How to prevent data loss from hardware failure

Picture of Tracy Rock

Tracy Rock

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT



Hardware damage and system malfunctions are among the top causes of data loss. And when they happen, they can bring your operations to a screeching halt.

But while system errors are inevitable, there are ways to ensure you never lose any data – even if all your servers are toast.

Here’s how to do it:

Getting started

Further below, we take a closer look at what system malfunction actually looks like: how it impacts operations and how often it hurts businesses around the globe.

But first, let’s dig right into the solutions and best practices for preventing these disasters in the first place. 

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.

Sometimes referred to as a disaster recovery plan, your BCP should outline the steps and systems for responding to all types of disasters: not just hardware failure and system malfunction, but also natural disasters, malware and even human error.

Think of your BCP like a roadmap for recovery. It should state exactly how the business will attempt to recover from data loss and the procedures for getting everything back up and running again. Additionally, the document should contain a thorough risk assessment and a business impact analysis. These will help identify your potential weaknesses and prioritize your continuity planning. 

2) Back up your data

Don’t want data loss? Then make sure you always have a backup. It’s that simple.

If your business handles any kind of data that is important to your business—spreadsheets, email, Word documents, software, CRM data, and any other data stored on your servers—then backing up your data is a must.

We’re not talking about flimsy thumb drives and Dropbox folders, either.

Businesses today must ensure they’re regularly backing up all their data and that the data can be recovered rapidly in an emergency. This is pretty much impossible without a 360-degree business continuity & disaster recovery solution.

“But wait!” you say. “If my hard drives are dead, how will I access the backup?”

Our answer:

3) Replicate data to the cloud

Today’s best BC/DR systems use an approach called “hybrid cloud backup.” This means your data is backed up in two places: on site and in the cloud.

So if your server drives experience catastrophic failure, you’re not up sh** creek without a paddle. You’ve still got a backup in the cloud, allowing you to access all your files in seconds. And if you can virtualize it (see below), even better: you’ll be able to boot up the backup as a virtual machine and continue using your critical applications until the on-site systems are repaired.

4) Set recovery point objectives

Your recovery point objective (RPO) dictates how old your data can be if you need to recover a backup. Or, put another way, it’s the goal for how recently your last backup should have been performed, in order to avert a major disruption from loss of data.

For example, let’s say your RPO for critical files and application data is “1 hour.” In that case, your last backup should never be more than 1 hour old. In the event of drive failures, you’d only lose a maximum of one hour’s worth of data – not too bad, depending on the size of your business.

Your RPO is based on several factors, most notably: the business impact of prolonged data loss. Accordingly, your RPO should be determined as part of your business continuity plan. During your business impact analysis, if you discover that 12 hours of data loss would be devastating to your operations, then you need to set a much more aggressive RPO.

Note: RPO should not be mistaken with RTO, which is your “recovery time objective” – although the two terms are often intertwined. RTO dictates the maximum amount of allowable time for recovery before things go really bad.

5) Virtualize

We’ve already touched on backup virtualization a little bit, but let’s explore it a little further.

BC/DR solutions like the Datto SIRIS and ALTO store your backup as an image-based, fully bootable virtual machine. What’s more, this virtualization can be done via the on-site BDR appliance or via the cloud (or a combination of both, known as cloud virtualization). So if you’re 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 O/S running within a single window of your computer. Within that window, you can continue to run all the applications that power your business, so that there’s minimal disruption to your operations.

Even better, any new or modified data will still be backed up while you use this virtual environment. So in case there’s additional hardware damage that wipes out your data all over again, you’ll still be covered.

6) Test your backups

As we’ve already established, having a robust data backup system is the most important way to prevent data loss from hardware failure. But those backups need to be tested frequently to ensure they are viable.

Don’t make the assumption that your backups are okay if they haven’t been tested. That’s especially true if you’re using older incremental backup processes, which are notorious for failure during the recovery process. Why? Because of the nature of how those backups are stored and reconstructed during a restore …

As you may know, incremental backups start with one full backup, then a series of incrementals that consist of only new/modified data since the full backup was created. It’s an efficient process, but problems occur when the backup needs to be restored. To recover lost data, the backup needs to be pieced back together from all those individual incrementals. This can be a long, tedious and messy process. And, if there’s an issue with any one of those incrementals, the whole backup may be unrecoverable.

That’s a nightmare scenario for IT managers who are racing to restore data after a major server failure. But these backup failures happen surprisingly often (not just for incremental backups, either). That’s why testing your backups is so important.

Every new backup should be tested for integrity and bootability, ideally with an automated process that alerts your IT teams to any issues.

Bonus tip: If you want to avoid the problems with traditional incremental backups altogether, consider moving to a backup system that eliminates dependency on the chain of incrementals. For example, Datto’s BC/DR solutions use Inverse Chain Technology, which stores each new backup in an independent, fully constructed state, so there’s no rebuild process.

7) Patch and update your systems

Keep in mind that some hardware malfunction can be prevented. One big culprit for these snafus is outdated system files and firmware.

So here’s our advice … Patch. Your. Systems. Regularly.

No matter what the size of your infrastructure – whether you’re a small business running on a few desktops or an enterprise company with sprawling infrastructure across the globe – you should be intimately aware of what hardware and software you’re using on every machine. And, you should be installing updates for those systems as soon as they become available, assuming they’re not already automatic.

