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How to Choose the Right Small Business Backup Software

Picture of Dale Shulmistra

Dale Shulmistra

Data Protection Specialist @ Invenio IT

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small business backup software

Small business backup software is a fundamental piece of any business continuity solution. It’s the brains behind your backups, controlling every aspect of how your data is protected.

Having data backups has never been more critical. It can literally save a small business from disaster, especially after hardware failure or a ransomware attack. But unfortunately, not all backup software provides the same protection—and in fact the differences between some solutions are vast.

Use this brief guide for a clearer understanding of how to compare your options and what to look for.

Why back up your data at all?

Businesses are more dependent on their data now than ever before. According to a report by Datto, 90% of all data in existence has been created within just the last few years, and a huge portion of that data has been generated by small companies. And yet, incredibly, only 25% of small- to medium-sized businesses say they are “extremely” confident in their ability to recover data if it’s compromised.

Without a small business backup in place, companies leave themselves at risk of a major operational disruption.

Even a few lost files or emails can hurt productivity and drain your IT resources. Larger data loss can derail your most critical operations, resulting in downtime that can cost tens of thousands of dollars an hour. The most vulnerable businesses never recover.

Small business backup software vs. business continuity

It doesn’t take a complex piece of software to copy files from one location to another. But just because that process creates a “backup” doesn’t mean it will do you any good in a real disaster.

There are endless software options that provide some version of lightweight backup like this. But rarely do they provide the protection you need to quickly recover from data loss.

What businesses need to look for is a complete business continuity and disaster recovery solution (BC/DR). This pairs advanced backup software with dedicated hardware to ensure that your data can be backed up frequently and restored promptly, minimizing downtime.

The limits with cheap backup apps & USB drives

Some small businesses make the mistake of backing up their critical data to external USB drives. Some companies will copy the files manually. Others will gain a false sense of security by using lightweight applications or built-in backup software to schedule the backups.

These methods just don’t cut it. Here’s why:

  • Basic USB drives are easily lost or stolen
  • They’re susceptible to physical damage
  • They’re not built for routine backup
  • Scalability is not possible with USB drives

For example, an external drive won’t save you if the entire office burns down in a fire. Similarly, if your computers are infected with ransomware, any connected drives will likely be infected too.

But also, the actual backup method itself is inadequate. In most cases, the backups are inefficient, not frequent enough and prone to all kinds of issues when you need to do a full restore.

Cloud backup services can be problematic too

Again, simply copying your files—whether it’s to the cloud or a USB drive—is not an adequate backup solution. It’s true that storing data in the cloud can provide an extra layer of protection against on-site disasters. But if you’re using something like a basic file sync-and-share platform (i.e. Google Drive) to back up your data, you’re not actually coming any closer to business continuity.

Consider the risks:

  • Will your cloud backup actually help you restore critical applications that have been infected with ransomware?
  • What if your PC-infected files are synced to the cloud, overwriting the clean versions?
  • How long would it take your business to get up and running again if you’ve only been syncing a few folders to the cloud?
  • Even if you’ve been storing a massive amount of data via some kind of cloud backup, how quickly would you be able to restore everything? How long would the disruption last?

Cloud backup platforms do have their benefits, of course. But when the objective is business continuity, you need a more robust, multilayered solution.

6 things to look for

So, what kind of small business backup software can actually provide the protection that your organization requires?

Below, we’ll dig into some specific functionality to consider, but let’s start with some of the core features and capabilities you should be looking for.

1) Independent backup appliance

It’s not just about the software. Look for solutions that incorporate dedicated hardware for processing and storing the backups. This will free up computing resources from your other machines and allow for faster, more efficient backups. These appliances can range in size from small desktop devices to rackmount chassis with numerous drive bays – so there are options for any size business.

If you decide to use the backup software on your own hardware, be sure to confirm the following:

  • What are the hardware requirements?
  • Will you need to purchase new hardware or can you use existing infrastructure?
  • How easily can the software be integrated and configured?
  • Does the software control local backup only, or can third-party clouds be integrated?

