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Have You Tested Your Backups Recently?

'Tis the season for those on the East Coast to prepare for possible hurricanes. It officially started June 1 and runs through November 30.
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Have You Tested Your Backups Recently?

‘Tis the season for those on the East Coast to prepare for possible hurricanes. It officially started June 1 and runs through November 30. If your business has not checked its backup processes in the last 30 days, now would be a good time to start. No one wants to find out that their data backups aren’t working when a hurricane is churning its way to the East Coast or the Gulf states.

Backup testing should ensure that your business can retrieve its data and restore operations in case of a disruption. Testing should be part of business continuity or disaster recovery plans that outline what to do in case of a catastrophic event such as a hurricane. The plan should set a recovery point and recovery time based on the risk an organization is willing to take.

Recovery points represent the amount of data loss a company can tolerate. It is how long a business can go between backups and still operate. For research and development organizations, backups are daily. For service organizations, weekly backups may suffice. It just depends on how quickly critical data changes.

The recovery time is how quickly systems must be restored to sustain business continuity. Life-threatening disruptions require immediate recovery, which may demand a disaster recovery site. A backup site enables an organization to resume operations in a matter of minutes. Other companies may be able to disrupt operations for hours without adverse effects.

To ensure proper backup testing, businesses should answer the following questions.

What Should Be Tested?

Testing takes time and resources, so it’s crucial to have a prioritized plan. Exercising a backup strategy involves more than ensuring that systems can be restored from backup storage. For example, what happens if the IT environment is compromised or there is a hardware failure? Backup testing should include the manner in which restoration is performed.

At a basic level, businesses need to restore files and folders. With more information stored in databases, testing should involve them as well as less structured data and applications. Restoring data is only the start of testing. Organizations need to plan for complete IT failure as a result of a cyberattack.

If the infrastructure is damaged, what will it take to provision new hardware and restore the system? Is it possible to identify the mission-critical resources to restore first to minimize disruption? Testing partial and full restores from backup exercises different aspects of a disaster recovery plan.

Restored files should be evaluated for corrupted or incomplete files. Just because the files are recovered doesn’t mean they are intact.

How Often Should Backups Be Tested?

Backup testing is often viewed as a when-i-get-to-it task rather than an essential part of IT operations. However, a routine testing schedule should be created that exercises the system at least monthly. The frequency of testing depends on an organization’s risk tolerance—the longer between tests, the greater the risk that some part of the process will fail.

Organizations should test backups before a system change or upgrade to ensure that the data is available should a problem arise. It is also advisable to test after an upgrade or system change to ensure everything is working properly. Anytime a disruption occurs to the operating infrastructure, the backup system should be tested. Simple changes can often lead to disastrous results.

Can Data Be Restored?

The first step is determining if the backups work physically. Backups are stored on tape, disks, and the cloud. They may be stored offsite or at a third-party location. Wherever they are located, backup processes are of no use if the data can’t be accessed.

Companies should ensure that the systems are compatible if changes have been made to the recovery software or the physical storage media. In some instances, regulatory requirements may require restoration within a set time span. It’s better to know that those targets can be met before an incident happens.

Are Recovered Systems Accurate?

Backup software has the ability to check recovery accuracy using tools such as checksum validation. It does not have the ability to check data integrity or protection. For example, a problem may occur when trying to access data from an established application. Users should be identified who can quickly confirm that the data being accessed is correct. They are in the best position to identify inaccurate or incomplete data.

Another testing parameter involves cybersecurity. When data is moved from one system to another, security protocols must remain in place. Any lapse in security protection can result in a compromised system. As cybercrime continues to rise, it’s essential that businesses maintain a strong defense when systems are being stressed. Cybercriminals love the chaos a catastrophic event creates because it exposes system vulnerabilities.

Are Backup and Recovery Consistent?

Data backup and recovery should work the same each time they are tested. It is the ability to replicate the process that ensures a smooth transition when needed. Consistency across the enterprise means checking in-house, external, and cloud backup sites. It requires involving individuals outside of IT to ensure data integrity and operability.

Testing is a learning exercise. When done correctly, it is a way to improve operations and ensure business continuity. Inconsistencies can be identified and corrected, so when backups are needed, they work flawlessly.

It’s Never Too Late

Ten years ago, annual backup testing was the norm. In today’s environment, monthly may be insufficient. It all depends on an organization’s risk tolerance. If spending a day recreating a document is acceptable, then daily backups and weekly testing may not be necessary. However, rewriting a day’s worth of development code requires more frequent backups and testing.

Whether it’s preparing for hurricane season or a cyberattack, organizations need a partner they can trust. IT Network Solutions is that partner. We have weathered decades full of hurricanes and protected clients from unrelenting attempts at cyberattacks. If you are looking for a partner in the greater Sarasota area, contact us. Let us be ready for the future together.