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Data loss comes in all shapes and sizes, from an accidentally deleted document to a catastrophic server failure that wipes out a critical database. Modern businesses are absolutely reliant on data, and on the infrastructure they use to store, process, and access that data. The grim reality is that those systems and the people who use them are fallible. Most business owners are aware that backups are important, but few have a full disaster recovery plan in place.
According to the 2017 Cost of Data Breach Study, the average cost of a data loss incident is $3.6 million. That number is skewed by some truly massive data loss incidents, but every data loss incident costs businesses money, whether it’s a few hours of productive time as an employee is forced to redo work that has already been done or millions of dollars caused by protracted downtime and loss of sales.
Some might say that the leading cause of data loss is the failure to back up, but I think it’s more useful to focus on some of the proximate causes of data loss in US companies.
Most people I talk to about data loss believe that the leading causes are online crime or natural disasters. In fact, by far the biggest cause of data loss is human error. A huge amount of data is lost because people press the wrong button, type the wrong command, or delete something they shouldn’t.
Businesses often focus on hedging against technological causes for data loss, but it’s hard to hedge against the experienced system administrator that, in a moment of distraction, runs rm -rf./ in the wrong directory.
But data loss by human error doesn’t have to be all that complex. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of losing a USB drive: it happens all the time and if the data that is stored on it isn’t backed up, it’s gone for good.
Human error might also include software bugs, which can cause data to be corrupted, overwritten, or simply deleted.
The average lifespan of a hard disk drive is about three years, with an increased likelihood of failure at the beginning and the end of that timeframe. SSDs are more reliable, but eventually they will fail too. All computer hardware will fail on a long enough timeframe.
Physical theft of servers and laptops is less of a problem than it once was. Sure, they still get stolen, but many businesses use cloud platforms and keep their servers out of reach of criminals in secure data centers. But it does still happen, especially to smaller businesses with on-premises server closets.
Ransomware is a huge problem in 2018. Although it’s never a good idea to pay a ransom to criminals, a couple of years ago there was a good chance the your data would be returned if you paid. Today, ransomware creators are far less diligent: they will take your money and you’ll never see your data again.
Floods, storms, fires – these are rarer than human error, but there can be catastrophic consequences. It’s bad enough to suffer a fire or flood on your premises, but the effects are much worse if all your data goes up in smoke too.
The best way to combat data loss is to have an up-to-date disaster recovery plan and a 3–2–1 backup strategy: there should be three copies of all data, it should be kept on at least two different mediums, and at least one of the backups should be offsite.
3–2–1 backups are most easily achieved by combining a local backup strategy with a cloud backup service capable of keeping a comprehensive and up-to-date backup in a secure data center.