrowed but what about your data? Opening e-mail archives on other machines usually entails entering passwords and login details, likewise for Internet and Intranet access. For large companies this isn’t so much of an issue, but for SMEs or a home-based broker, this information is as priceless as the data itself.

7: Revisit regularly

Re-visit each step of your back-up and recovery procedure regularly. Make sure it does what you want it to do. For example, there’s a difference between fire-proof and heat-proof safes, and did you set up that new hard drive as part of the automatic back-up schedule? The business day is fluid and ever-changing, so you need to be as well.

8: Do your sums

Data back-up and recovery used to be like an insurance policy itself. You got the same service whether you went expensive or cheap until a disaster happened. Today, business continuity embraces archiving and storage solutions, offering companies much more than just ‘safe’ data. All-in-one solutions (generally off-site storage and retrieval) are often more expensive to set up but, compared to the ongoing costs of consumables and existing archiving and storage solutions, they can often deliver better value for money both in terms of actual cost and quality of service.

9: Go for the best solution you can afford

Following on from above, don’t skimp on back-ups. Even home users who don’t want to lose priceless digital family photos should buy the best brand media if they back up to disc or tape. For SoHos and SMEs, look at all the solutions available, identify the best model that works for you and go for the best offering in that model, be it local D-I-Y back-up or a managed off-site service.

10: Don’t Panic!

If you’ve taken the trouble to back-up data and routinely check it, then chances are you’ll be able to retrieve it when the unexpected happens. Obviously, if you’ve invested in a robust solution then you’ll have little or no trouble getting your data back, but even a scratched CD-ROM in a car glove box that can’t be read by your PC can be accessed – by the right people at the right price!


DataFort provides dependable secure off-site computer information storage with a focus on functionality and convenience for the end user. The company was founded in 2000 and is headquartered in Guildford, UK and New York, USA. It’s software and services are used by thousands of businesses worldwide - ranging from small SMEs and schools through to quoted companies and local government. Every hour of every day someone, somewhere backs up with DataFort.


Marcie Terman
T: +44 (0) 1483 872 052