After all, patches are released for a reason. Often, they 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 won’t be so simple.

8) Know when to upgrade

Nothing lasts forever.

Virtually every type of hardware has a limited lifespan. You can prevent data loss from unexpected hardware failure by replacing those components before they fail.

This is especially true for disk drives, whose parts are constantly moving. Over time, these drives will naturally wear out. So why wait until the drives are suddenly toast—along with the data saved on those disks—when you know the drives need to be replaced every few years.

Hot-swappable drives are increasingly common these days, which makes it even easier to replace old drives without upgrading to completely new servers. This means you can pop in a new drive without shutting down the server.

So, when should you replace your server drives? Follow the manufacturer’s recommended replacement timeline. These timelines tend to max out at about 5 years (because it becomes exponentially more expensive for manufacturers to support aging servers).

The same goes for all your hardware. Know how often each component should be replaced, and follow those guidelines accordingly to prevent unexpected failure.

How does system failure kill your data?

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

  • Any data in transit to/from the server is usually lost, because the system fails before it can be properly saved.
  • More serious system errors can corrupt any new/modified data from the last several minutes or even hours, resulting in a much greater loss of data.
  • The most catastrophic malfunctions can render a drive inoperable or essentially wipe out all data on those drives, thus requiring a full data restore.

Unpatched software or operating systems, as well as aging disk drives, tend to be the most common culprits for the biggest data catastrophes.

Hardware malfunction vs. other causes of data loss

How does system failure compare to other data killers?

Day to day, it’s one of the top causes of data loss, behind only human error. While natural disasters tend to get the biggest headlines, they don’t happen every day. System malfunctions do.

report by Datto highlighted the fact that 45% of downtime events are caused by server failures. The report also listed “storage failures” and “application errors” among the top causes of disruptive events.

Aging hard drives tend to do the most damage. One study by Google found that disk drives more than one year old have a 10% chance of failure every year. That means 1 in 10 drives, only a year old, will fail – and this risk climbs every year thereafter.

Altogether, the most common causes of data loss include:

  • Hardware failure
  • Software errors
  • Malware / viruses
  • Accidental data deletion
  • Malicious data deletion
  • Physical hardware damage (natural disaster, broken laptop, etc.)
  • Misplaced or stolen devices
  • Power failure
  • Network failure
  • Overwritten data
  • Expired software licenses (SaaS applications)

Each of these issues has the potential to cause a data-loss disaster. This is why it’s essential to regularly back up all company data, including servers, individual devices / endpoints and cloud-based SaaS applications, such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

Data loss statistics you should know

How often does data loss happen? Here are some of the latest data loss statistics that every business should be aware of:

  • 30% of businesses experience data loss due to server outage. Server failure is extremely common. A leading BC/DR provider analyzed five years of data and found that nearly 1 in 3 businesses experienced lost data due to server outages. This statistic underscores the importance of having a dependable backup system.
  • 28% of ransomware attacks resulted in data loss. Ransomware has become a leading data killer over the past few years. In a survey conducted by Datto, 28% of IT managers said their clients lost data in a ransomware attack. However, this figure is an improvement over previous years as businesses have moved to more robust backup systems.
  • 37% of businesses have lost data stored in the cloud. It’s not just the files stored on your local servers that are at risk of being lost. SaaS applications like Microsoft 365 are vulnerable to data loss too. Figures from Backupify show that 37% of small to mid-sized businesses have lost data in these applications. This is why organizations should also use SaaS backup solutions in addition to their local BC/DR deployments.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about data loss

To recap some of the most important points above, we’ve put together these frequently asked questions about data loss, backup and hardware failure.

1. What are 3 types of data loss prevention?

Three important methods of data loss prevention are data backups, system patching and routine hardware replacement. Together, these methods help to prevent data loss from occurring, while also ensuring 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 losing data due to human error, users should be routinely trained on safe practices for using email, Internet and network storage. For example, employees should be educated on how to spot a phishing email and how to handle messages from unknown senders.

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

The two most common causes of data loss are hardware failure and human error. Hardware failure represents up to 40% of all data loss incidents, while human error accounts for 29%, according to a study published by Pepperdine University.

Common examples of hardware failure include server outages due to failing disk drives, as well as data corruption in endpoint devices, such as users’ laptops. Common causes of data loss due to human error include accidental deletion, overwriting data and actions leading to data breaches, such as deception by phishing attacks. Among cyberattacks and malware, the leading cause of data loss is ransomware, which affected 37% of global businesses in 2021, according to a report by IDC.

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. Having dependable backups ensures that data can be recovered even if it is lost from the primary storage device.

To prevent system failure in the first place, organizations should 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?

Files destroyed during hardware failure are a common example of data loss. But the term data loss can refer to any event in which data has been inadvertently deleted, destroyed or has gone missing.

Additional examples of data loss include accidentally deleted files, data destroyed by malware, corrupted files and maliciously deleted data.

Conclusion: be prepared for data loss from hardware failure

No amount of planning will totally remove the risk of system malfunction. Things just break sometimes. But when they do, you need to be prepared.

Backing up your data frequently (and testing those backups for integrity) is the only way to ensure you can get your data back after an unexpected malfunction inevitably happens.

Get the best protection

Get more information on ways to protect your data from hardware failure with BC/DR solutions from Datto. Request a free demo or contact our business continuity specialists at Invenio IT: (646) 395-1170 or

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