Our computers have become almost indispensable ministry tools. What would you do if the worst happened and you had to function without your computers? Would your ministry survive?
This article is the first in a 3-part series on how to protect your ministry from serious computer-related loss. This time we're going to focus on protecting your critical data with effective backups. In the next two installments, we'll cover the basics of network security and finally what you should know about software license compliance.
Ineffective data backups really do have the potential to hurt your ministry. Here are some frightening statistics:
31% of PC users have lost all of their files due to events beyond their control.
60% of companies that lose their data will shut down within 6 months of the disaster.
Armed with the right knowledge, you can protect yourself and avoid becoming another statistic.
Back Up Your Data!
Most people would agree that computer data is one of their most valuable organizational assets. What would you do if all your donor and accounting files were suddenly gone forever because a hard drive on your server crashed? This could also happen through disgruntled employees, accidental deletion, corruption in one of your software programs or even because of an attack from an outside hacker. The first line of defense in protecting your ministry data is to perform regular backups.
What exactly is a backup? It's when you make a copy of your important data and keep it in a safe place, so you can restore that data if it ever becomes necessary later. The most common method of backing up data is to use a tape drive and backup tapes. I'll have some important recommendations for you later in this article, but the critical thing to understand is that you MUST do something?any kind of data backup is better than none at all. If you ignore your data, it just might go away!
Back to the Future
Remember the 1985 movie "Back to the Future"? Just like the character in that film used a sports car to travel back in time, you can take your ministry back in time, too. Instead of keeping just one backup copy of your data, you should set up a system that keeps copies of your data for set time intervals (every day, every week, every month, every quarter, every year, etc.). Use a different tape or disk for each backup you make and then label them by date, and you will soon have a library of archived data backups you can restore from as needed.
Why go through all that trouble? Well, suppose you find out that a very important Excel spreadsheet is now corrupted and you can't open it. You haven't used it for several months, and your backup strategy has been to keep writing over the same tapes every week. Chances are all the backups of that Excel file are probably corrupted, too! But what if you would've used a different strategy and kept an archive of your backups for each month of the previous year? You could then easily go back in time to the month when you knew the Excel file was still working and restore that copy?the issue would be quickly & easily resolved. Time travel can be pretty useful sometimes!
How to Make Effective Data Backups
If you have multiple computers networked in your office, keeping all your data in a single location (like a file server) and backing that up every night is the recommended way to perform backups. I would also recommend using a 20-tape rotation, which gives you the ability to "go back in time" up to a whole year (in various intervals) to restore important files.
You should also keep the most recent copy of your backup off-site (i.e., at another location away from your office). This is critical because if your building burned to the ground, your data backups would be destroyed right along with it. With a recent off-site copy, you could restore what you need on new equipment and get back to the business of ministry quickly.
I recommend using enterprise-quality backup software to perform your data backups. Good software, like Veritas Backup Exec and Computer Associates BrightStor ArcServe will schedule everything for you, run automatically and keep logs of everything that does and doesn't get backed up. These programs can also notify you by email (or some other method) when a backup is finished, if it was successful and whether or not you need to address anything. Aside from a little ongoing monitoring, everything can be automated. All you have to do is remember to change tapes every day.
If you're a home office or small office user without the resources to do tape backups, a ZIP drive, an external hard drive, a CD/DVD burner or even one of those cool little USB jump drives that fit on a key ring would all be options to consider. There are also services that let you do online backups over the Internet for a monthly fee. These are good options, as long as the amount of data isn't too large. Some services you can check into include Remote Data Backups, U.S. Data Trust's LiveVault Online Backup Service and iBackup.
Another Form of Insurance
Backups are really like another form of insurance. What kind of problems would you have if your ministry data was wiped out? Could it be replaced at any price? With a relatively small initial investment in equipment and some ongoing monitoring and maintenance, you can practically guarantee that your critical data will be available when you need it.
Protecting your data by effective backups is only part of the solution. Next time we'll talk about some simple steps you can take to protect your network against hackers, viruses, disgruntled employees and other potential vulnerabilities.
Donnie Schexnayder is a ministry technology expert. He holds industry certifications from Microsoft and CompTIA and has over 10 years experience in supporting churches and Christian ministries with technology. With a mixture of passion and expertise, Donnie helps ministries advance their mission of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth by using cutting-edge technology. Donnie lives with his wife and 2 children in Colorado Springs, CO.
Eternitek: Advancing Christian Ministries Through Technology