Data is important. Whether it is personal – this could mean photographs, family records, or business which could cover tax paperwork, invoices and records of customer details, it can be hard to know how to store data as safely as possible, and how long to keep certain back-ups for.

Retaining data does not just mean keeping it safe, but ensuring that it is accessible at a future point, when needed.  Whilst there are many different back-up options available, it is true that there is no such thing as a storage solution that will last forever.

Today, we look in-depth at the best ways to keep backed-up data secure and available, and how to create a simple and workable model for determining the lifespan of back-ups. 

Spread out the Data

It is never a wise move to keep all of your eggs in one basket, and this is especially true with data retention and back-ups.

The reason for backing-up important data, whether it is personal or professional, is to ensure access in the event of a worst-case scenario, usually a computer or network meltdown. As the backed-up data is so important, it is key to ensure that there are back-ups to the back-up. If something can go wrong with the original data, then it can go wrong with the back-up. Having access to multiple copies is the key, then. 

When data is precious, spread it across a number of platforms.

Use the Cloud

The Cloud is growing every day, with individuals and businesses alike flocking to make use of the storage and accessibility options of a service that does not consume on-site resources.

Dropbox and Amazon S3 are probably the best-known cloud services, but they are just two amongst many. When storing important back-ups, it is the best idea to go with a service that is reputable and has a decent history behind it. Some services may establish and fold in a very short amount of time, disappearing with whatever data they hold.

Dropbox and Amazon S3 both have basic, free accounts. Dropbox gives the user 2 GB of free space to use as they choose; whilst the Amazon S3 free account allows the user up to 5 GB of space. Both services have different paid-for tiers, which differ in their inward and outward data transfer allowances. 

External Hard-Drives

An external USB hard-drive is the ideal solution for a contained, portable back-up. 

Depending on the size of the backed-up data, a decent size hard-drive could accommodate a large amount of data. Moreover, once the back-up is done, put the drive somewhere safe and it has on it a perfect snapshot of what data was uploaded and when. 

The drawback with hard-drive storage is that it is static. Once done, the data is only accessible by attaching it to a computer and opening it up. Unlike Cloud storage where, barring a large network failure, the back-up is always within reach.

Back-Up to Another Computer

Specialised Cloud back-up services such as IDrive, justcloud, and many others enable the back-up of data from one user to another, via the synching of multiple computers to a single account. 

This ensures that other, trusted parties have access to the back-up data, with the ability to copy it in pieces or entirely if they need.

This is a good solution to ensure that not all backed-up data relies on the access of a single user. In the event of an emergency, and that person is unavailable or unable to access the back-ups, then it is the same as not having it. For those looking to preserve or share family photographs and videos, this is a great solution. For those backing-up business data, an addition trusted user or two with access is always advisable.

At a Glance:

·       Spread back-ups across as many platforms as possible. This does much to eliminate the risk of losing data

·       The Cloud – services such as Dropbox and Amazon S3, offer free, off-site storage. This means there is always a remote source for important back-ups.

·       USB hard-drives offer a static, contained way to store back-ups. However, hard-drives do not offer quick access and could become lost

·       Services like IDrive and justcloud offer specialised cloud back-up services. Multiple users can access an account for important data and back-ups.

How Long to Keep a Back-up for

Knowing how long to retain backed-up data for varies and depends on a few different things. 

Firstly, business data dealing with projects or internal matters have no prescribed time limit on them. The business must decide for itself on a policy of data movement and retention. The best approach is to determine and implement a plan for the flow of data through the business, with different processes for different kinds of data. A simple flow might go like this:

·       The Computer: The origin point of the data

·       Once it has served its purpose, it moves on to to its primary back-up location – a folder on the cloud or local server. Data only rests here for one month before deletion. This ensures that the primary back-up location does not become overly full

·       At the same time as creating a back- up for the primary location, a copy of the data goes to the second back-up location – this could be a mobile hard-drive.

This simple example illustrates how a business can keep the flow of data and back-ups efficient and regulated.

When it comes to retaining personal data – details of customer names, addresses and other personal details, the Information Commissioner’s Office has detailed guidance on the different factors that affect keeping this data.

When it comes to tax information and resources, the HMRC recommends keeping data for a year from the time of filing tax returns. Some businesses, however, might keep this in formation for much longer, as it provides important information and once gone, is gone forever.

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