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The Importance of Backup Systems


Even though most of us know that we need to do regular backups, the fact is that many us don't. In part 1 of a two-part series, we review why it's important to perform these backups on a regular basis.

Earlier this week a client contacted me with a rather severe problem. When I arrived on the scene, I discovered that the problem was far worse then I had originally thought. Originally, I thought that the server's hard drive had crashed and would need to be replaced. While this is without question a serious problem, I knew that the server was equipped with a RAID [define] system that replicated [define] the data across multiple hard drives. (A RAID system provides redundancy for your data. So in the event that one of the hard drives fails, as was the case here, all you need to do is replace the crashed hard drive with a new one and let the RAID array rebuild the data onto the new drive).

Unfortunately, the problem was even more severe then I had originally feared. It turns out that the entire RAID array was damaged. This means that all of the hard drives that made up the array needed to be replaced and the data had to be restored from backups before the server could be brought back online.

This is where the nightmare begins. The client had a problem with their tape backup drive about rwo months earlier and, as a result, did not have any current backups of the data. This meant that once the RAID array was back online and the tape drive was functional, I would have to find the last complete backup they had, (which in this case was Feb 7), perform a restore and then visit each PC to get that data copied back to the server. This means that it could take weeks before that is fully restored. Even then, some missing data will never be recovered.

When they first informed me of their tape problems, I tired to impart on them the seriousness of the situation and how important it was that the tape drive be repaired or replaced as quickly as possible. They failed to heed the warning. Now they're paying the price.

You don't have to suffer the same outcome. Despite the fact that my client was negligent in getting the tape drive repaired, this problem was not unique to them. In fact, this problem has affected many of us — particularly those users who spend a lot of their time working on the road or from a home office. This problem isn't exclusive to non-technical people. Even some of the most experienced techies I know have often fallen into this trap. As a matter of fact, an associate of mine just recently had the hard drive in his laptop crash. He didn't have a current backup and as a result, lost six months worth of work.

The point of this is that even though most of us know that we need to do regular backups, the fact is that many, if not most of us, don't do it. So let's take a moment to review why it's important to perform these backups on a regular basis. Here are six of the more popular ones:

  1. The Human Eraser — Have you ever reformatted a hard disk when you meant to format a floppy? Have you ever typed "Y" when you meant "N" and then it was too late? Have you ever overwritten a file by mistake? How about installing software you later found you really did not want? Today's computers can do a lot of damage in a very short period of time. The fastest erasers known consist of a fast computer combined with an unprepared or tired brain. Backup systems can save you hours, days or months of trying to reconstruct your valuable data. Before you do any important system change, such as adding hardware or software, remember to backup before you proceed.

  2. Hard disk failure — MTBFs (Mean Times Between Failure) [define] have improved dramatically in the past several years for all peripherals. But so have data capacity — and the amount you could lose if your disk fails. The problem is you never know when a failure will occur. And, according to the Murphy's Law, the loss will occur at the worst possible time. Backup systems give you immediate and automatic protection from unpredictable disk failures.

  3. Virus protection and spyware protection — Some unscrupulous individuals continue to write viruses that innocently hide in shareware [define] programs and all throughout the Internet. These programs have the capability to copy themselves and load into your system along with the software you think you are getting. Once loaded, they proceed to wreak havoc with your system, causing errors, lockups and loss of data. A reliable backup system can restore data lost through virus infection when used in conjunction with good virus detection software and an earlier backup.

  4. Free up disk space — While we can't stop the steady growth of application software and related data, we can help you do something about it by allowing you to offload some of the less-used files from your hard disk to a secondary storage medium like tape or DVDs. Removing those inactive files can open up your hard disk for new programs or growing data files. Inexpensive DVD or tape cartridges are a sure way to archive your programs and data while still keeping them accessible when you do need them. It could even enable you to put off buying a larger disk.

  5. Events beyond your control — Both natural and manmade disasters inject a disconcerting variability into any application that requires large amounts of data storage. These include fire, floods, lightning and outright theft. After such an occurrence, how will your business survive? Many don't, according to statistics. Regenerating vital billing or customer information would be very difficult from paper records, if not impossible. Backup systems protect your data against such calamity. Besides doing daily backups, plan to do an extra backup weekly. Then store the backup either in a fireproof safe or at an offsite location. If your system goes, your data stays — it may mean the difference between business as usual and bankruptcy.

  6. Large file transfers — Transferring large volumes of data can be time-consuming. Tape backup drives in particular have the capacity for very high data transfer rates making them ideal for moving large quantities of data between systems. Tapes are also compact, inexpensive and have a long shelf life. So your data will be archived and accessible for years to come. And with a tape backup system you can conveniently send a tape cartridge across the country, through the mail or across the office in your shirt pocket.

Now that we have been reacquainted ourselves with the reasons why backing up our systems is so important, we need to figure out how best to go about doing it so that it happens consistently and reliably. In our next installment, we'll discuss some of the different backup methods available and take a look at some of the different backup mediums now available. Till next time.

  — Ron Pacchiano


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