By Peter Hannah, Regional Director at NETGEAR, UK and Ireland

Whether you are a sole trader or an employer of 250 people, it is likely you will rely on various technologies to support simple access to important business data. With market indications pointing to data doubling every two years and paper-free environments on the increase, the need to be able to store, manage and retrieve data quickly and efficiently has never been greater. Furthermore this must be balanced by ensuring security privileges and access rights are adhered to in order to avoid sensitive data becoming compromised, whilst still allowing it to be available at the drop of a hat.

Any loss or inability to view this data would have a significant impact upon operations, and in some cases, could prove a serious threat to the viability of your future business, for example undermining contractual agreements and jeopardising repeat business.

Figures from Gartner suggest only 6 per cent of all businesses survive a data loss incident unscathed, with 43 per cent going out of business immediately as a result. Some regard the issue of data loss as a problem reserved for the domain of big businesses, but it is often SMBs who are likely to be hardest hit, as many are unable to pick up the pieces with ease after such an incident. Despite this, many small businesses are still in denial.

Scenarios often painted in the press of data loss incidents focus on cyber attacks and employees leaving confidential documents on public transport. While of course these risks do apply to SMBs, it is more often the everyday occurrences such as accidental file deletion or spilling a hot drink on a piece of IT hardware that could cause the biggest disruption to a business if data is not properly stored and backed up.

Research suggests that human error is responsible for one in five data loss errors. No matter how state-of-the-art and efficient an IT system is, a single human mistake, such as accidently saving over a file can have a dramatic impact if there is no restoration plan in place.

Couple this with the fact that many SMBs still rely on hard drive technology today for storage, which according to research only lasts 18 months before its first failure, and the potential risks to SMBs are clear. Safeguarding data against everyday occurrences is just as important as protecting it from the possibility of theft, fire or flood.

The following top tips are designed to help businesses prepare for all eventualities and proactively safeguard against risks to data storage:

1. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

It pays to have a safety net in place, so make sure you look at creating a full backup facility for all of your data and save it regularly. The regularity will depend on how you run your business, but the core advantage remains the same – you will be safe in the knowledge that restoration in the event of data loss will enable business to carry on with minimal disruption.

SMBs can also utilise data snapshot technology which offers a read-only image of a document, frozen at a specific time. These can be carried out hourly or daily, and are fast becoming an essential part of the day-to-day running of many businesses.

2. Backup your backup

Never have just one copy of anything, but ensure you have a contingency plan in place should your primary backup fail. How many backups you need is at your own discretion, but remember that the more backups you have equals more protection. This might sound overkill and expensive but cloud-based replication technology can enable data sets to be easily maintained and replicated in multiple locations. This is also of great benefit to ensure protection of data from remote or branch office locations, speeding up restore and recovery times.

3. Data drills

Only 63 per cent of small businesses complete data recovery testing on an annual basis, compared to 82 per cent of enterprises. It is good practice to conduct a fire drill, so why not schedule time for a data drill? Having a recovery strategy mapped out and rehearsed means your staff can react proactively. It will also enable you to give your customers reassurance that it will quickly be business as usual soon in the wake of an incident.

4. Seek advice from experts on the best solution for you[/n]

Growing businesses require advanced and easy to use solutions for centralising, securing and controlling access to their digital assets. For many businesses, time spent on problem solving and second guessing what storage methods you should have will take time and effort away from the core objective of growing the business. Be sure to approach a trusted source for advice on what solution best suits the needs of your business when you come to making an investment.

[b]5. Consider additional layers of data protection

It’s important to recognise that even data stored electronically decays. Known as the phenomenon of bit rot, data is actually corrupted at the very lowest level – the bits. Not having a mechanism to guard against this problem can cause major issues over time – even if you do all your homework correctly – like backing up your PCs and servers and storing a second copy of your data at another location. Consider that the more layers of data protection you implement, the safer your data will be – as part of this, technology is available that can automatically prevent against bit rot.

While data storage technologies have evolved dramatically over the past decade, there is still more for SMBs to do to catch up. It is likely your business data is your world, and despite the widespread belief that data protection and storage can be a time consuming exercise, protecting your data has never been more important. Save your data, and it may one day save your business.