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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The scariest thing I can think of is a hard drive crash with no backup.

Are you sure you’re Backed Up?

Today, most of us in business, have our entire business running on computers. In the event of a catastrophic failure, applications can be re-installed, hardware can be replaced but DATA that isn’t backed up is gone. Gone, as in, disappeared, never to be seen again.

Even those of us who do back up:
When was the last time you verified a backup?
When was the last time you checked to see if there is any data on your backup?
When was the last time you did a test restoration of your backup to see if it really works?

“If you haven’t verified your backup system, then you may as well not bother backing up.” And even if you do verify, you may still have other issues. The following scenarios are based on real life occurrences.

Timid Tim was instructed by his supervisor to change the backup tape every day. Tim did this until the day the Tuesday tape became stuck in the tape drive. Tim was afraid to tell his supervisor that he couldn’t get the tape out, assuming she would blame him for the problem. Tim’s solution was to make a new label identifying the tape as Wednesday and put it on the Tuesday tape. He continued this solution with a new label for each day until his supervisor noticed the thickness of the “label.” Bottom line, several weeks passed with no backup.

Rambo Ray is the guy in the office that has a solution for everything. When Ray got a tape stuck in the tape drive he took a firm grip on the tape and yanked it out. Of course Ray also pulled the head of the tape unit out and ripped the power cable out of it’s socket.
Bottom line, a new tape drive which was incompatible with the existing tapes so new tapes had to be purchased as well. A very expensive mistake and no backups for over a week.

A new employee at a local law firm inadvertently deleted 7000 files off of the server her first Friday on her new job. She immediately called our office and suggested she had done something wrong, could we fix it. One of our techs went out immediately and went to the tape backup. Upon checking the tapes, the tech discovered that the tapes were all blank. The tech quizzed the employee whose responsibility was to maintain the backup and found that for weeks an error message had been coming up when the new daily tape was inserted. That error message was never relayed to anyone who could determine what the error was. The employee said she just hit return and the message went away. She left for the night and replaced the tape the next night not realizing that nothing was backed up. Bottom line, no tape backup whatsoever for over two months. The silver lining on this was that our tech, being paranoid, had an ancillary backup from the server to a little used workstation. We were able to get this law firm back to within an hour of the deletion of the 7000 files. However, the main tape backup was worthless.

A new retail business in a new building put their office in the finished basement. The computers were on the floor. Apparently the outside grading was not sufficient to keep water out of the basement on the first major rain storm after they moved into their new quarters. The water shorted out the computers sitting on the floor. Backup was done by copying the data files from one computer to another. Both computers were dead. The new customer list and all the accounting information was gone. Bottom line they had no backup.
A law firm was informed that their file server and tape backup were in danger of eminent failure. Several letters, many phone calls and emails later the server did fail taking the tape backup with it. Our technician was able to re-configure one of their lesser used computers to carry on the duties of the server. The emergency server did not have a tape drive or sufficient drive space for the data produced by the firm. Every other night our tech went in and moved data off of the server to allow the next day’s work to be accomplished. This manual backup procedure cost several thousand dollars of labor but did protect the data. If the server had been replaced on any of the first ten warnings that it was failing, the firm could have saved thousands of dollars in labor.

Many insurance companies are now asking their clients if they have a disaster recovery program.

Do you?

A solid backup procedure is a major factor in disaster recovery. Perhaps your area is not normally bothered by tornadoes, hurricanes, earth quakes, mud slides and other natural disaster that afflict many areas of the country. Don’t try and tell the businesses along the Delaware River In Pennsylvania that there is a slim possibility of any disaster happening. Don’t tell the folks in San Diego either.

Consider the client who was saving data to the hard drive when a car took out a pole on the highway and knocked out the electric. Surge suppressors don’t do a thing when the electric goes out. They suffered a head crash on the hard drive that destroyed it, without a backup they would have been out of business.

Backup is primarily designed to save the data.
If your systems or network were washed into the sea today:
►how much time would it take to replace the equipment?
►find the applications?
►re-install the operating systems?
►set up the network?
►re-install the applications?
►and then be able to restore from the backups?
►What if your tape drive is obsolete?
►How long will it take you to find a way to restore from obsolete media of any type?
►What if your backup was in the same location that is now merrily floating out to sea?

Now is the time to start thinking about improving your backup procedures and implementing a disaster recovery program.

What if you purchased a USB hard drive and the software to backup you videos and those irreplaceable photos of your kids and you procrastinated doing it and one day the hard drive just died, how would you feel? Probably just like someone recently felt when just that happened. It took me several hours to restore the system. Then I tackled the dead hard drive. After several more hours of trying to resurrect the dead, I had to tell them the hard drive was gone and the data along with it. If I had charged them, a bill of $600.00 wouldn’t have begun to cover the labor I put in trying to get those photos back.

How valuable is the data on your home computer, only you know.

What to do?
Almost everyone has a CD or DVD burner in their home computer now. Archive all that irreplaceable data on to DVDs. Oddly enough, in spite to the fact that I backup multiple times a day, the above loss of photos, reminded me to check my photo DVDs and I discovered the last one I had burnt was 2005 and it wasn’t readable. Guess who jumped right on that! Now my photos are backed up on three hard drives and DVDs.

External hard drives are very inexpensive now, compared to the time or money needed to try and recover data. Every Sunday, Staples, Office Max and others have USB hard drives on sale.

Home networks are an easy way to backup. Copy your data to your spouse’s computer and hers to yours.

There is no, that’s NO excuse for not backing up.

2nd Copy is an inexpensive ($30) software package that can be configured to automatically copy your data to other drives. http://www.centered.com/

I sold many copies of it and use it myself. It is not infallible, you need to check and make sure what you want is really being copied but for the price, you can’t beat it. I have tried Norton Ghost and other expensive backup software solutions that haven’t worked nearly as well as 2nd Copy.

So in short, backup or shut up. You are the only one to blame if your data is gone. If that is scary, I don’t know what is?

Happy Halloween!

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