What would happen to your business or your personal records if all of the data on your computer suddenly disappeared? Suppose one morning when you turn on your computer, the screen is black with rows and rows of letters that make no sense? For a moment you panic because client records are gone, your billing information has disappeared, financial, telephone, emails, passwords, and even photographs of your children – all gone. And never believe just because you don’t click on attachments or that you never surf alien websites, that your computer is immune to a crash.
Luckily, most data can be recovered except when the hard drive crashes rendering the disk drive useless and the data irretrievable. Professional data recovery services are very expensive and will never promise to recover all of your data; they “will attempt to recover” your data. The retrieval can be uncertain, and because it requires a highly technical talent and skill, recovery fees are generally very expensive.
Most of us plan for catastrophic emergencies with insurance. We think of fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes, and the consequences of these disasters. Computer failures are normally surprises, but we can plan for a quicker and less expensive recovery from data loss by a different kind of insurance; a data backup plan which can minimize the impact on you, your business, your family, your clients, and your bank account.
Data backup systems are designed to help prevent computer disasters. No matter how careful users are there is no way to keep a network completely foolproof – even with the best firewall. Just a person’s one computer crashing may have represented months and years of work. Organizations of any size that suffer from data loss are apt to lose earnings and business. Data recovery takes time.
Backup managers and IT administrators who fail to restore critical data within realistic time frames damage their reputations and put their employment at risk. Therefore appropriate contingencies need to be in place.
Types of Backups
Normal backups, commonly called Simple Cloning stores files and marks them as having been backed up. There is no proprietary archive formats involved. With this type of backup, there is only the need for the most recent copy of the stored file or tape to restore all files. With the frequent backup, it is faster and easier to restore operations.
Differential backups contain all files that have changed since the last normal backup. The differential shortens and restores time compared to a normal backup or an incremental backup. If you perform the differential backup too many times, the size of the backup might grow to be larger than the baseline normal backup.
Incremental backups store all files that have changed since the last normal, differential or incremental backup. The advantage is that it takes the least amount of time to complete. However, in a restore operation, each incremental backup must be processed which makes for a lengthy restoration job.
Mirror backups are almost identical to normal backups, except the files are compressed into zip files. They are not password protected and are most commonly used to create exact copies of backup data.
Media Choices to Backup Data
Tape Drives are expensive, time consuming, and purchased on a per-gigabyte basis. They are most often used for large multi-user computer systems and personal computers. They are removable and easy to take off-site. Unfortunately, this method relies on human intervention.
DVDs and Pen Drives are compact, physically resilient rewritable or permanent optical discs, but are susceptible to damage and theft. They are less expensive than tape backup systems, and are fast to read and removable.
Hard disks are the most expensive and offer the fastest backup medium. The external drives are heavier and larger than tape drives or DVDs, but are also removable.
Most commercial outfits backup use tape storage such as DLT, but this requires a person to monitor the system, and can become cumbersome tasks. Another method RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) can adopt different configurations of RAID; some known as RAID 0,1,5,10. RAID 1 uses two hard disk drives. Drive B is an exact replica of Drive A. In the event of failure, there is still one drive available and working. While it is ideal for small businesses, it is impractical if the system is stolen. RAID is not usually a practical alternative for a home user because of the expense and technical expertise required to set it up.
Offsite data backup is relatively inexpensive, efficient and accessible remotely. The data is backed up by a primary server that is replicated to a secondary server where the data is encrypted and stored in a secure data center 24/7. Large companies store tapes at secure places far away. Modern backups in the cloud offer an easy and affordable way to secure backups from fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or other disasters, and the special software required to access cloud storage is unlikely to get a virus.
Experts recommend verifying that backups are working properly and that backed up data is really on the disks or tapes. When was the last time you checked that your backup system was operating the way it is meant? It’s not enough to just check if the data is backed up; you need to test the restored data in the environment that you prepared for this contingency. The main reason for failed restoration of data is that the systems have not been tested regularly.
Depending on the IT department, testing should be done every two to six months depending on the importance of the data and the test should simulate the worst case scenario as in a virus or fire where all data has been wiped out.
Think of these rehearsals when you practice restoring your databases and user files in a virtual test environment as what fire departments do – be ready for a disaster just in case and rehearse for the possibility.