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8 Ways to Prevent Data Loss From Hardware Failures

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Tracy Rock

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT

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data loss from hardware failure

When you run a business, hardware failures are more than just an inconvenience. Hardware damage and system malfunctions are among the top causes of data loss. And data loss often translates to operational disruptions, financial losses, and reduced productivity.

While some system errors are unavoidable, there are ways to prevent data loss from hardware failures and ensure you can keep your operations up and running — even if all your servers are toast. Let’s break down what you need to do to protect your data and your business from the threat of hardware failures.

How Does Hardware Failure Kill Your Data?

Businesses typically store their data on physical storage devices or in the cloud. While the popularity of cloud storage is rapidly increasing, studies show that the vast majority of organizations still use hardware, such as hard disk drives and solid state drives, for at least some of their data storage. A malfunctioning or failed drive could delete some or all of a business’s data or make it inaccessible.

Levels of Severity

When hardware and software suddenly stop working, three different levels of data loss can occur:

  • Minor losses: Any data in transit to or from the server is usually lost because the system fails before saving it.
  • Widespread data corruption: More serious system errors can corrupt any new or modified data from the last several minutes or even hours, resulting in a much greater loss of data.
  • Complete data loss: The most catastrophic malfunctions can render a drive inoperable or essentially wipe out all data, thus requiring a full data restore.

Unpatched software or operating systems and aging disk drives are the most common culprits for the biggest data catastrophes. Most hard drives that fail do so within three years, on average. That means as every year passes, there’s a greater chance of a failure that could devastate your data storage.

Hardware Malfunctions Compared to Other Causes of Data Loss

System failures aren’t the only data killers to consider. The most common causes of data loss include:

  • Hardware failures
  • Software errors
  • Malware and viruses
  • Accidental data deletion
  • Malicious data deletion
  • Physical hardware damage
  • Misplaced or stolen devices
  • Power failures
  • Network failures
  • Overwritten data
  • Expired software licenses (SaaS applications)

Each of these issues has the potential to cause a disaster, but some are more likely than others.

Human errors and hardware failures make up the bulk of business data loss. According to Verizon’s 2023 report, 74% of all data breaches involve the human element, such as errors or lost credentials. While natural disasters tend to get the biggest headlines, they don’t happen every day. Mistakes and system malfunctions do.

How to Prevent Data Loss From Hardware Failures

We’ve established how serious hardware failures can be and how often they occur. Now let’s dig into the solutions and best practices that have helped our customers survive system breakdowns. 

1) Begin With a Business Continuity Plan

A business continuity plan (BCP) serves several purposes, but its most important objective is ensuring that your business can continue operating after a disruptive event.

Your BCP should outline the steps and systems for responding to all types of disasters, ranging from hardware failures and system malfunctions to fires and floods. Think of this document as a recovery roadmap. It should state exactly how your business will attempt to recover from data loss and the procedures for getting everything back online.

Additionally, the document should contain a thorough risk assessment and a business impact analysis. These will help identify your potential weaknesses and prioritize the most vital elements of your continuity planning. 

2) Back up Your Data

If you want to avoid data loss, make sure you always have a backup. It’s that simple.

You should regularly back up any and every kind of important data your business handles, including:

  • Spreadsheets
  • Emails
  • Word documents
  • Software
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) data

These backups should be reliable, complete, and quickly recoverable. Meeting those standards is virtually impossible unless you implement a 360-degree business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) solution.

3) Replicate Data on the Cloud

At this point, you might be wondering how you’ll access your backups if your hard drives are dead. It’s a fair question, and one that can put businesses in serious jeopardy.

The solution is not to rely solely on one type of backup.

Today’s best BC/DR systems use an approach called hybrid cloud backup, which backs up data on site and in the cloud. If your hardware experiences a catastrophic failure, you can turn to plan B. You’ve still got a backup in the cloud, allowing you to access all your files in seconds.

4) Virtualize

Backing up data to the cloud is a smart step, but it’s even better if you can virtualize those backups. When you virtualize, you can boot up the backup as a virtual machine and continue using your critical applications until the on-site systems are ready to go.

Some BC/DR solutions, even those designed for small businesses, store your backup as an image-based, fully bootable virtual machine. You can complete this virtualization using the on-site BC/DR appliance, via the cloud, or with a combination of both, a process known as cloud virtualization. If your on-premise infrastructure fails, you can still virtualize your backup from anywhere.

Unlike a full data recovery, which can take longer, virtualization lets you access all your data and applications in seconds. Think of the virtual machine like a complete Windows operating system running within a single window of your computer, where you can continue to run all the applications that power your business.

Even better, the system will still back up any new or modified data while you use this virtual environment.

