Why Do So Many Data Backups Fail?

By Whitney Snoops | Dec 14, 2018 | Insights

Even 10 years ago, corporate data backups were much simpler: all data existed in one location, so it was easy to capture everything in a single platform without much hassle. But now, the landscape of corporate data backups has significantly changed. Between on-premise, cloud, hybrid platforms, and masses of complex data to keep track of, backups can be extremely challenging to manage, especially if you aren’t intimately familiar with the processes involved.

Let’s a take a closer look at the step-by-step process for ensuring a successful data backup, as well as what you need to do if your backup fails.

Steps to Ensuring a Successful Data Backup

1. Establish and Understand Your RPO and RTO

Do you know your recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO)? RPO designates the amount of data that your organization could tolerate losing (to the time of the last backup, for example). RTO is the amount of time that it takes to accomplish a data recovery process before a longer disruption could seriously impede business operations.

Defining your RPO/RTO gives your business a better understanding of how—and how often—it should conduct data backups; it’s a crucial component of your business continuity plan if an event should strike your business and disrupt the flow of operations. Note that your specific RPO/RTO standards will depend entirely on your organization’s needs.

This step is arguably the most important in the entire backup process, and yet many organizations skip it. While it might seem like a waste of effort to plan instead of actually backing up data right away, planning directly contributes to successful data protection.

2. Create Proper Backup Policies and Procedures

The next most important planning step is to create proper, compliant backup policies and procedures. Note that these will also include decisions from your earlier RPO/RTO discussion, so be sure you complete that step first. Comprehensive backup policies and procedures ensure that everyone in your organization is on the same page regarding your backup strategy and that the organization is prepared to execute the backup strategy. Thus, all steps in the process need to be outlined for clarity and ease of use across different teams.

With that out of the way, how will you know if your backup process is actually successful once it’s set in motion? As part of this planning stage, you’ll also want to set up proactive monitoring procedures as well as notifications and other alerts that will allow you to keep a close eye on the backup process. That way, you’re always clear on whether or not it succeeds—and if it fails, where and why.

3. Run the Backups

Your backups should run automatically and in the background without disrupting your organization’s normal business activities. As this process is ongoing, you’ll also want to ensure that the following backup best practices are upheld:

  • Updating software and patching as needed.
  • Maintaining hardware as needed.
  • Making sure the storage repository (e.g., tapes, discs, etc.) has capacity to meet your data protection objectives.
  • Ensuring you can successfully restore data from your backups.

4. Test the Backup Success

With thorough policies and procedures in place, including reports and summaries, you should now have a clear understanding of how your backups are performing. However, you should still run tests regularly to confirm their success. At a minimum, your organization should perform annual recovery exercises, but we recommend doing them quarterly. These tests will confirm that, in the event of a data loss, your company will be prepared to recover to normal business operations.

Managing a Failed Data Backup

Backups fail for dozens of reasons, including both human or technical errors. Oftentimes, businesses don’t know that their backup has failed until it’s too late—when they actually need to restore the data. When this happens, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why didn’t I know that our backups failed?
  • What are my policies and procedures to ensure that backups occur?
  • Are we backing up the proper data?

If the error was due to a lack of clear data backup policies, you need to take a step back and define those before anything else—a lack of well-defined processes has a snowball effect of failure. But if the error was technical, your team should take a closer look into what went wrong and what can be done to prevent it from happening again in the future—such as whether software requires patching or hardware needs maintenance, for example.

Seeking Third-Party Assistance

In today’s world, where most environments are hybrid, there is very rarely a single platform that backs up all data. Instead, organizations need to rely on two or three solutions to protect their data 100%. To overcome this challenge, you’ll need to properly prepare and execute a comprehensive data protection plan.

Notably, a third-party IT solutions and consulting firm like CTI has the experience to help you navigate this critical process. Depending on your needs, we offer consulting resources to help objectively evaluate your policies and procedures; we can also help develop proper RPO/RTO guidelines in accordance with your needs. On the technical side, we can put together a solution that meets those policies and procedures, and then help test and maintain those resources on an ongoing basis.

Contact us today for more information about planning and running successful data protection.