By Chris Bross

According to findings just released by EMC Corporation, data loss is up by 400 percent since 2012, and 51 percent of businesses lack a disaster recovery plan. With that being said, the end of the fourth quarter is often wrought with software updates preparing for the New Year, leaving small businesses even more vulnerable to data loss. DriveSavers, the worldwide leader in data recovery, eDiscovery and digital forensics, has compiled a Q4 backup guide for small business owners.

Backing up your critical data is the first and most obvious rule for protecting important data and clearly has real benefits. It’s surprising how many businesses don’t do it or do so improperly. A suitable backup means a duplicate copy of data resides on a different storage medium other than the main hard drive. Simply copying data to another folder on the same drive doesn’t count as a backup because when a drive crashes, all the data will become inaccessible.

The same files, in the same state, must be stored in more than one place in order for a backup system to be successful. When one drive fails, the other will be there to fall back on.

Sort. A solid plan begins with designating which files to back up and which files to store permanently in their current state. It’s a good idea to do a little digital housekeeping and archive old data to semi-permanent storage media such as DVD-R or BD-R. Although these media are “write-once”, the expectation is that they will last years before deteriorating.

Identify files that are no longer used or updated but need to be kept for compliance, historical reference or other reasons. These files should be transferred to DVD-R or BD-R discs, backup tapes or other removable media, which will become your “cold storage” data archive. While it’s time consuming to sort through a large capacity hard drive with thousands of files collected over years of computing, it is worth doing as it will speed up the backup process and reclaim valuable hard drive space.

For safety, you should make at least three sets of these archives and store them in different locations, e.g., home, office and safe deposit box.

Verify. Once the “old” data has been archived to discs or tapes, it’s recommended that you verify and check the data to ensure everything was properly transferred and that none of the files are unreadable or corrupt. Only then is it safe to delete the old files from the hard drive.

Choose a device. Next, think about a reliable backup device that will function on a daily basis. An external hard drive that resides on your network or is directly connected to your computer full time is a good start. Choose a back up drive that will accommodate the entire capacity of your current hard drive (you’ll need extra capacity for future data you create). Ultimately, you’ll want to include all the new files you’ve created, programs and system software to be able to do a quick restoration when a drive failure occurs.

Be consistent. The real secret to a bulletproof backup is to do it religiously. The best advice is to use software that automatically backs up your drive at a scheduled time every day.

Contact professionals. As a small business, it is important to watch every dollar and understand where priorities lie when spending money on vendors. If your hard drive crashes and you lose your data, a do-it-yourself methodology won’t cut it. We recommend that you do not attempt data recovery on your own using any type of diagnostic or repair tools. Doing so may cause further damage or make the data completely and permanently irretrievable. The first recovery attempt is the most successful, so play it safe and send a crashed or damaged drive to a professional data recovery provider.

Most business computer hard drives hold private data such as contacts, emails, databases, financial records, correspondence and intellectual property. Always vet the data recovery provider you choose to ensure the company possesses necessary certifications and that they follow the stringent data security and privacy protocols.

While no single backup method can protect data completely (even cloud-based back up providers lose data), following the steps mentioned here can help save you and company from a complete information meltdown.

As chief technology officer at DriveSavers, leaders in data recovery, eDiscovery and forensics, Chris Bross manages the R&D team for emerging storage technologies and guides the development of new tools, technology and techniques to overcome unique challenges and recover critical user data.