Outlook and QuickBooks: Data Recovery Should Not Come Down to a Coin Toss

Data backup should be as important to your business as an insurance policy. It is crucial to find a method that protects every level of your data.

We all know the worst-case scenario: your network crashed and all your organization’s vital applications and associated data have disappeared. 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 with your employees looking to you for the answers.

Business owners are focused instead on the business at hand and 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. Unfortunately, what many don’t realize is that the back up methods of the past has become painfully out of date in today’s data-centric world.

The reality for most small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) is that not all company data is completely being captured and stored in a safe place. 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.

There is one important question all business owners should ask themselves: “If my computer disappeared tomorrow, could my business survive without past e-mail messages, 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 Backup Dilemma

Outlook and QuickBooks user/company data is notoriously 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special precautions, it is likely that when attempting to restore these critical data files you may find that they are outdated ...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.

Critical, non-standard databases such as QuickBooks and Outlook, 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 IT managers and SMBs empty-handed in the event of a disaster or system failure.

Take Outlook, for example. 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 e-mail messages, calendar events, contacts, schedules, and notes; and the backup of this file doesn’t happen automatically. Backing up the .PST file is critical for restoring your most recent data.

For those of us who are e-mail hoarders, keeping all e-mail correspondence in Outlook over the past year can cause the .PST to reach gigabyte proportions very quickly. These large and unruly files very often produce unexpected problems when backing them up. Countless 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 backup vendor that follows the best practices set by Microsoft. Selecting backup 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 an appropriate cloud storage provider.

Backing Up QuickBooks

Most people place their financial records near the top of the list when it comes to ranking important data. 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 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. From there, schedule your third-party backup software to back up that folder. This ensures that QuickBooks is in a wholesome 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 an .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.

Test Your Backup Confidence

The best way to verify your backup is getting the job done is to run it through a “fire drill.” Wipe the drive of a spare computer and perform a complete restore of your company applications and associated data. Then ask yourself:

  • 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?

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

When it comes to insurance, we never falter in making sure all our belongings are adequately covered. 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 backing up and 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 an ideal world, there would be no need to back up your company’s data; computers and hard drives would last forever, outside threats such as 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.

Jamie brings over 15 years of experience in investment banking and entrepreneurial startups to his role as CEO of KineticD. Jamie holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario.

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