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11 Guidelines for Managing Backups with a Managed Service Provider

11 Guidelines for Managing Backups with a Managed Service Provider

If you’ve outsourced your computer support to an IT managed service provider, they’re almost certainly managing your data backups as part of their services.  It’s in your interest to take an active role in understanding your managed service provider’s backup and data protection strategies.  Never lose site of the fact, this is YOUR data.   A misstep resulting in data loss, followed by an inability to restore your data, can be catastrophic for your business.  Below are 11 guidelines for making sure you can restore your data when you need to!

  1. Understand What Data is Included in the Daily Backups
    Your IT managed service provider should document in writing, what data is backed up.  Keep this information on file.  If you get the answer “Everything is backed up”, dig deeper.  Ask about your email databases, SQL databases, user email archives, the server’s operating systems, etc.  It’s impossible to ask too many questions on this front.  Ask your questions now, before you need to restore your data.
  2. Don’t Assume your Workstation Data is Included in Your Back Ups
    Unless you’ve specifically requested for your desktops or laptops to be backed up, most managed service providers backup only network/server data.  If you need workstation backup, you need to request it and apply these backup guidelines throughout.
  3. Ask about your Exchange/Email and SQL Databases
    Email and SQL databases are highly specialized systems requiring special backups to secure their data.  Ask how often these systems are backed up and if the provider’s backup solution has specific support for these types of systems.
  4. What is your Backup Retention Period?
    Backup retention is just a fancy term for how far back you can restore your data if you experience a data loss; i.e. days, weeks, months or even years.  In small and medium businesses, many managed service providers never ask their clients about their data retention requirements.  If you need data retention that spans 3 months and your IT service provider has setup your retention for 3 weeks, you have a problem.
  5. Understand Data Restore Times (Full Restore vs. Selective Restore)
    It’s important to understand how much time will be required to restore ALL your data due to a catastrophic event like a fire or flood.  You should also understand the necessary time to restore a limited amount of data; i.e. a few files and or folders.  Make sure your restoration times are consistent with your business needs and expectations.  Backup solutions that deliver restoration times in minutes or hours are very different than solutions that may require days or weeks to restore your data.
  6. Know when your Backups are Running
    It’s important your backups run outside of your normal business hours for two reasons.  Backups are demanding on the network resources and often impact system performance.  In addition, files should be closed to insure they’re properly included in the daily backup jobs.  It is equally important the backups complete prior to the start of your normal business day.  Be sure to have a conversation with your managed service provider to insure your backups are running at the right times.
  7. Know where your Backup Data is Stored and Who has Access
    “Cloud Backups” are very popular today.  A cloud backup simply stores your data off-site in one or more data centers.  Cloud backups protect you in the event your office is wiped out due to fire, floor or some other disaster.  However, most small businesses do not know exactly where their data is stored.  Knowing where your data is stored is important especially for businesses operating in compliance environments such as HIPPA, SOX, or FINRA.  Even more importantly, you need to determine who has access to your data.  For most compliance environments, the client should be the only one with the data tokens (the “software keys”) to read their data.  Lastly, make sure your data is encrypted both in transit (while transmitting) and while at rest (once it is stored at the data provider).
  8. Request to Restore your Data
    Ask your new IT provider to periodically restore important files/folders as a test of the backup systems.  In addition to files/folders, ask them to restore a message from the email system, or a customer record from your SQL database.  Make copies of these files/messages/records prior to moving/deleting them in case the provider gives you a story vs. a restoration.  If you get a story, your managed service provider may be mis-managing your backups.
  9. Get a Daily Backup Report via Email
    I can’t stress this enough.  Don’t let your IT provider manage your backups in a vacuum.  You need visibility of your backups just as much as they do.  Backup problems can and will develop over time and it too easy for your failing backups to fall off the radar of a busy managed service provider.
  10. Consider an “Image backup” of your server and critical workstations.
    These are special backups that allow faster recovery than a normal data/file/folder backup.  If you don’t know whether you have an image backup, ask your IT managed service provider.   For most small and medium businesses, you want an “image” of your most important systems.  These backups are sometimes called a disaster recovery backup.  This will save you both money and time should one of your critical systems fail.
  11. Have your Managed Service Provider Reconcile your Backup Needs
    Over time, backup needs change; i.e. new systems come online, new data is shared, etc.  A common mistake by managed service providers is not to include new data in the daily/weekly backups.  A review or reconciliation of your backup needs should be completed monthly to insure all data is included in the backup jobs.

