The population of Ireland is approximately 4.25 million, and of those almost half are working, with three-quarters of a million employed in the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector.  The SME sector consists of businesses which employ 50 people or less and cover all enterprises not governmental or agricultural in nature.  Keeping these businesses operating successfully has a huge impact on the economy as a whole.


Given the digital age we live in, it is inconceivable that record-keeping for SME’s is still done with pencil and paper.  Even the smallest of the small businesses will rely to a large extent on computers and the internet. This means that all company records, transactions and correspondence is stored on a computer hard drive. This exposes them to a very realrisk of catastrophic loss of information in the case of disasters such as fire, flood or theft.  Such disasters are, fortunately, few and far between.  However, there are other ways in which an individual or SME can suffer a catastrophic loss of data: viruses, corruption of files, hardware malfunctions (also known as hard drive crashes) and negligence or sheer incompetence on the part of the operator, can wipe out everything.


It is, therefore, imperative to have a reliable system to backup all data on company computers.  Since the beginning, the most common method has been tapes on which all documents are recorded once a day and the tapes kept for a week.  All too often the tapes are stored next to the computer (albeit usually in a fire-proof box), exposing both to the same risks of natural disasters.


The system works in most cases of computer failure, but research has shown two facts: while data is recovered, in three-quarters of the cases studied, data recovery was only partial; and more alarmingly, one out of two businesses which suffer a significant loss of data, do not survive.


The modern trend is towards online backup in which data is stored off-site by companies dedicated to disaster recovery. Online backup offers several advantages over the old style tapes in terms of safe storage, very high recovery rate, and the ability to download the data to any computer, making loading a new computer extremely simple.  In addition, the data is continuously uploaded so that you are protected against loss of data between tapes.


Yet Irish SMEs have been slow to adopt online backup, citing concerns for the safety and integrity of data transmitted over the internet.  Back in 2007, when less than 10% of SMEs were even planning to convert to online backup, this may have been a concern.  But encryption has improved and there are alternatives to sending data over the open internet, which should allay most fears.


Certainly, the proliferation of companies offering online backup services to Irish SMEs (including the sending of recovery data via private networks) suggests that, in the not too distant future, large companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, and even individuals, will be entrusting their data to online backup systems.