Safeguarding data: saving your business’ life

A few years ago I heard this statement:

Before you’ve had a major data loss you wonder what the fuss is. After you’ve had a major data loss you wonder why people are so unconcerned“.

And before you ask, yes I was one of the unconcerned. At best I would copy my data to a CD or DVD when ever I thought about it.

The speaker went on explain how they nearly lost their business just because of a hard drive failure.

They also presented some frightening statistics on the consequence of data loss on businesses. The one that stood out for me was that 70% of small firms that have a major data loss go out of business within 1 year. (DTI/PCW).

Not wanting to join the 70% I decided that I needed a robust and systematic way of protecting my data. Here’s what I did.


My focus was on Windows based computers because this is what I use for my business, so the solutions are biased in this direction. However many of the principles are applicable to mobile devices.

I’m also assuming that you are running a good anti-virus/internet security programme. If you’re not, stop reading this now and get is sorted.

My starting point was to decide what data was important to me and why, and therefore what I needed to do to keep it safe.

Types of business data

As a start I broke my data down into two types: Stuff that I managed using MS Outlook (emails, contacts, calendar, notes) and other documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, PDFs etc.).

I then went looking for ways not losing any of it.

My guiding principles

After a few false starts I settled on these principles for securing my data:

Separating my data from the operating system, making re-installs a breeze

Make it as automated as possible to minimise human error

Minimise additional back-up hardware, because the hardware can fail

Keep it cost-effective, because the cost must be sustainable

Let’s see what this meant in practice

Separating data and OS

I partition my laptop SSD into two, installing windows on a relatively small partition leaving a larger partition for my documents.

You only need to do this once for each computer and there is plenty of free software to do it with.

If you prefer the comfort and support of commercial software then I recommend Partition Magic. I’ve used this over the years and its worked well for me.

With the OS on its own partition it can be backed up to an image using either Microsoft’s own imaging tool or third party software.

Handily the OS can be restored from an image even if your installation becomes unbootable.

The advantage of restoring from an image is that you get back all the tweaks and changes that you’ve made to you windows installation.

By contrast a reinstall from scratch means downloading all the security updates, finding and reinstalling drivers and re-configuring your preferences.

Lets say 4-5 hours compared to 15 minutes to restore an image.

Making it automated

I use Dropbox to sync all my documents to the cloud. It’s a simple as moving all the special folders (Documents, Downloads, Pictures, Music, Videos), into the Dropbox folder and deciding which one you want to sync.

Like before, you only need to do this once.

From this point on any change you make to a document will be uploaded to Dropbox in real time. I think that counts as “automated”.

As a bonus, the plan I subscribe to Dropbox Pro, allows me to recover the last five versions on any document.

This can be a godsend if you change you mind about changes that you’ve made, or overwrite something by accident. No, don’t ask.

Other benefits: Have you ever lost a mobile phone and only then realised that you hadn’t backed up your pictures?

With Dropbox, any pictures I take on my android phone are automatically uploaded to my Dropbox storage and from there are available to any connected device. So easy, so secure

For email I use Hosted Exchange. This provides me access to a Microsoft exchange server over the internet, meaning that all my emails, calendars, contacts and notes are hosted online.

These can be accessed from any compatible device, which includes windows devices, android devices and iPhones/iPads.

Even better, any change you make using one device is reflected on all the others. Neat.

Most devices support multiple email accounts. This means I can access all of my various email accounts through one piece of software.

The trick here is to set up each additional email account using the IMAP protocol. This essentially mimics the way exchange works, syncing email and calendar changes across multiple devices.

Most email providers offer IMAP as an option at the set-up stage. All you need to do is select this.

Minimise additional back-up hardware

That’s easy: I don’t need any additional hardware, just a reasonable internet connection.

Keep it cost-effective

How much do you think you would pay to get your data back if your laptop was stolen or it’s hard drive failed? £100? £500? or maybe more if its critical business data.

The good news is that you can do it all for less than £100/year.

If you use Windows/MS Office the easy solution is an Office 365 subscription. This allows the installation of the full office suite on up to five computers, Office apps for Android and IOS, web versions of the office apps and 1 terabyte of online storage.

The online storage, One Drive for Business, works the same as Dropbox, allowing you to sync your files to the cloud in real time.

In my opinion this is a no-brainer for any business.

OK, so why do I use Dropbox rather than One Drive for Business? Simply because I already had Dropbox when Office 365 and the early incarnation of One Drive were slow, unreliable and there were significant limitations on file names and path lengths.

In one instance it managed to lose all my data and I was only saved by having copies on a USB HD.

While the latest version  is greatly improved I’m sticking with what I know, but it’s your call.

If you prefer Linux you can get many of the same benefits using Dropbox and IMAP email.


I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post and found it useful. If you have thoughts on what I have written so far please leave a comment.

Also if you have an idea for another business topic let me know and I’ll be delighted to find a space for it.

Thanks again

Bob Windmill

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