Many people believe the highest priority of IT is disaster recovery preparedness, the ability to recover after a major data loss, or after a ransomware attack. We often call this a backup plan, because it all starts with good backups. So, what’s your backup plan?

Is Data Really at Risk?

Simply said, YES! Churches and ministries are not immune from data loss, and organizations deal with recovering from data loss at some level all the time. Consider these threats:

  • Data is stored on hard drives or flash storage somewhere, and like any man-made device, those can—and do—fail.
  • People accidently delete data.
  • Data is vulnerable to ransomware (virus-like malware that encrypts and locks data so it cannot be used again until a ransom is paid).
  • The building where your data is stored is vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters.

Apply to those an appropriate vulnerability-multiplier because we have an enemy that is interested in doing whatever it can to inhibit our progress in fulfilling the mission to which the Lord has called us.

Here’s What We Recommend, and Why

A good backup plan has the following components:

  • Backups are comprehensive, and happen automatically. Backups should encompass everything needed to recover from a disaster quickly. And they should not need to be manually triggered, but should happen automatically. For example, every workday night.
  • Backups are tested on a schedule. When backups are made, they should immediately be tested by the backup software to ensure they are accurate backups. But that’s not enough! The backups should also be tested—perhaps monthly—to be certain what we think we can rely on really can be relied on. I recommend choosing a data folder at random each month and restoring it, then checking to see if the files that were restored can be opened. We have seen problems that keep the restored files from being usable; the only way to be certain is to test your backups before you need them.
  • Backups have an off-site component. It is possible to lose an entire building to a disaster. For that reason, it is wise to have a recent backup stored with enough geographical separation to protect your organization from a larger disaster.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Our favorite backup software to run at a server level is Veeam. For those using virtual server technology, Veeam can restore entire servers very quickly. Veeam can also do file-level restores and email-level restores for email servers.
  • We prefer backing up to tape rather than to other types of devices. Using LTO5 or LTO6 technology, it’s possible to backup very large servers quickly and efficiently. Some recommend online backup solutions and external hard drives, but they have challenges that cause us to think they’re not the best choice:
    • Online backup solutions are good for consumers, but not for full server backups. We know of three mega churches that tested their online backup solution provider’s offer to send the entire backup on a drive, and each of the three was not pleased with the results.
    • External hard drives have a lot of moving parts, and thus fail easily.
    • Tape is still the preferred choice of corporate America because it’s simple and reliable.
  • If a church or ministry is large enough to have a SAN (Storage Area Network), we encourage it to seek another church or ministry of similar size that is willing to exchange SAN replication.
  • Backup the entire data server each work night, and take one tape off-site weekly.

Going a Step Further

I like to take that strategy a step further whenever possible. If you have a Mac on your network with enough storage capacity, have your network synchronize its data to a folder on the Mac; we like Owncloud to accomplish this, but there are other tools available too. Then, using the Mac’s Time Machine app that is part of the operating system, backup the Mac to a large external hard drive. This will allow you to store versions of files going back as far as your external drive has the capacity to maintain.

My wife is a CPA, and she shares office space with us. Most of her client projects are annual. Using this strategy, if she tries to open a spreadsheet that has become corrupt, we can restore a version going back more than a year from the last time she did work on behalf of that client!

Documentation is Key

Use an app like Visio or Lucidchart to create a simple network diagram that includes key IP addresses, server service tags or serial numbers, and what services run on each server. Document any “unique” details of your network to keep the users and mission of your church or ministry moving forward once you’ve left.

Back Yourself Up!

Another great way to ensure a positive succession is to have a relationship with an IT vendor that can continue the IT vision for your organization in your absence. A terrific side-benefit is that you can take your much-needed vacation without getting interrupted because your vendor has your back!

Spending just a few hours creating documentation and searching for an IT vendor you can trust will go a long way towards your team blessing you on your heavenward journey (or earthly vacation). And because it’s good management, or stewardship, you will hear “Well done” at the end of the road.

Some call natural and man-made disasters resume-generating events for IT professionals who were not doing their due diligence in the backup/disaster recovery department. As personally tragic as that could be, imagine how tragic it would be for a church or ministry called to share the gospel and disciple believers—the most important calling on Earth!—if their data loss meant having to start from scratch! Disaster recovery is worth the effort and expense. So… what’s your backup plan? And: do you test it?