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The Ten Commandments of Data Protection

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For most businesses, data is the most important of the organization's assets. By following Erik Eckel's 10 rules of data protection, you can help ensure that your organization can recover from accident, attack, or disaster.
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While serving as a technology professional boasts many feel-good moments, such as enabling remote access or recovering failed systems, IT professionals often must deliver bad news to clients and department heads. Fortunately, data loss need not be among the announcements you have to make—that is, if you’ve taken the proper steps to safeguard your data.

In my experience, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), in particular, often fail to ensure that data is properly backed up. Such failures sometimes stem from price consciousness or temptation to maintain the status quo, even though the status quo may leave the organization prone to data loss.

Of course, because SMBs typically have limited resources, they may find protecting their data to be a greater challenge than it would be for a larger organization. But data is as important to a small business as records and information storage are to a larger enterprise. Imagine the pain that an accounting agency would experience if it lost just three months of client data. Or consider the trouble a plumbing supplier would face by losing one month of customer invoices or orders.

Whether you work as a consultant servicing SMBs or are employed by such an organization, here are 10 steps you can take to help avoid several of the most common mistakes often experienced in the field.

Commandment 1: Start with a Written Plan

Are you tempted to just begin backing up data? Instead, start by creating a file share and instruct users to place documents, spreadsheets, financial records, and other information there. Then create the backup routines you need. Make sure that everyone understands that only the data within the file share actually gets backed up. How hard does it have to be, after all?

Unfortunately, proper data protection is more complicated than that plan. Users frequently change the locations where they store data. They rename files and folders. They delete records, too, sometimes accidentally. Such loose controls can result in an organization’s possessing multiple copies of the same information—or no copies of essential files.

Six months after the fact, timestamps quickly become confusing when attempting to determine which version of a file is the most accurate or current. A sales associate created a file on June 25. An accountant saved revisions on July 1. That’s all fine and clear. But what about the file the sales supervisor created on June 30? Is that the one the accountant updated, or is it a different version of the same file that the accountant missed when closing the client’s account for the month?

IT professionals should be responsible for ensuring that the companies they service maintain proper data stores. Create file shares in a manner that helps empower proper workflow and enables logical recovery. Data backup strategies shouldn’t just meet the goal of creating a redundant copy of important files and information. Instead, your strategies should support recovering backups to create file shares that enable sensible and logical operations following a crisis, whether the crisis is a failed hard disk or a natural disaster.

A data protection strategy should be written, too. Review it regularly with department heads to ensure that all relevant data continues being backed up as file storage locations change and as new information and systems are added to the network. The backup strategy must specify who is responsible for performing backups and who is responsible for ensuring that the backups are completed properly. Also include specific details as to the backup media to be used and the manner in which the backups will be stored.

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