Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, said, “Data is a precious thing,” and he’s absolutely right. Every organisation has data and lots of it – from customer lists, staff records and invoices through to still images and video. If you’re a business, as you grow you’re only going to get more of it.
From your laptops, PCs, tablets and smartphones great gigabytes, terabytes and even zettabytes of information will come – a zettabyte being roughly the collections of all the academic libraries in the United States half a million times over, or for any Jack Bauer fans, a full-length episode of hit series 24 running continuously for 125 million years.
Businesses of all sizes are experiencing more rapid data growth than ever before. Research from leading analyst firm Gartner suggests that businesses will struggle to keep up with this ever-increasing data deluge as our reliance on technology continues. This data is your lifeblood and, just as with any other precious resource, you need somewhere to keep it safe. In computer-speak, this is what we call storage – keeping your original data on a server, computer, disc, memory stick or other device so you have access to it.
This is all fine but what if you have a fire or a flood, or the power supply to your server fails? It happens more often than you might think. That’s where data back-up can come to the rescue. As a term it sounds like one of those dull chores you have to do, like remembering to put the rubbish out, but it’s of huge importance to all businesses and in particular those that operate predominantly online. It essentially means creating a separate copy of your data for safe-keeping.
There are different options. You can keep that back-up on-premises (also known as ‘local back-up’) and simply have two separate servers whirring away in a corner of your office. One holds the original data, the other holds a copy of it. Nothing wrong with that – any back-up is better than none at all – but what if you suffer an incident that causes both machines to fail, such as a power cut or a theft? Having your eggs in the same basket is not the best policy.
The other option is to go off-premises and keep the back-up copy of your data in another geographical location. This can be done by backing up your data to a tape and then physically removing it from the premises. Not a bad idea but one that relies on you remembering to do this daily and store the tape safely. Or you can employ the services of a company that is expert in back-up and can protect your data safely and securely on its own servers.
When thinking about back-up, you need to ask yourself, “Do I really want this responsibility?” For an increasing number of business owners the answer is no. They don’t want to have to buy extra hardware and pay someone to manage or maintain it. They want to concentrate on driving their business forward rather than having to worry about the IT behind it.
We are certainly seeing a growing demand for off-premise back-up, particularly from businesses and organisations that thought they didn’t need back-up only to have their data wiped out due to an unexpected fire or power failure at their premises.
Many of them are choosing off-premise cloud back-up. This basically means sending copies of your data via a secure internet connection to a physical location, where it resides until needed. Cloud back-up comes in a different range of price points depending on what your requirements are, such as the size of data storage you need and the frequency of the duplication process, but tends to be cheaper than fully managed back-up.
If you do choose off-premises, you need to be sure you use a reliable hosting company. You should be looking for a web hosting71 company that offers you fast connectivity, high levels of security and round-the-clock technical support. A company that owns and manages its own data centres is preferable because there are some whose idea of 24/7 support is calling someone out of their bed at two in the morning to go to the data centre to deal with your issue. That can take a long time.
It’s important to think about scalability too. As your business grows so does the amount of data it collects. You want your business to be able to grow smoothly without any major hiccups. By choosing a hosting partner that has the capacity to manage huge amounts of data and the connectivity required to transmit it (what we in the IT world call ‘fat pipes’), you’ll be able to do just that.
Also, if compliance and legal issues are vital for your business – in the pharmaceutical or financial services sectors, for instance – you might need to use a hosting company that can ensure your data remains within UK borders.
As one of our clients – the owner of a start-up online parking business – recently told me, “When I think about the data in our business I compare it to owning a shop. Each product that sits on the shelves has a different value and therefore its own individual worth. Each piece of data in my business is an asset in its own right. Without this data, we have no business, so we absolutely must take care of it.”