that you go to your office, and all the computers
are there, but there is nothing on any of their
hard drives. If that doesn't send a shiver down
your spine, just keep reading.
A survey paid for
by Iomega, makers of the popular Zip drive, shows
that most people don't back up their data.
the survey, 41 percent of computer users do not
personally back up their data. More than two-thirds
(69 percent) of home computer users and nearly
half (46 percent) of work computer users personally
back up their data only once a month or less often,
or they never back up their data
Iomega has a vested
interest in selling Zip drives to back up your
data, so the phrase "personally back up their
data" gives me pause: most larger businesses
rely on their Information Technology (IT) or Management
Information Systems (MIS) department to back up
data, regardless of where it lives.
But my gut tells
me that they're not far off the mark in smaller
companies where MIS/IT is the function of one
person (office manager, tech guy, owner).
A well-run organization (about 30 employees) I
know recently turned off their Microsoft Exchange
5.5 server (ironically, to upgrade the uninterruptible
power supply for the server). When they turned
it back on, the hard drive would not spin up.
And, uh-oh: the backup doesn't want to restore.
Off to DriveSavers (http://www.drivesavers.com)
in Novato, California for their expert help in
recovering "lost" hard drive data. Of
course, that expertise comes at a price: $3,800
for a DVD containing the recovered data. A painful
experience, without a doubt.
Now, you might
ask, "What went wrong with their backup procedure?
Shouldn't they just have been able to restore
the system from their last backup?" To make
a long story short, in the process of upgrading
other system software, the backup process had
stopped working some time back, although not in
an obvious fashion. The missing link here was
actually testing the recovery procedure on a regular
Believe me, I know
how scary it actually is to test your belief that
something works (e.g. unplugging the UPS from
the wall while the server is live). But would
you rather find out when it's just a controlled
test, or when it's absolutely critical that things
work as advertised?
Regardless of how
many computers your business owns, a "reasonably
current" copy of mission-critical data (customer
data, accounting files, ...) must be stored off
site. Your definition of "reasonably current"
may be daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on
how often you add customers or close your books.
The trade-off is the amount of data lost if catastrophe
If you have a single
Windows computer and a decent network connection,
you may want to consider using @Backup (http://www.atbackup.com/).
For $99 a year, you can store up to 100 megabytes
(MB) of data, with convenient, automatic nightly
backup and other features (500 MB costs $299 annually).
This may actually be a cost-effective solution
for larger groups if it avoids the cost of additional
personnel. Additional benefits include off-site
backup (in case the building burns down) and accessibility
from anywhere (in case you need that PowerPoint
presentation on your office machine). But it does
require Windows (95, 98, NT, or 2000) and a recent
version of Internet Explorer or Netscape to operate.
This may be a great answer for your home office.
The growing size
of computer hard disks complicates the backup
problem. For complete system backups, the only
real alternative is tape. It's cost-effective
and can be stored off-site. Tape comes in different
formats (DAT, DLT, Exabyte, LTO, QIC, Travan,
yikes!), but DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and DLT
(Digital Linear Tape) are the ones you should
consider. For reliability purposes, avoid QIC
and Travan tape drives. CD-R, Zip drives, and
diskettes are best suited to storing small groups
In a small workgroup
situation, the best answer is to have a central
file server with a tape backup unit . If you have
a bunch of computers, without a network, this
is one of the best excuses to add networking to
your office, along with a central file server.
A file server does not have to be complex: devices
such as the Quantum Snap! (http://www.quantum.com/Redirect/snap+main.htm)
are easy to install. The shortcoming of the Snap!
(which surprises me), is that it doesn't have
any attached backup facility - you have to back
it up to another machine over its network connection.
You can set things
up so that users store their work on the server
(make it the default file location in applications
such as Microsoft Word). Alternatively, you can
use the server to automatically back up remote
I suspect that
most of my readers will turn to the individual
or organization that maintains their computer
and network infrastructure for help with their
backup policy. In that case, here are the important
things to ask:
- Is our backup
- Do we have an
off-site backup? How current is it? Where is
- Is valuable
data stored on individual user computers? If
so, how is it backed up? Don't forget things
like e-mail folders, documentation, contracts,
contact lists, and calendar data.
- Who is responsible
for making sure data is backed up? Are they
aware of their responsibility and what it entails?
Who covers when they're away?
- Have we tested
our recovery procedure? Recently?
- How do I know
that backup is taking place?
- How automatic
is the backup process?
For those do-it-yourselfers,
you may find these articles on a
painless backupstrategy (http://windows.about.com/library/
weekly/aa030200a.htm?once=true&) and a ten-tape
backup method (http://www.ate.net/pages/tape_backup_strategy.htm)
In my experience,
the only backup procedure that works reliably
from a human perspective is one that is completely
automatic. Unless their primary job is being responsible
for data integrity, most people just expect to
show up at work each day with things as they were
left the night before. One of the biggest shortcomings
of the backup solutions included with Windows
is that they cannot run unattended. Veritas Software's
Backup Exec is a worthwhile alternative.
I strongly encourage
you to institute either a reliable, automatic
backup Yes, it costs money to set up, but that
cost is minor compared to what you'll pay to recover
or regenerate your data, and the business you'll
lose because your systems are down.
And don't forget
to test that it works. Just in case.
Mike Duffy writes
the monthly technology column, Tech Talk, for Sonoma
Business Magazine (http://www.sonomabusiness.com).
His Web site URL is www.mikeduffy.com. © 2002
Mike E. Duffy & Associates. Reprinted with permission.