Backup Backup Backup!

We all should recite this little chant until we are blue in the face and get into the rhythm of obliging the namesake phrase.  So many individuals and small businesses do not have ample data protection policies and procedures in place to safeguard their digital worlds. Computer users store business letters, data sets, school assignments, photographs, etc., usually on a single hard disk inside of their personal or business computers. Since it is possible to lose data from primary storage at any moment, it is imperative to assess your personal and organizational data storage and backup needs. All too often people learn the hard way, especially when it comes to information safety and security. Don’t fall victim to the learning the hard way! Learn to preempt a disaster and implement backups on a regular basis to safeguard your personal or organizational data.

What is backup?
Backup is the process of creating duplicate copies of data for the purposes of being able to restore to that point in time should the primary documents become unavailable or inaccessible. Documents can become corrupted or accidentally deleted, computers can be damaged by fire or even stolen, and inevitably computer hardware fails over time. Duplicate your data. Backup!

What to backup? When to backup?
The first step towards preventing data loss is to understand your personal and organizational backup needs. Make a list of files and folders, including word processing documents, spreadsheet documents, photographs, databases, and all other digitally stored documents that you or your organization could not afford to lose. Define what would constitute an acceptable loss, should this data be unrecoverable. Can the documents be recreated or would they be lost forever? How much downtime would be acceptable? For organizations, critical documents encompass such things as financial documents, day-to-day operational documents, etc., and for individuals, personal banking records, receipts, proofs of purchase, appraisals, personal photographs, etc., should be backed up to remote sites on a routine basis. After defining what needs to be backed up, define an acceptable backup schedule, taking into account the present volume of information, duration of time required for completing a backup, expected growth rate of the data store, and cost of storage technology needed to implement the backup policy.

Backup Options
Backups can be written to duplication media locally onsite and/or remotely to data centers offsite. Local backups require additional storage hardware on premises. Remote backups deposit data to remote network drives across the Internet. Creating both local and remote backups on a scheduled basis is strongly recommended to protect against data loss.

Online Remote Backup
With the widespread availability of high speed Internet access, backups can be securely transmitted via wired or wireless Internet connection to anywhere in the world. There are backup hosting companies that provide this service at reasonable costs to individuals and organizations of all sizes.   The leading vendors of online remote backup are Mozy, Carbonite, and Norton Online Backup. There are also numerous other vendors such as SOS Online Backup, iDriveDollyDriveBACKBLAZE, etc., that make up the online remote backup arena. When choosing a backup provider, it is important to understand the service level agreement and the providers’ obligations to you. Each provider has different levels of guarantee, different capacity agreements , and of course different pricing schemes. Peruse through all the options and chose the one that is best for you or your organization.

Local Backup
Local backups can and should be made in addition to remote backups. It is important to do so for two reasons. 1, the process of local backup and restoration takes significantly shorter periods of time, minimizing downtime. 2, having a secondary backup is always good policy in the event of recovery failure from one of the backups. In many cases a blended approach to backup will suit individuals and organizations well.

Local backups can be accomplished using a variety of physical media, however as technology has progressed, hard disk media has declined in price significantly as storage capacity continues to increase. Local drives can be directly attached to individual computers or attached to the local network.  Direct attached will be faster, but network attached could allow multiple machines to backup to a single network drive. Storing local onsite backup copies in the same building as the original copies may not be such a good idea in the event a disaster strikes. To account for this potential danger, traditionally, backups were written to disks and then carried offsite to a secondary secure location, requiring the rotation of multiple physical backup media. This process is still an option, but due to the ability to leverage online backup, if you or your organization is willing to shell out the subscription fees, it may be unnecessary to create a physical local backup rotation.

Local backup drives are available from a variety of vendors. Personally, I like the Western Digital MyBook Studio II for directly attached storage for either Mac or PC since it has multiple interfaces (USB port, FireWire 800, Firewire 400, eSATA) and large capacity drives, capable of redundancy. Mac users can harness the seamless power of Apple’s Time Capsule network attached storage device. Windows users, although it is a bit pricy,  can leverage the power of Windows Home Server, on hardware by HP, Lenovo, Acer or Asus. Alternatively, Windows and Mac users can also use a variety of third-party backup utilities that usually ship with other Network Attached Storage devices from Western Digital, Lacie, Seagate and iomega.

How to Backup?
Luckily, both Windows and Mac OSX natively have the ability to run local backups to external local backup drives or local network shares, using Windows Backup and Time Machine respectively.

* Third party software is also available and many times comes packaged with the backup hardware.

A Note on Free Online Services
Inversely, with the rise of cloud computing, services such as Google Apps, iCloud, iDisk, Windows Live Mesh, DropBox, etc, provide wonderful primary storage and cloud based replication of files, contacts, calendar events, messages, etc. Remember, unless you or your organization is a paying subscriber, these are free services without a service agreement. There may be no contractual obligation for these services to actually work and continue reliably. It is not uncommon for companies offering free services to eventually discontinue service as this tends to be stipulated in their terms of service. Understanding this, it is important to create manual backups of your files, calendar events, contacts, messages, etc. Legally, the transfer of money constitutes a commitment to a contractual obligation and binds a company to the service agreement, thus if you want reliability, always pay for service(s) instead of relying on free services.

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Once a backup procedure has been put in place, it is just as imperative to test the backups integrity by recovering files from backup to make sure the backup and recovery process actually works. Backup success or failure should be monitored manually on a scheduled basis.

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My Personal Backup Procedure
As I rotate between locations throughout the week, I plug my laptop into the following:

  • 1TB USB drive at work
  • 1TB USB drive at my apartment
  • 1TB USB drive at my folks’ house

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Happy Computing!

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