Ben Hatton Managing (and backing up) your unstructured data

Paper overflow

Unstructured data is kind of like this, but in digital form. (Image courtesy of Flickr user zoetnet)

A term that is often used within the data backup industry is ‘unstructured data,’ which refers to any type of data that doesn’t fit into a formal structure, like data you would typically find in a database.

Just a few types of unstructured data include:

  • Digital files of any kind, such as Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.
  • Emails
  • Website content

More of your data is unstructured than you think

Unstructured data like this can be more difficult to fully quantify than structured data that you’ll find in databases, but it deserves all the attention it gets. This is because unstructured data accounts for upwards of 80% of all the data that is generated and used by organizations, according to estimates from research firm Gartner. This percentage has been shown to be steadily increasing year over year, as well.

This can present a challenge when you’re trying to maintain a level of control over all of the data that your business generates, as well as a challenge for your data backup strategy. Here are a few basic steps that can help you begin to more effectively manage this data, as well as identify how you can backup each different type.

1. Determine what you have

The 3 examples I listed above no doubt apply to your business (we all have email, right?), but these are just a few straightforward sources of unstructured data; there are many, many more out there. It is important for you to take the time to identify what that data looks like for your own business, and where it resides.

2. What’s the business impact?

Once you’ve identified what your unstructured data looks like, you will want to analyze the overall business impact of that data. In other words, what would be the business impact of losing some of that data? If we stick with those same examples of files, email, and web content, I’m guessing that a major loss in any of those 3 areas would have a pretty substantial impact on your day to day operations. You should take the time to determine the level of impact, and ultimately the level of importance, for each area of unstructured data that your business uses.

3. How do I backup the unstructured data?

By its very nature, unstructured data isn’t always as straightforward to backup as data you will find in a database, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. Anything can be backed up, and each source of your unstructured data is no different. Let’s take one last look at the 3 examples, and some basic backup methods for each one:

  1. Digital files: This type of data can easily be backed up to a file server that is maintained on or offsite, as well as backed up via a cloud service.
  2. Emails: Most email clients allow you to backup all of your emails into a retrievable file format on a routine basis (daily/weekly/on the fly/etc.). These files can also be backed up to any offsite or on premise location.
  3. Website content: The files that make up your website reside on a web server somewhere, and it is wise to enable these files to be routinely backed up to a secondary location as well (creating a full backup copy of your website). Most web hosts allow for this backup function, allowing you to have your site backed up at regular intervals.

Look at what else is out there

These are just a few rudimentary examples of unstructured data, and I’m sure that you can think of many others as well! As this type of data continues to grow, it will become more and more important to gain a firm understanding of where your unstructured data lies, and identify exactly how you will go about backing up that data regularly.

When it comes to backing up your data, Data Cave offers an Offsite Backup service that could help play a role in your overall data backup efforts. I encourage you to reach out and contact us if you’d like more information!

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Ben Hatton World Backup Day 2015

Today is World Backup Day! If you aren’t familiar, this is an annual initiative that promotes the World Backup Day 2015 importance of regularly backing up all of your data. It may not be a recognized holiday, but it’s still a day you should celebrate. And by celebrate, I mean back up your data if you aren’t already.

Here are some interesting facts about data and backup that you may not know:

  • Every day the world creates 2.5 million terabytes of data. In fact, 90% of all of the world’s current data has been created in just the past 2 years.
  • 30% of people have never backed up their personal data before. Backup is an area that some businesses can also struggle with.
  • 20% of all small businesses will be hacked over the course of a year.
  • 1 in 10 computers are infected with a virus each month.

These points should be a huge motivation for being intentional about backing up your data on a regular basis. Whether you back your data up to a separate hard drive or server (preferably at a different location), to a cloud storage solution, or both, I encourage you to use today as a reminder and opportunity to back up your documents, photos, and everything else that matters to you.

Additional resources

To learn more about why a good backup strategy is so important, and some of the implications of not backing up regularly, here are a few previous posts we have written on the subject:

The State of Data Backup in 2015

How effective is your data backup?

Changing your mindset about the Cloud

Take the pledge and start backing up your data today!


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Ben Hatton How effective is your data backup?

Last month I wrote a blog post on the ‘State of Data Backup 2015,’ which looked at several areas where companies can better manage their data backup and restore methods. While that post explored some of the specific activities involved with backing up data, I want to take it a step further by looking at why the things I talked about are so important. A recent study by EMC helps to put much of this into perspective. EMC Data Protection Index

The Global Data Protection Index report from late last year surveyed over 3000 IT decision makers around the world on their data backup methodology, and how this relates to how well protected their data is when a downtime event occurs. We know that last year companies experienced a high level of downtime, and this study not only concurs with that, but also explores how much of an impact that downtime can have, depending on how regularly data is being backed up.

The findings: Do these sound familiar to you?

  1. A total of  69% of primary business data is maintained on-premise.
  2. When it comes to the frequency that data is backed up, only 7% of businesses back up their data at a near continuous rate (or in real time). Additionally, another 16% of those surveyed said that they back up nothing at all continuously.
  3. 57% of those surveyed said that they are not confident that they could restore their data in the event of a hardware failure (one of the leading causes of downtime).

How do these numbers relate to downtime?

The study data shows a strong correlation between the companies who don’t take extensive data backup measures, and those who experience data loss after a downtime event. Of the majority who back up little or no data consistently (about 61%), these same companies are much more likely to lose data when downtime occurs. This makes sense, given the fact that downtime seems to be an inevitability for many companies out there; for the specific companies that EMC talked to for this study, 72% of them experienced unplanned downtime last year. If your data isn’t being backed up regularly, then losing data when you suffer a hardware failure or other downtime can also be inevitable.

