How to prevent data loss from hardware failure

by | Sep 6, 2018

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.


5) 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.


6) 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 system failure kills 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.

A 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.


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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Tracy Rock is the Director of Marketing at Invenio IT. Tracy is responsible for all media-related initiatives as well as external communications—including, branding, public relations, promotions, advertising and social media. She is one busy lady and we are lucky to have her!