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What You Should Know Before Your Computer Crashes

How important is your Outlook and QuickBooks data?

Imagine it as if it's actually happened - your network has crashed and all your organization's critical applications and associated data have vanished. This worst-case scenario is one every business owner fears. Whether it's due to a storm, a break-in or the crash of your hard drive, the loss of your company data can cripple your business, leaving you stranded and holding the proverbial bag.

Business owners often assume that they don't have time to think about data backup procedures, much less the recovery process involved in the event of a system failure. They are focused instead on the business at hand. Unfortunately, what many don't realize is that the stalwart back-up methods of the past such as tape, CD or memory stick have become painfully antiquated in today's data-centric world.

While many small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) think all of their data is being captured and stored in a safe place, the reality is that most SMBs are operating under a false assumption. Your business depends on mission-critical applications and their associated data. The deep dark secret is that many of these programs are not being backed up because, when left open, they are outside the parameters of standard backup procedures.

The question all business owners should ask themselves is simple: "If my computer disappeared tomorrow, could my business survive without past emails, contacts, work schedules and accounting data?" If the answer is no, then it's time to take a closer look at your backup and data recovery procedures.

The Ongoing Dilemma

Many critical non-standard databases, such as Outlook and QuickBooks along with other accounting software and legacy applications, as well as databases such as MS Access and MySQL, are not VSS-aware, meaning they lack the standard that allows files or databases to be backed up when in use. This lack of functionality leaves many IT managers and SMBs empty-handed in the event of a disaster or system failure.

Outlook and QuickBooks user/company data is notorious for being left out of standard backup routine practices. The ongoing dilemma of backing up this critical data continues to be the fact that most of us forget to shut down these programs when we leave for the day. Unless you take special precautions, it is likely that when attempting to restore these critical data files you may find that they are outdated... or worse, corrupted. This is true of many mission-critical programs that keep your business running.

Take Outlook for example; a critical application for businesses of all sizes. If Outlook is not closed, many backup tools are unable to backup the ever-important .PST file, leaving your company open to potential disaster should the program crash. The .PST contains all of your Outlook data, including emails, calendar events, contacts, schedules and notes; and the backup of this file doesn't necessarily happen automatically. Backing up the .PST file is critical for restoring your most recent data.

Additionally, for those of us who are email hoarders, keeping all email correspondence in Outlook over the past year can cause the .PST to reach gigabyte proportions very quickly. These large and unruly files can produce unexpected problems when backing them up. Many backup systems can "time out" or even worse, demand an extra tape or CD to complete the backup routine when your office is closed and employees are gone for the day.

A good starting point is to look for a Microsoft Certified backup vendor that follows the best practices set by Microsoft. Selecting back up software that doesn't conflict with Windows or other low-level drivers, such as antivirus programs and software firewalls, should be a key element in identifying a backup vendor.

When it comes to ranking important data, most people place their financial records near the top of the list. This is especially true for business owners. QuickBooks, the popular accounting software, is another application many SMBs can't do without. The absence of an Application Programming Interface (API) presents additional challenges for protecting corporate financial data. An API allows third-party companies to integrate special functions, such as requests for a data dump for easy backup. Currently, there is no safe method to programmatically dump your QuickBooks data to a safe place for easy backup at the end of the day, and without an API, developers can't create one for QuickBooks.

Intuit recommends scheduling QuickBooks to back up automatically to a specific folder, which allows your data to be verified regularly, and from there, scheduling your third party backup software to back up to that folder. This ensures that QuickBooks is in a good state before your backup software runs. Not following these best practices could lead to a corrupted QuickBooks database file.

Listed below are the QuickBooks files that your company must make sure are backed up:

.QBW = quickbooks Primary Data File

.QBB = quickbooks Backup File

.QBA = quickbooks Accountant's Copy File

(May also be a .AIF [Accountant's Import File])

.QBA.TLG = Transaction log file (for the accountant's review copy)

.QBM = quickbooks Portable Company File (for version 2006 and above).

.QBI = quickbooks Crash Roll Back File

.QBX = quickbooks Accountant Transfer File

.QDT = quickbooks United Kingdom Accountant Data File

The backup challenges of these programs are unique, so take the time to consider alternatives that address this lack of functionality. Some data backup companies provide solutions that include the ability to continuously back up your programs and data, no matter where that device is located and even while the programs are open and in use.

How Confident Are You? - Not Sure? Test It!
Not sure if your data is secure? Just like a fire drill, the best way to make sure is to put your backup method to the test. If possible, locate a spare computer, wipe the drive and attempt to do a complete restore of your company applications and associated data. Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you able to restore your backup files in one simple step?
  • Do you need to re-install all of your applications individually?
  • Do you have easy access to those applications and have you kept track of the associated upgrades?
  • Does your Outlook, QuickBooks and other proprietary data install easily?
  • Do you end up with the most current data when you have completed the restoration?

Most important, keep track of the time it takes you to complete the restoration from beginning to end, then multiply that by the number of computers you have within your organization. Many SMBs are unaware that the "dirty little secret" of data recovery is the time it takes to restore data, which is governed by your company's bandwidth restrictions. When your computers are down, every minute counts.

Conclusion
Data backup should be as important to your business as an insurance policy. Computers can be replaced if lost in a disaster, or stolen during a break-in. But if you don't have a reliable, secure method of restoring your data, all the money in the world isn't going to bring back those missing files. It is crucial to find a method that protects every level of your data.

In a perfect world, there would be no need to back up your company's data; computers and hard drives would last forever, outside threats like malicious hackers and natural disasters would be non-existent and employees would never forget to save a file, or close a program. Unfortunately this perfect world does not exist. For this reason, businesses of all types and sizes know that keeping their data backed up and protected at all times must be of the utmost priority if they wish to remain in business after the fact.

More Stories By Jamie Brenzel

Jamie Brenzel brings over 15 years of experience in investment banking and entrepreneurial startups to his role as CEO of KineticD. His prior business accomplishments are long and varied. He was at Salomon Brothers in London, where he helped build the equity derivatives department into an important profit center. He then embarked on his future as an entrepreneur, acquiring Wood Printing & Graphics, and later co-founding integrated marketing communications company Sonar Group. Jamie then established a solid foundation for Truition, an eCommerce service company for clients such as Dell Financial Services, CompUSA and Sirius Satellite Radio. Jamie holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario.

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