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Thursday, 24 March 2011

The click of death and how to backup your data to avoid getting caught out.

Monday morning, 8:15am, the kids are getting ready for school, the dog has been fed and you sit down in front of the PC to check emails before going to work.

You press the power button, then it!

A message appears on screen: "Operating System Not Found"

You think to yourself "Hmmm, that's odd." and try again.  click!

What has just happened is a hard disk fail and they are surprisingly common.  Inside the hard drive casing the platters are spinning, but the pick-up heads have slammed into the stop and will not move.  The disk is effectively dead and all your precious data, including photos of Great Auntie Mable are lost.

You break out in a sweat, the children are arguing, the dog is barking and you are stressed.  A nice way to start the working week.

There are three mantras that the IT industry follows.  In order of importance they are as follows:

1. Backup,
2. Backup,

and in case you missed it,

3. Backup.

OK, enough of the jokes, data loss is an incredibly stressful time for anyone.  If you run a business, it could be the difference between profit and loss.

There are several ways to backup your data, ranging from simple manual methods copying data onto a USB memory stick to fully automated system backups both on and offsite.

Let's take an example of each in turn:

Simple USB memory stick backup

Put you memory stick in, copy you data over and unplug.  Easy as pie (to get wrong that is).   It's just as easy to accidentally "Cut" rather than "Copy" and if you do, your data is only on the USB stick, not on your PC.  The memory stick is not infallible and many sticks fail on removal from the machine resulting in data loss just as easily.

USB memory sticks are versatile and useful methods for transporting small amounts of data around, but they are not the solution for long term or secure data backup.

CD and/or DVD

Grab yourself a stack of writable CD's or DVD's and burn you data onto them. An excellent idea and this method can produce permanent (i.e. longer than you probably have to worry about) data backup.  However, it is still a manual process and you need to select the files that you wish to backup.  It is difficult to add data onto the disk without risking the data already backed up and there is a danger that using read-write disks you end up with a corrupt backup archive.

If you choose this method, you should set yourself a regime that ensures a new backup is periodically take and that the data is verified after writing onto the disks.  This is often where manual processes fall over. the vast majority of manual processes start of with good intentions, but other priorities take over and the manual backups are not run periodically or they are not tested.  when you need your data you can come unstuck and end up in the same situation as if you had not taken a backup at all.

Nonetheless, burning data onto a CD or DVD archive is a useful method of producing permanent data backup and it is worthwhile considering if you can attend to the manual processes required.

Automated data backup and recovery

Using tools such as Norton Ghost or Acronis can significantly improve the robustness of you data backup.  For business use, this type of data backup is essential.  Once configured, automated tools are fit and forget.  They run to a pre-defined schedule and with defined criteria that enable you to ensure your data is securely backed up.

Data can be stored one site on CD/DVD's (see above for risks), or on additional media such as external hard drives (even better additional internal hard drives).  Better still, connect a Network Attached Store to you router/switch and you have fully automated backups running independent of machine.

Using these and similar tools you can encrypt the data backup so it is protected from prying eyes and you can configure it to store some or all of the backup data on in offsite repository via cloud or ftp location.  If the worst was to happen you can recover data from the offsite store.

The best backup systems implement a layered approach.  Local backups are stored on internal or external hard drives (or on some server installations on tape drives), or on a central network attached store, One time system images are burnt onto DVD and stored on site for quick reaction and offsite for disaster recover.  Finally critical data is mirrored at an off site location allowing quick access if you main operating premises becomes inaccessible (through fire or flood etc.).

Tinto PC's has a worked with all of these backup methods and is uniquely placed to advise on the best choice for any individual circumstances