2) Hybrid cloud

Even with an independent backup device, you should still be replicating your data off-site to hedge the risks of an on-site disaster. For example, if your backups are destroyed in a fire, you’ll have no other failsafes.=

A hybrid cloud solution solves this by storing mirrored backups in two locations: on premise and in the cloud. So even if your entire on-site infrastructure is destroyed or otherwise inaccessible, you’ll still be able to recover data from the cloud.

When evaluating hybrid cloud backup, here are some questions to consider:

  • Where are the cloud backups stored? Is it a public or private cloud?
  • What is the actual location of the data center? Is it georedundant (with replication to a secondary data center for extra assurance)?
  • What security protocols are in place for cloud storage? What kind of encryption is used? How is the physical data center protected?

3) Image-based backups

Image-based backups create a copy of all your data, including application and operating system data, as well as configurations. This is essential for continuity (and a huge contrast from lightweight backup platforms), because it enables you to restore the digital infrastructure that powers your business.

Image backups can be booted as virtual machines, usually within seconds, allowing for much faster recoveries. By virtualizing the backup, you can instantly regain access to protected machines, including the applications that are critical to your operations. Data can also be restored at the file level – so even if just a few files have been lost, the image-based backups make them easy to retrieve.

Finally, image-based backups also enable more efficient backup storage, particularly when you’re storing large amounts of data.

4) High backup frequency

Today’s businesses create a staggering amount of data. The old days of nightly or weekend backups are long gone. Small and mid-sized businesses need the ability to perform backups much more frequently. Otherwise, they risk losing a ton of data when disaster strikes.

Look for solutions that enable a high backup frequency, allowing you to maintain an aggressive recovery point objective (RPO). This is another huge difference between lightweight small business backup software and more robust BC/DR solutions. Today’s BC/DR systems enable you to back up your data around the clock –every few minutes or even continuously with some systems. So in the event that you need to roll back to the most recent restore point, you would only lose a few minutes’ worth of data, at most.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the maximum backup frequency available on the system?
  • What frequency is ideal for your specific backup objectives?
  • How easy is it to configure or change the frequency?
  • Is the frequency dependent on how/where the backup is stored, i.e. locally or in the cloud?

5) Fast recovery

How quickly will you be able to recover data from a backup? That is one of the most important questions to ask when you’re comparing small business backup software and hardware. And the question should apply to recoveries of all sizes: from a single missing file to everything in the backup. If you can’t quickly restore lost data from a backup, then what good is the backup? The longer it takes to recover your files, the greater the financial impact on your business.

Keep in mind that different types of data loss will typically require different recovery processes. For example, if a single folder has been destroyed, then you should ideally be able to restore only those files instead of needing to rollback to an earlier restore point for the entire machine. So as you compare backup solutions, look for systems that offer a wide range of recovery options to accommodate every data-loss incident.

What to ask:

  • Are file/folder-level restore options available? What is the process? How long does it take to find and restore lost files from the backup?
  • Does the small business backup software have any tools that make it easy to locate lost files?
  • What are the restore options if the protected machine isn’t booting? Bare-metal restore? Upload to hypervisor?
  • What if you need to recover all data from your cloud backup?

6) Fully integrated solutions

Achieving all of this functionality shouldn’t require a complicated infrastructure that needs to be meticulously integrated and configured, piece by piece. And yet, many of today’s backup solutions are designed this way. The backup providers say this provides more flexibility to businesses who may want to choose their own hardware and their own third-party cloud provider and then weave it all together. But for most small and medium-sized businesses, it’s easier, more secure and more dependable to implement a single, fully unified system.

Instead of connecting disparate components and services from various providers, look for solutions that are integrated and seamless. This will eliminate headaches, reduce load on your IT teams and make your backups more dependable. 

Better software = better BC/DR

Today’s BC/DR providers are developing solutions that can drastically reduce downtime from data-loss events. New software integrations are innovating the backup process, resulting in more resilient backups with numerous options for recovering lost data.

