How safe is your data? As I followed the events of the last few days with Hurricane Sandy I contemplated the sheer devastation of the storm and the loss of property. I wonder how many of those folks who lost everything in the storm will discover that their data backup and security wasn’t up to the task. We are well aware of data security in terms of hackers, spam and identity thieves but how much effort and time is spent securing irreplaceable data that resides on our computers?
In consulting with farmers we often spend a great deal of time on the issues protecting the estate from taxes, passing on the business and the disposition of assets. But we hardly ever talk about an asset that is growing in importance each year- Data. I wonder how many those on the East coast are finding their data backup and security is lacking in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy? You may be wondering how a financial planner and consultant knows about data backup plans? I learned the (very) hard way what data loss can mean in terms of downtime and permanent record loss. Data loss is expensive and painful but it is almost completely avoidable with the proper plan.
Most farms will never experience a tornado, fire or hurricane but we still buy insurance and take other precautions. Securing data should be no different. Decisions on farms are being driven by data in ways that were unimaginable only five years ago. The one example that comes to mind is GPS data. The field mapping data becomes more valuable each year as additional information is added to the database. It goes without saying that your accounting software has important data that cannot be lost. It is so important that loss of that data is not an option; there is simply too much money on the line.
Another area that I find many farmers do not back up is emails. I am not talking about backing up the jokes that your Uncle sends you but rather emails that involve business deals, purchases and sales. This written record may help you prove your case in the court of law or better yet keep you out of court. Did you know that if you change internet service providers your emails are often destroyed? Better back them up.
There are several threats to your data. The first is physical loss through fire, flood and theft which I call the headline events. The second is a loss due to equipment failure or data corruption and these events are by far the most common. The method of back-ups need to be different for each of the two events.
Let’s walk through the steps.
1. Put someone in charge of the process and make it their responsibility to get the job done. This is one area that too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the soup (or in this case data).
2. In many instances it is not necessary to back-up the entire computer. Make a list of the important data you simply must not lose and make sure those areas of your computer get backed up. Review this list periodically to make sure nothing has been forgotten as new software is installed.
3. Setup onsite storage. I have found most farmers and businessmen do not like backups that require daily attention. This is the reason most farmers do not like to use the traditional tape backups that require swapping out each day. There is a better solution in backing up to something called a Network Area Storage Device (NAS). A large NAS can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and includes multiple redundancies built in. Those redencies make it infinitely better than backing up to a USB drive or CD’s. The best part of a NAS is that it quietly sits in the corner and doesn’t need attention. If you accidentally delete a file and need to recover it quickly the NAS is the fastest method. Speed of recovery is why most data recovery will occur from the NAS.
4. Set up offsite storage. What happens if the office burns to the ground and the NAS is molten pile of plastic? There is no need to worry because the second tier of data security will kick in. What I am talking about is real time, automatic online backups. This software resides on each workstation or laptop and continuously backups the important data in real time to a storage service. Some common data storage service companies are Mozy, Crashplan and Norton. Your data is encrypted and sent over a high speed internet connection to the data backup company where is resides until you need to recover the data. The pluses for this service are the very low price, automatic real-time backups and ease of use. The weakness is that recovering large files can take a long time. If you have “a need for speed of recovery” then start with the NAS. If the office did burn down, a day or two to recover the data is probably the least of your concerns. If someone is looking for the bare minimum backup plan this is the place to start. Some have expressed concern with having a data storage company store the data due to hacking and privacy. No worries because many companies allow backups to another offsite computer. An example would be having the office computers backup to your computer at your home.
If you follow the strategies above you will have a very real chance of never losing data and having that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. There is too much money on the line with our data to take any chances. If you don’t feel comfortable implementing the strategies above, find a competent computer professional to help you out. It will be money well spent and the odds are great that someday you will need to mount a recovery effort.