Data Is Everything: 8 Noble Truths

To help organizations better understand the challenges of backup, disaster recovery and secure access, Acronis has created the "8 Noble Truths" of data protection. To view all 8 Noble Truths, please download the whitepaper. This is the first post in an eight-part series to help you protect your data:

Do you know what the most important asset is for your business? Perhaps it's the people who lead the business, make the product or service or sell it? Or perhaps a specialized piece of machinery that makes the product?

Those are all important. You wouldn’t have a business without people or products, of course. But your most important asset is the data that your people, customers, devices and machines create. Data is critical to your business, but its definition is broader than many IT professionals think.

Your sales teams couldn’t sell without customer database information; your finance team couldn’t balance the books or send invoices if the billing system went down; and your CEO couldn’t close a big account without his PowerPoint presentation. Those are examples of data that people think about, and while they're important, they don't include the big "D" Data (not to be confused with "Big Data"). This is information that businesses create but might not be as obvious as important customer or financial documents, and so companies don’t back it up. Instead, it may be stored on hosted systems, tucked away in a management console or located in a special directory that a technician has created.

This type of data is just as critical to most businesses and, if lost, can be detrimental to the bottom line. Big “D” Data includes:

  • Email
  • System configuration data
  • Application and software code
  • Patches, updates, custom scripts and operational processes
  • Facebook “likes,” tweets and other social media activity

Those “1s” and “0s” are critical to businesses and, if left unprotected, lead to significant financial, legal and operational consequences. The risk of financial repercussions is especially great in industries with strict regulatory and compliance requirements. In December 2013, U.S. regulators fined Barclays $3.75M for its failure to properly back up emails, instant messages and electronic records of trades and accounts.

If not financial loss, another consequence is significant lost time. Without backing up applications, IT is left to reinstall each program. Word, Excel and PowerPoint might be easy to reinstall, but Exchange, IIS, SQL Server and Active Directory could be difficult and time consuming. The installation process often requires IT to find the install media, a license key and then answer an assortment of questions demanding complete knowledge of their environment. If that data hasn’t been memorized or saved, IT must do a lot of digging. Without these applications, files are useless and can’t be opened, edited or accessed.  

The loss of big “D” data can also lead to the wasted time it took users to optimize systems and applications, and to configure network parameters. Without customized configurations, the network could slow to a crawl during high usage hours — or not function at all. The downtime will hinder the productivity of the entire business as the IT department matches the work they had previously done.

Data loss isn’t always something that money, time or technology can solve. In 2009, blogging platform JournalSpace lost all data on its main database. The six-year-old company didn’t have a backup, a serious oversight that put it out of business. The culprit? A disgruntled IT employee who had access to the company’s systems.

A Cisco survey found that 20 percent of IT professionals consider disgruntled employees as the biggest insider threat to company data. Of course, internal vulnerabilities are only one threat of unknown, long-term data loss or corruption. What’s more, IT might not even know that something is amiss. The Heartbleed bug exposed the hidden risk of malware, which can capture, modify and corrupt data without IT’s knowledge.

No matter what’s to blame — whether it's a disgruntled employee, unknown malware or even a natural disaster — data loss can be permanent. When it's gone, it's gone. Consider the medical records lost after Hurricane Katrina, or the legal and financial records lost during Hurricane Sandy.

The only way to figure out if data has been lost is through consistent, sound backup of all company data. That includes the stuff IT pros think about (the CEO’s presentation, the customer billing information, etc.) and the big “D” data that might go unnoticed but that's no less important to productivity and profitability.

Whether data protection is your top priority or further down the to-do list, data protection likely falls to IT. When data goes missing, the CEO, VP of sales, CMO and other executives may point fingers, and that means it's up to IT to ensure there's a plan in place to protect and recover all the information that keeps the business running, both data that comes to mind and the big "D" data that might not.

In businesses today, data is everything — and everything is data.

[Image via Can Stock]