Before the Crash

Tredd Barton Comments
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Given time, all computers fail. They may run for years without a hiccup or may crash within months of purchase. You can protect yourself by copying and storing data in a safe place. Many businesses don’t want to spend the money or time to properly protect data, but given the investment made to create it, and the possibility that it could be lost forever, the price of proper backups is well worth the money.

Manufacturers of hard drives, motherboards and even Pentium processors realize their products will eventually fail, so they attempt to calculate how long they will last by determining a “mean time between failure” (MTBF) range for each. This gives you some idea of how long your computer will last, but there is no guarantee. Regardless, if you have a disaster-recovery plan, proper backups will save you from complete devastation.

Media Choices

Backing up data requires copying files from a PC to an external media at a remote site. The external media choices vary by benefits, drawbacks, costs, storage capabilities, ease-of-use during backing up and restoring files, and portability. Some devices are a combination of a drive and storage media, such as an external hard drive, while others have a drive and removable tapes or disks, such as an Iomega Zip drive or CD-RWs.

When creating a disaster-recovery plan, envision the worst by asking yourself, “If my business burns to the ground, will I be able to restore my data on another computer and get up and running in an acceptable amount of time?” If you use a drive and removable disk, and only store back-up disks offsite, does your other computer have capability to read those tapes or disks?

For back-up media, you may choose any of the following:

  • Floppy disks 
  • External hard drives 
  • Rev drives 
  • Zip drives 
  • Tape drives 
  • Optical drives 
  • Flash drives 
  • CD-RWs 
  • DVD-RWs 
  • Remote computers 

Floppy disk have a low MTBF and, therefore, aren’t the best choice for backups; other choices should be evaluated by cost and how much data can be stored. My favorites are CDs and external USB hard drives because they back up data quickly and can be used with almost any computer for data recovery.

Schedules

To save data, the simplest method is to drag and drop the files or folders you want to backup to the removable media. This should be done daily or weekly, depending on how important you value your data. Even a safer method is to let automated software execute backups. Microsoft has included back-up software with every version of Windows since Windows 95. There are also third-party software vendors with excellent products for backing up data.

A still safer plan is to back up data every night with a media rotation once a week. For most people, it isn’t practical to move saved data to an offsite location every night. Instead, you can use the same back-up media for a week, move it offsite, and rotate to a second media device.

In this way, if the building burns down, you lose less then seven days of data because you have last week’s backup offsite. If the computer crashes because of a virus or hard drive failure, you lose less then 24 hours of data because you have last night’s backup in the office.

This rotation schedule involves swapping the media once a week and reduces the hassle. But, if you choose low-cost CDs, DVDs or magnetic tape for backups, you can skip the rotation, move the newly created media offsite once a week and purchase new media as needed.

Costs

The cost of your disaster-recovery plan is based on the type of media you choose, whether or not you purchase third-party back-up software, and how you decide to store the media offsite. If you already own a CD burner, plan to store your backed-up CDs in a previously purchased fireproof safe, and decide to use the free Microsoft back-up software installed on your Windows XP computer, the total yearly cost is $17 for one backup per week. You can purchase a 50 pack of CD-R disks for $17, which can back up 700MB data once a week for nearly a year.

Or, you can hire an outside consultant to install a high-end Quantum CL 800GB tape back-up device, purchase back-up software and store the media at an offsite media-storage company. Start-up costs the first year would be about $9,600; consecutive years would cost approximately $1,000.

These two examples represent the extremes; your company’s cost will probably fall somewhere in between.

Remote Data Servers

An alternative approach is to use a remote data server. Some software packages have built-in features to automatically back up data onto the software company’s remote servers. Also, several web-based companies (www.xdrive.com, for example) provide similar services for a monthly fee, starting at approximately $10 a month, depending on the amount of data you want to store.

The advantage is you won’t need to purchase any hardware or software, or have to worry about moving the media to a remote site. The drawback: You don’t have direct control of your data. The service is generally used as a redundant method to your local media backup; it costs a bit more, but may be worth it.Testing, Testing

It’s critical to test backups at least once a month. If you don’t, the disaster-recovery plan may be insufficient. For your own protection, take the extra step to verify stored data is readable and usable on another computer that uses compatible software.

Your next computer crash should not catch you by surprise. Knowing it can happen anytime, you must protect your business with a well thought-out disaster-recovery plan. 

Tredd Barton is owner of Tredd’s Software Solutions, which has been developing self-storage software for nine years. The company specializes in small-business applications. Customer support is $198 a year and includes two software upgrades. For more information, call 724.484.7801; e-mail sales@tredd.com;  visit www.tredd.com

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