Imagine this - you arrive one morning to find that a faulty read-write
head has crashed your server's hard disk overnight, rendering
it useless. Or a small electrical fire has destroyed part of your
office, including your server. This server was used to store customer
lists, payroll details, accounting details, purchase orders, inventories
and other data vital to the running of your business, built up
after years of operation and growth.
You find that you were seriously ill-prepared to deal with such
a disaster. Virtually all of your business' data had resided in
this one location. No copies were made. You are faced with the
fact that many years' worth of data has been lost forever.
Insurance will replace materials, equipment and office space,
but will that be enough to get your business up and running again?
Your vital business data can't be claimed on insurance, it can't
be replaced with money alone. Would your business survive after
significant data loss? Unless you have a good backup system already
in place, the statistics are grim...
Just as the costs of fire damage can't be covered by insurance
bought after the event, the costs of data loss can't be avoided
by acting after the loss has occurred. It is vitally important
that data is backed up before encountering hard disk failure,
viruses, malicious software, mistakes by employees or other causes
of lost data.
Listed below are the 7 steps that we consider essential for
the protection of important data.
1. Central storage of data on the network
The first step in setting up a backup system is deciding what
needs to be backed up. Ask yourself, what can I afford to lose?
For example, the latest Windows Service pack can be downloaded
again, so there is little need to protect it; your customer database
cannot so easily be replaced. Once you have identified the information
you need to back up, you need to know where it is stored. Although
it might seem counter-intuitive at first, as much of your critical
data as possible should reside in one place on the network. It
is far simpler and easier to backup, restore and protect one machine
than several. As a side benefit, physical and network access to
that machine (and therefore to critical and perhaps sensitive
data) can more easily be restricted, improving security.
2. Multiple backups
You don't want to have all your eggs in one basket. There are
many reasons why your company should have access to several full
- A single backup could fail. Tapes, CDs and hard drives all
wear out eventually, so you shouldn't rely 100% on a single
backup to store your data. The more copies you have, the less
likely you are to lose all of your data to wear, fire damage,
water damage, etc.
- In the case of accidental deletion, data loss is often noticed
days after it occured, which means that if your only backup
is from last night, you have no way of retrieving the data.
- Restoring files that were deliberately deleted months or even
years ago, when you thought you would never need them again,
can often be of great benefit.
3. Off-site backups
If your office burns down, you don't want all your backups to
burn with it, so it's important to physically move some of your
backups off-site. We recommend that any weekly, monthly, quarterly
and yearly backups are stored off-site at a secure location.
4. On-site backups
While it is important to have some backups off-site, you don't
want to have to travel back and forth whenever you need to retrieve
a file. For this reason it's useful to have recent daily backups
available on-site to allow for quick recovery of files. These
backups are still important, and for reasons of security and reliability
it is best to store them in a secure place such as a fireproof
safe, rather than next to the server or on the System Administrators
If you need to restore a file or a whole system, you want to
be sure that all backups completely successfully. It would be
disastrous to learn that your backups had failed only when you
attempt to perform a restoration. One way to ensure that each
backup has been performed successfully is to check the backup
logs each day. An easier method is to acquire backup software
that notifies you daily of the backup status and can alert you
to any problems.
6. Follow the plan
If you are using tapes, disks or removable hard drives for backing
up, you will need to remember to change these regularly depending
on the backup scheme you are using. Neglecting to do this could
cause the backup to fail or could result in an important previous
backup being overwritten. It is also important that you insert
the right device, as having the 4th-of-June backup data on the
1st-of-January tape would make the right data very difficult to
7. Regular file list updating
As you install new programs, add hard drives and create new files,
it is important to know that all new data is also protected. Of
course, if you are backing up the whole C: drive, for example,
any new files or programs on that drive will also be backed up
automatically. However, if you are only backing up specific, important
files, it is vital that you keep this list up to date, or you
risk losing valuable data.
Keep in mind that the average failure rate of a hard disk is
100%, as every drive will fail eventually. Make sure you stay
in business by following the seven points listed above. How do
you do that? Well, that's where a backup software
package can help. Data protection need not require a full time
IT professional; it can be done by almost anyone with a bare minimum
of time to spare -- all you need is the right tool. Backup software
can automate much of the process, covering the seven steps above
and providing comprehensive data protection for your business.
Linus Chang is a backup expert and the lead developer of BackupAssist
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