If you would like an independent, objective analysis of your current backup system and procedures, please contact Ascendant Technologies, Inc. at our Somerset, NJ offices for a free, no obligation assessment: (888) -925-4357.

Managed Cloud Backup in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Fire, flood, hurricanes and other disasters can strike without warning. These events can potentially cripple your business and its ability to provide products or services. It’s currently hurricane season in the United States.  During August, 2017 Hurricane Hurricane Harvey delivered a devastating blow to the South West/South East of the United States. Texas was hit particularly hard.   Many businesses were destroyed and those that survived are without power, Internet and phones.  Some analysts are predicting property loss of $30-100 Billion dollars (reference).

As a responsible business owner or IT manager, you simply cannot leave your disaster recovery efforts to chance. To minimize the potential impact, it’s vital you establish and maintain policies which can help your staff know who to contact and what to do when disaster strikes.

The right Disaster Recovery Plan is like a well-stocked toolbox.  Your toolbox should contain a variety of general and specialized tools.  One of the most important tools is your data backup plan. Your data is critically important to your business.  Restoration of that data is an integral part of any complete disaster recovery plan.  The ability and speed with which you can restore your business data will largely determine how quickly you can recover your business.  Making sure you know how to restore your business data is a critical step to insuring you can recover effectively when a disaster hits.

If you’re like many businesses, you may still be relying on tapes or other media for your backups.  While your backup procedures may be automated, they may require one of your staff to take the daily/weekly/monthly media off-site.  An onsite backup may be sufficient to protect you against hardware failure, but it is useless against an event that destroys your physical offices; i.e. fire, flood, earthquake or theft.  Allowing a staff member to take sensitive business data offsite has issues as well; i.e. risk of data loss, compliance, access to the media when you need to restore, improper storage, etc.

Redundant off-site backups can be easily accomplished with Ascendant’s Managed Cloud Backup solutions.  You’re probably already familiar with “the cloud” which allow you to access your data from virtually anywhere.  This same technology can be harnessed to streamline your backup process and meet your requirements for off-site storage.

Cloud-based backups allow for automated, redundant backups which are both reliable and secure.  Our cloud backup solutions store your data in encrypted format at geographically separated data centers. You simply pay a monthly or annual fee based on the amount of data storage you need.  For health-care, finance and other professional organizations, these cloud-based backup solutions can help you meet compliance requirements for security, off-site storage, etc. By using cloud backups, you’re not only protected against theft, malware, or computer failure; you’re also protected against a building loss or city-wide disaster.

However, cloud-based backup solutions are not suited for every business.  Contrary to popular belief, tape-based backup is not dead.  For any cloud backup solution, you need to consider the total amount of data you’re protecting and the available connection speed your business has to the Internet. For most small and medium-sized businesses, cloud-based backup solutions work best with high-speed broadband; i.e. cable, FIOS, etc.  Even with a high-speed connection, some cloud-based backup solutions can take days or weeks to complete an initial backup or restore your data.  That’s an obvious limitation that needs to be considered when choosing your cloud backup solution.

Ascendant Technologies, Inc. located in Somerset, NJ, has over 22 years of experience managing business class data and backup solutions.  Like insurance, you hope you’ll never need it, but the right cloud-based backup solution can be an essential component of your disaster recovery plan.

For more information on Ascendant Technologies, Inc. and our Cloud-Based Backup solutions, please call us at 888-925-4357 or Contact Us to learn more!

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Ascendant Technologies, Inc.
One Executive Drive, Suite 210
Somerset, NJ 08873

Central NJ: (732) 563-2675

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