Make backup plans NOW to keep your data secure

In order to avoid unexpected events, one must prepare for them beforehand. If you accept this premise, it is likely that life in general will be more amenable to you than it would otherwise be. Preparing for the unexpected or unplanned is a part of being a responsible adult and member of society. Of course, like anything else, it can be taken to extremes…but that is a subject best addressed in a psychology blog.

Here, I’d like to discuss the likelihood–yes, even the certainty–that something will go wrong with the devices we use to conduct our daily lives and businesses: our computers.

Every week in the US, it is estimated that more than 140,000 hard disks crash in computers. Every year, that’s 7.3 million drive crashes.

In the world of backups, redundancy is a good thing.

The question “How long will my hard disk run before it crashes?” has been the subject of extensive discussion (http://www.computerworlduk.com/in-depth/infrastructure/1298/vendors-hard-drive-failure-rates-myth-or-metric/). Somewhere between 2 and 3 years is considered to be a reasonable, conservative life expectancy, depending on how much mission critical information is being stored on the disk.

So, it’s not if, but when. Clients often ask how often they should backup their data. I always answer their question with a question: How much data can you afford to lose? …a month’s worth? …a week’s worth? …a day’s worth? The answer is different in each circumstance and can only be answered by the person who relies on the data.

The purpose of a backup is to copy data programs and configurations of a machine so that they will be available when a component of a computer fails. Of course, it’s not always the hard disk that fails, but it is certainly one of the most likely components to fail. With the advent of solid state hard drives, zip drives and other chip based storage devices, the reliability factor for storage using those devices has improved over the conventional hard disk. The conventional hard disk has rapidly moving parts and tolerances that can be affected by dropping, electrical surges, and head and motor failures. However, all of these storage types should still be considered as devices subject to failure without advanced notice.

We’ve talked about how often to backup. Now we’ll discuss what you should backup, and what the best method to use is.

The simplest backup is to copy “end product” files you have created to another storage media. This method is acceptable if you want to preserve word processing files, spreadsheets, financial files, et cetera, which you have created and use. The big drawback is that in the event of a system failure, you may not be able to restore the system files that are needed to get your machine back up and running. You would, however, be able to take the backed up copies of files to another machine and access them there.

A solution that can restore everything you need to get your PC back up after a hard disk failure is creating an image of your disk. This procedure copies everything on your disk, byte by byte. This copy includes configuration files, temporary files, slack space, hidden files and even previously deleted files. You get an exact copy of your disk at the time that the backup was made. This type of backup provides a high degree of certainty and quick turnaround time to get your system back up.

There have been a number of services that have come on the market in the past few years that offer remote backup and storage of your files. These services allow you to load a software program on your computer or file server and then tell it which files to backup. The program runs in the background when you are not using your computer, encrypts your selected files, and sends them to a remote storage facility. Most services can even backup files that are “open” on your machine. These services then run without much need for user interaction and will throttle how much data is being sent over the internet based on how much you are utilizing your machine.

These services do have downsides, though. The initial baseline backup may take days or even weeks to complete based on how much data you need to backup, the internet speed, and the workload of the service’s computers you are transmitting your data to. Once the baseline is completed, the backup time is much less, as only newly changed files are sent for storage.

Then comes the day you have to restore. If it is just a file or two, it’s no big deal–you’ll have your files restored in no time. But if you need to restore everything, you could be looking at a day or two to have all of your data transmitted back to you over the internet. Companies have expedited service they offer in such cases wherein they will transfer your data to a drive and overnight the drive to you. This is, of course, at additional expense to you.

Some high end services even keep a spare machine on your site, make a regular image of your computer’s disk and restore the image to the backup spare machine. These services can be expensive, but on a mission critical machine, may be worth every penny even if used only once.

Here are a few more things to think about when you are considering both protection and the restoration process:

  • Once you have a good backup, you are safe from catastrophic loss of data. Consider taking a backup off site on a regular basis to insure against geographic risk (i.e., fire, act of God, flood, etc.).
  • It is a good practice to close all programs when you do a backup. Have staff close networked programs as well and perform backups when everyone has gone home.
  • Many applications allow you to backup directly from the program (like Quickbooks and Outlook). It never hurts to do backups directly from these programs. In the world of backups, redundancy is a good thing.
  • Consider purchasing a spare machine (or perhaps a spare drive, pre-loaded with your operating system) to replace a mission critical one in the event of a failure. While it may sound like a luxury, the cost and time required to obtain such a machine or drive, if ever needed, would be much grater than downtime you might incur if you cannot work.
  • Windows allows you to set a restore point that returns your computer to a previously working configuration. While it is not a backup per se, it can help you in the event something goes wrong with your computer.
  • You should also consider the backing up devices such as your phones, tablets and other such devices.

If you have any concerns regarding your data backup and the efficacy thereof, consider consulting with an expert who can make sure that your valuable data is protected.

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