It is generally acknowledged that computer technology is getting more powerful and more reliable day by day. This means that when one of our computer’s parts fail, we are more surprised and mortified than ever. A failure can mean the loss or destruction of data and it is most certainly not a good thing. Whether the data are photos or music files on your personal laptop or the last 20 years of customer activity stored on your business server, its loss can be, shall we say, problematic. Putting a solid backup strategy in place can take a bit of time and maybe a few dollars but the peace of mind can be priceless. It might even save your job or your business.
Simple in concept, a backup of a computer is the process of copying the contents of its hard drive to another device. If the hard drive fails or if the contents are accidentally erased or corrupted the contents can be copied back to the drive or copied to a replacement drive.
Josh Granoff, CEO of Righthand IT Solutions in Lafayette, CO., cautions that the biggest problem they see with data backup plans is that all too often no one in the company is sure that the backup procedure is working. “Sure the staff member changes the tape in the tape drive every morning but no one is checking to see what is actually on the tape”, Granoff notes.
Several things to consider when planning a backup strategy: time, location and devices.
As Al Capone used to say, “Vote early and vote often”. This sage advice applies to backups as well. When and how often you run your backups are important considerations. Big jobs can be run in the early morning hours when the office is closed. Critical data or data that changes frequently should be backed up more often, sometimes every few minutes. Another aspect of frequency is the number of copies you plan to make. If you have one backup tape and it gets overwritten every night there could be problems if the data becomes corrupted and no one notices for a day or so. It is better to keep multiple copies.
The location of the copied data is extremely important. Keeping backups on-site is certainly convenient but to prevent loss due to fire or theft a good backup plan includes a process to put copies off-site as well. “Online backup services” have become more reliable and reasonably priced in the past few years, google to review options for business and personal solutions.
The devices you utilize for backups will be determined by the two factors we have discussed and the amount of data that you need to secure. For personal computers an external USB hard drive can work very well. CDs and DVDs are two other options and are well suited for data that accumulates rather than changes. Think digital photos and MP3 music files; collections grow but the files themselves rarely change.
For business-class backup solutions there are some additional considerations: multiple workstations on a network with one or more servers; data that is changing more frequently and is arguably more valuable than the photos you took at the last Hannah Montana concert.
To minimize the threat of data loss for a business, Granoff recommends a plan that includes placing a NAS device (network attached storage) on the network for frequent backups throughout the day and implementing a nightly backup to an off-site online service. While many businesses still rely on digital tapes, their time has passed. Speed and capacity have become limitations in the face of today’s ultra mega gargantabit hard drives.
Perhaps the most unpredictable element of a sound backup plan is the human element. Keep it simple or it will be neglected, automate the process as much as possible. There are a variety of software applications that will automate much of the process. Symantec Backup Exec, Genie Backup Manager and Acronis True Image typically receive good reviews from the IT and consumer press. Windows Server software has built-in backup applications that can be a good foundation for a backup plan.
If you don’t have a backup plan in place, get one – today. If you do have a plan in place, review it thoroughly – today. Slight pause here while I step down from my soapbox and go to check my backup drives.