As a business owner caught up in daily tasks, it can be easy to put off critical maintenance issues such as securing your company data. Even though data storage may be the last thing on your mind, it shouldn’t be. Your data probably includes critical business intelligence, sensitive customer information, and records that you could be asked to quickly produce years later.
In fact it’s not just a good idea to secure and archive your electronic records, it’s now mandatory by law in certain industries. Under the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, for instance, some companies are required to keep copies of all their e-mail communications for up to seven years. Financial companies are under even stricter rules to archive instant messaging exchanges, and accountants are required to keep corporate audit records for five years.
Regulations aside, proper data storage is also important when it comes to legal discovery. Business owners may not like to think about legal action, but the truth is, every business faces the possibility of litigation requiring that you hand over certain records.
With the importance of data storage in mind, let’s look at some basic rules to help you secure your records:
1. Come Up With a Storage Plan
The first thing to consider is what data you need to store and how often you need to back it up. Is your critical data on computers, servers, or both? Who should be responsible for storing data and how would you like it to be stored? In-house or offsite? You should also look into your regulatory obligations to make sure that you are complying with industry and federal rules.
2. Choose a Backup and Storage Method
When selecting a backup method, try to make sure it’s relatively easy to execute frequent backups of your data. The old-fashioned way of backing up data on tape is still a popular method, but it is generally seen as better for archival storage than it is for backup.
If you need to back up and restore information quickly, a disk-to-disk system may be a better option. Using this method, data is backed up using a mirrored system and you can even restore lost files if you configure your system properly. However disks are costly and aren’t considered permanent storage. A disk system needs to be combined with magnetic tape or optical media such as DVDs for safe storage.
Another option is online backup to a third-party storage provider. This option can be convenient for small businesses that don’t have a lot of data to store and don’t want to fiddle with saving records in-house. These services can be pricey but the advantage is that you have redundant, offsite storage.
3. Properly Label Your Media
Now that you have your storage methods in place and have assigned someone to the task, you need to make sure that the archived data can be easily found. This means that you need to establish guidelines for clear and consistent labeling of your stored data.
4. Store Data Offsite
Say that you’ve regularly backed up your data, labeled it, and stored it away on secure media in your server room. It may seem like you’ve done everything to protect your records, but if there is a flood, a fire, or an accident, that data is lost. For the highest level of security, store a copy of your data offsite. If, however, you decide to store your data in-house, invest in a fireproof safe to protect your records.
5. Review and Update Your Storage Needs
As your business grows you may find that your original data storage needs change. Online storage may have been a great solution when you had five employees, for instance, but with the new staff of 20 it may not be cost-effective. Regularly review your storage needs and make adjustments when necessary.