5) Set Recovery Point Objectives

Your recovery point objective (RPO) dictates how old your data can be if you need to recover a backup. In other words, it says how frequently you need to perform backups to avert a major disruption from data loss.

Let’s say your RPO for critical files and application data is one hour. In that case, you should perform new backups every 60 minutes, at a minimum. In the event of drive failures, you’d only lose a maximum of one hour’s worth of data.

Your RPO is based on several factors, most notably the business impact of prolonged data loss. As such, determine your RPO during the business impact analysis phase of your business continuity planning.

6) Test Your Backups

Having a robust data backup system is the most important way to prevent data loss from hardware failure, but you need to test those backups to confirm that they’re viable. Don’t assume that they’ll work when the time comes, especially if you’re relying on older incremental backup processes, which are notorious for failure during the recovery process.

Spending hours piecing together a backup is a nightmare scenario for IT managers who are racing to restore data after a major server failure. If you want to avoid the problems with traditional incremental backups altogether, consider moving to a backup system that eliminates dependency on the incremental chain.

Backup failures happen surprisingly often, so testing them for integrity and bootability is crucial. Ideally, you’ll use an automated process that alerts your IT teams to any issues.

7) Patch and Update Your Systems

Keep in mind that you can prevent some hardware malfunctions by identifying potential snafus, such as outdated system files and firmware.

Our advice? Patch your systems — regularly.

No matter whether you’re running a small business with a few desktops or an enterprise company with sprawling infrastructure across the globe, you should be fully aware of all the hardware and software you’re using on every machine. More than that, you should install updates for those systems as soon as they become available, assuming they’re not automated.

Patches exist for a reason, often to resolve critical stability problems and other vulnerabilities that leave your systems at risk for malfunction. Updating your systems proactively and on a regular schedule is easy. Recovering from a major data loss after a system malfunction, on the other hand, is rarely so simple.

8) Know When to Upgrade

Nothing lasts forever.

Every type of hardware has a limited lifespan, and you can lower the risk of data loss by replacing those components before they have the chance to fail. This is especially true for disk drives, whose parts are constantly moving and naturally wear out over time.

Why wait until the drives and the data saved on them are suddenly gone? You know you need to replace them every few years, so adopt a preemptive strategy. Hot swap drives are increasingly common these days, which makes it even easier to replace old drives without upgrading to completely new servers.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommended replacement timeline to determine how often you need to upgrade. These recommendations tend to max out at about five years because it becomes exponentially more expensive for manufacturers to support aging servers.

The same goes for all your hardware: know how often to replace each component and follow those guidelines accordingly to prevent unexpected failure.

Shield Your Business Against Data Loss From Hardware Failures

No amount of planning will totally remove the risk of system malfunction. Things will inevitably break, but you can prepare to avoid suffering major data loss. Backing up your data frequently and testing those backups for integrity is the only way to ensure you can get your data back after a sudden failure.

If you want to learn more about your data backup and recovery options, the team at Invenio IT has you covered. Reach out to talk to one of our data protection specialists.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Data Loss

To help you find solutions to the most pressing data loss issues as quickly as possible, we put together answers for some of the most common questions we hear from our clients.

1. What are some different types of data loss prevention?

Three important methods of data loss prevention are data backups, system patching, and routine hardware replacement. These methods help prevent data loss from occurring and ensure that backups are available if a data-loss event occurs.

Another critical strategy for preventing data loss is employee training. Due to the high risk of human error, businesses should routinely educate their employees on safe practices for using email, the Internet, and network storage. For example, to limit the risk of data breaches, teach employees how to spot a phishing email and how to handle messages from unknown senders.

2. What are the most common causes of data loss?

Hardware failures are among the most common causes of data loss. This includes server outages due to failing disk drives and data corruption in endpoint devices, such as laptops. Another frequent reason for data loss is human error, such as accidental deletion, overwriting data, or taking actions that lead to data breaches. Among cyberattacks and malware, ransomware attacks are the leading cause of data loss, affecting more than 72% of global businesses in 2023.

3. How can we prevent data loss from system failure?

The best way to prevent data loss due to system failure is to back up your data frequently. Nearly every organization loses data because of hardware failure, but having dependable backups ensures that you can recover the data even if you can’t retrieve it from the primary storage device. To prevent a system failure from occurring, continually monitor device performance and replace aging hardware before it fails. Regularly updating and patching systems will also help to eliminate vulnerabilities that could lead to system failure.

4. What is an example of data loss?

The term data loss can refer to any event that results in deleted, damaged, or missing data, but a common example is when a hardware failure destroys files that a business needs to operate. Additional examples of data loss include accidentally deleted files, data destroyed by malware, corrupted files, and maliciously deleted data.

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