How a business responds

These study findings may sound familiar to your own business’s data backup practices, or you may find yourself lacking confidence in your ability to restore your data like the folks in #3. If either of those is the case, then I would implore you to evaluate your backup strategy, what your risks for downtime look like, and consider what changes you could make. In addition to providing a truly maximum level of uptime for your physical equipment, Data Cave also provides a reliable and timely Offsite Backup service that backs up data from your business to our data center. It could be just what you need!


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Ben Hatton How colocation can save you money

Piggy bank

The costs involved with running a data center are very extensive.

We’ve written a lot before about the buy vs. build decision when it comes to data centers, and how buying colocation space at a data center like Data Cave is virtually always the better decision from both a security and financial perspective. And while we’ve touched before on what some of the costs involved with running your own data center can look like, I want to explore this in greater detail for those of you who may be considering the “build” option.

If you build and run your own data center, you should plan for these 3 major cost areas:

Facilities: This includes the up front capital expenditure to physically build the data center, as well as all of the ongoing operational costs associated with managing and running the facility. Everything from the day-to-day maintenance to the purchase of new equipment to the mortgage or lease payments on the building are covered by you, the builder, in this situation.

People: Data center facilities require specialized staff to keep them in operation, and all of the usual employment costs associated with running any business will also apply to the people responsible for running your data center.

Downtime: The big thing that nobody ever wants to think about, the cost and the risk of downtime will be your burden to bear when you manage your own data center. A single downtime event can immediately begin to cost your company money in a number of different areas (for an idea of just what areas, check out our Downtime Calculator). Knowing what your facility’s risk for downtime looks like, as well as how it can impact you financially, are critical when evaluating the “true” cost of running your own data center.

Another important point to remember about downtime is that it’s very hard to fully prevent. Places like Data Cave have highly invested in infrastructures that completely minimize the chance of downtime occurring, and it’s the driving force behind much of our decision-making. Downtime prevention requires a long-term strategy and a long-term investment, both of which are highly difficult to achieve if you aren’t actually in the data center business.

The financial benefits of colocation

These cost areas are just a taste of what you could expect financially if you opted to build your own data center. All of these considered, I guarantee that the 3rd party colocation option would be the much more feasible financial option for you, regardless of your company’s size. Not being responsible for each of these financial burdens allows you to free up resources for projects that are more in line with your business’ core competencies, while leaving the security and physical aspects of your infrastructure (space, cooling, power, etc.) to the professionals who are considerably less likely to ever experience downtime.

To learn more about some of the other key benefits of colocation, I’d recommend checking out these additional resources, or Contact us if you’d like to have a chat about it as well!

Whitepaper: Top 10 Reasons to Colocate

Slideshare Presentation: Buy vs. Build-The case for Data Center Colocation

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Ben Hatton The State of Data Backup in 2015

For years many service providers and industry pundits have made the claim that data backup is “broken,” in terms of the actual methods that businesses use for backing up and restoring data. This claim is often made by companies as a means to market some new backup service they have created that will “fix” the problem (doing a Google search for “backup is broken” will provide you with a lot of information, as well as a lot of sales pitches). While there is a level of hype to keep in mind, many of the reasons for the “broken” nature of backup are certainly valid. Here are just a few that are brought up often: Data Backup

  1. Not backing up often enough: Even though many businesses employ some form of backup for their data, many do not back their data up as often as they should. According to a recent study from EMC, the majority of businesses do not back up their data continuously, and frequently see data loss as a result.
  2. Lack of testing: Backing up your data is a good thing in itself, but the backups won’t count for much if they don’t actually work when a restore is done. Regular testing of doing a restore should be part of a backup plan, and it is another area that is often overlooked.
  3. Explosion in the amount of data that a company generates: The volume of data generated by companies is continually increasing 24/7, a trend noted in the latest report from Gartner, “Addressing the Broken State of Backup.” The report makes a good point in noting that “there is no ‘off’ switch for data anymore.” In other words, the more data that your company accumulates and creates, the higher the stakes are when it comes to having effective backup and restore processes in place.

So is backup “broken,” or not?

I don’t think that using the word “broken” to describe the backup industry is either fair or accurate. To me the items listed above aren’t indicative of a broken system, but rather as signs that we simply haven’t yet caught up to the rapidly evolving data landscape (ie. item #3 mentioned above). I think that as the environment evolves, our needs should be evolving along with it. And with this, our approach to meeting our backup needs should likewise evolve. There is no “brokenness” in the backup industry, only opportunity to improve and grow.

Fixing the “brokenness”

Seizing this opportunity means taking steps to improve your company’s data backup and restore measures, to ensure that they can keep pace with your evolving data creation and usage. Identifying what data you should backup, how often you should be backing up, and how often you should test your restores are just a few of the many things you should consider. Top 10 Tips for Disaster Recovery

Data Cave has a great resource available that can serve as a guide for evaluating your backup strategy: our “Top 10 Tips for Disaster Recovery Planning” whitepaper provides many insights into creating a backup plan, implementing it, testing it, and keeping it current. Whether you are looking to create a backup plan, or improve on what you already have, I highly recommend it!

You can access the whitepaper download page below:

Data Cave Whitepaper: Top 10 Tips for Disaster Recovery


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