Here are some advanced features we recommend:

  • Instant virtualization: We touched on the benefits of image-based backups above. But it’s worth underscoring the value of being able to virtualize a backup within seconds after a catastrophic data loss. Virtualization makes it possible to continue using your critical applications while a full data recovery is underway. After a major disruption to your operations, this functionality can be a lifesaver. Even better: if the virtualization can also be performed via the cloud, it allows your recovery teams to regain access from anywhere.
  • Backup chain independence: Newer backup technologies from providers like Datto have solved some of the most common problems with traditional incremental backups, which are more prone to data corruption and failed recoveries. Datto’s Inverse Chain, for example, removes the dependence on previous backup snapshots: each new recovery point is stored in an independent, fully constructed state. This means older backups can be deleted without resetting the backup chain. Plus, new backups can be performed as frequently as every 5 minutes.
  • Backup verification: You shouldn’t need to cross your fingers hoping that your backups are viable and performed on schedule. Automated backup verification has been an essential feature for BC/DR systems, because it provides confirmation that each backup has been tested and can be restored without issue. More advanced verification from providers like Datto also allows you to create your own scripts to test the backup according to your unique specifications.
  • Ransomware protection: Having a backup system, in itself, provides a layer of protection against ransomware. By restoring a backup, you can remove the infection and get your data back. But still, most companies would prefer to stem the spread of an infection before it wipes out every device on the network. That’s why some BC/DR providers (namely Datto) are now offering built-in ransomware detection, which actively monitors for signs of an infection with each new backup. This enables administrators to take action even sooner, preventing the spread of an infection across the network. This is a feature that every small company should be looking for in a business continuity solution.
  • Rapid restore options: We mentioned the importance of being able to recover data quickly from a backup. This is especially true during ransomware attacks and other large-scale data-loss events. Datto has developed an innovative feature specifically for these scenarios called Rapid Rollback. This feature allows businesses to quickly identify files that have undergone major unwanted changes and then restore only those files – without needing to reimage an entire machine.
  • Data search capabilities:When users misplace or accidentally delete files, finding them in a backup can be a time-consuming headache for IT staff. However, newer backup solutions offer more intelligent software that makes it easy to identify missing data in seconds. Datto’s Backup Insights, for example, quickly identifies what has been modified, created or deleted between any two backups. And restoring the files is as simple as clicking a button.

Finding the right fit

Not every business will have the same backup requirements or continuity objectives. A small medical practice, for example, will have completely different requirements than a mid-size manufacturing company.

However, every small business, regardless of size or industry, should have a dependable backup solution that ensures their data can be quickly recovered when needed. That is the fundamental prerequisite for maintaining business continuity, and it’s what all organizations should strive for when deploying a BC/DR solution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. How do I back up my small business?

Small businesses can back up their critical data on a regular basis by implementing a business continuity and disaster recovery solution. These solutions typically use backup software and hardware that is specifically designed to help small businesses protect their data and avoid an operational disruption.

The Datto SIRIS and ALTO are examples of small business backup solutions that provide fully integrated backup software, on-site hardware and cloud backups.

2. What is the 3-2-1 backup rule?

The 3-2-1 backup rule is a general rule of thumb for how many backups a business should maintain. The rule recommends keeping 3 backups on 2 different types of storage media with 1 backup kept off-site.

While it is not a hard-and-fast rule, the 3-2-1 backup rule provides a good foundation for disaster recovery planning.

3. How often should a business back up its data?

Most businesses should back up their data at least once a day. However, backup frequency should be based on each business’s operational needs and objectives. For example, businesses that generate large volumes of data may want to create new backups every hour or more frequently.

Conclusion

Choosing the right small business backup software takes careful evaluation. Given the risks of data loss and the costly disruptions that can ensue, businesses must identify a backup system that adequately protects their systems.

For many small companies, backup software is just one piece of a comprehensive business continuity strategy. Businesses need to invest in robust BC/DR solutions that unify the software with dedicated hardware and cloud replication for greater redundancy, recovery options and peace of mind.

Get a Free Demo

For more information on today’s best small business backup software, request a free demo of hybrid-cloud BC/DR systems from Datto. For more information, call our business continuity experts at (646) 395-1170 or email us at success@invenioIT.com.

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