The data that your business contains could be its most precious commodity. Customer information, sales data and the details of any intellectual property your business owns form an asset that your business should protect. Every business owner knows that they should have robust and reliable data backup systems in place, but few take this part of their business seriously.

A study carried out by Carbonite earlier this year discovered that business owners are using a wide range of backup devices to protect their data including DVDs, USB flash drives and external hard drives. "Although many small businesses are backing up their data, they're using antiquated methods, such as USB/flash drives or CDs, which leave huge gaps and vulnerabilities," said Peter Lamson, Senior Vice President of Small Business for Carbonite. "These simple solutions may be relatively easy to set up, but they require ongoing supervision to ensure they are performing, and can distract from other work,"

Today the cloud has transformed how all sizes of business approach their data backup needs. Using online backup services is cost effective, fast and secure. Some of the current leading backup services your business could consider include:

With so many services available it's important to look closely at the features that each one offers and match these to your business' requirements. As no two businesses are the same, it's vital to initially perform a data audit to discover what data in your business needs to be backed up, how often and if this information can be archived or needs to be available to you and your staff.

Your data audit

Before your business buys data backup services it needs to look closely at all the data that it contains. All the data in your business doesn't have the same value. Day-to-day emails for instance may not need to be backed up, but of course your customer services data and financial information must be.

Think about the data in your business and try and place a value on it. After all, you will be buying data storage by the gigabyte so reducing the amount of storage space your business needs will save you money.

Also, it's important to place the data you do want to store into two distinct categories: The first is dynamic data that you need to run your business on a day-to-day basis. Documents that change regularly such as spreadsheets need to be backed up each day, but also easily accessible.

The second category is data that is valuable but isn't needed on a regular basis. This data can be archived, but think about how fast you may need this legacy information in the future. How quickly could your data backup service deliver this information if you needed it?

Buying backup services

Your initial view will be to look at the price per gigabyte of storage as the only differentiating factor between the services you have on your shortlist. Cost is of course an issue, but also consider these factors as well:

  1. Does unlimited storage space actually mean unlimited? Look closely at the service level agreement you will sign to ensure the storage space on offer meets your business' needs, and at the price you want to pay.
  2. Is transmission of data to and from your business fully encrypted? Your business has a legal responsibility to ensure that customer information – such as credit card details – are safe and secure. Look for services that offer 256-bit AES encryption as a minimum.
  3. Do the services your business is considering offer data access on mobile devices? If the data you are storing is needed by a number of people on a regular basis, they will want to access this on their smart phones or tablet PCs.
  4. Is your data protected by the backup service itself? This is an important component of the service level agreement. Ask the services on your shortlist about how they protect the data they are storing. Do they have their own robust data backup systems? And are they protected from power failures?
  5. Where are the servers of the backup service located? Some backup services actually outsource this to another data centre, whereas others have their own dedicated data centres.
  6. How fast can your business access the data it needs? If your company is archiving data this will most likely be compressed. For instance it's a legal responsibility to store your company's financial records for several years. If you needed to access a specific file, how fast could the backup service provider deliver this file to you?

"Small businesses are creating new, priceless data every minute of every day and they can't afford to be unprotected. Low cost, automated and easy to use methods are now mainstream, so there's no reason for small businesses to be spending time manually managing backups, when they could spend that valuable time focused on their business instead," concluded Carbonite's Peter Lamson.