Computer Backups

April 1, 2001

7 Min Read
Computer Backups

Computer Backups

Preventing a customer-relations disaster

By Michael Richards

Have you seriously considered this scenario? It's Sunday morning and thephone rings. It's your manager. "Hey, boss, the office was broken into andthe computer is gone. What do I do?" Do you know what to do? Do youhave a contingency plan? A written one? Have you tested it? Practiced it? Behonest: If you are like most small businesses, you haven't.

The key to surviving any disaster is planning, and planning for your computerto break or disappear is essential. Your computer is a key tool in all of yourday-to-day functions--especially customer service. Without it, how will you givereceipts, provide statements or answer inquiries? Often, the computer controlsthe security system, which in turn determines who is allowed through your gate.And without your accounting data, how will you know who has paid and who isdelinquent?

Recovering from a computer loss is not difficult if you have planned for itproperly. Obviously, you must be able to replace or repair the lost computer,and you absolutely must have good backups of your data.

Replacing or Repairing Your Computer

Your replacement or repair strategy must be well-planned in advance. Is yourcomputer under a warranty service? Is the service on-site or carry-in? What isthe turnaround time? While you can always buy a computer to replace your brokenone, this could be expensive and unnecessary if a repair will do. Therefore, youshould consider plans for a backup computer. This could be your home computer, arental or a loaner from your computer technician. If you will rent or borrow acomputer, make sure you have made arrangements in advance, and that your staffis aware of your backup plan for repair and temporary replacement.

Ensuring You Have Good Data Backups

You must have backups of your data in order to recover from a loss. You alsoneed backups to recover from potential errors. These may include human errors(for example, you accidentally add an extra late charge to every account),machine errors (the data is corrupted or erased), or errors caused by viruses orsoftware bugs. Most software programs for self-storage come with built-in backuputilities that make it easy to back up your data. Disk drives such as the IomegaZip come with their own backup utilities. Use the one that comes with yoursoftware if at all possible. Check these procedures and be sure all keypersonnel understand them thoroughly.

A good backup is not enough. You must rotate your backup tapes ordisks. I strongly suggest using five backup sets: daily, weekly, monthly,quarterly and annual. Permanently mark each tape or disk with its place in therotation (i.e., days of the week, months, etc.). Leave a space on the labelwhere the actual date of the backup can be written in pencil, then erased andreplaced the next time it is used. See the chart below for a suggested backuprotation.

The next important thing to remember is you must store the backups off-site.Storing the backups next to the computer is useless, and yet people make thiserror all the time. If you cannot store the backups off-site, then at leaststore them in a different building. If you cannot do that, then purchase afire-proof safe (rated for computer backups) and store them there. If you arethe owner, I recommend you store all the backup sets except the daily set (seechart) at your home, in a safety deposit box or other secure location.

You must also test your backups. At least once a month, test yourbackups by restoring them to another computer. This is usually done by a)installing your software onto the test computer and b) restoring the data fromthe backup disks to the test computer. Look in the help file of your software orcontact your software vendor for specific instructions on how to test yourbackups. Make sure you know how to restore your data and have writtenstep-by-step instructions for your staff to follow.

Backup-Rotation Schedule

All backup sets consist of multiple tapes that are "rotated" in thefollowing schedule. (Note: "Tapes" can be backup tapes, Zip disks, CD-RWdisks or any other backup media.)

A New Alternative

A new and exciting alternative to tape or disk backup is to backup your dataover the Internet. Typically, your data is sent to a secure computer located ina data center. Multiple copies of your data can be stored, so you have theability to restore from a previous backup anytime by retrieving your data fromthe data server. There are a number of advantages to doing backups this way: Theprocess can be automated (for example, to run at midnight every night); youdon't have to worry about the tapes being lost or stolen; you don't have to movethe tapes off-site; and you don't have to worry about whether your staff isdoing the backups each day. Really the only downside is that if you have a largeamount of data, this option may not be viable until you have a high-speedInternet connection.


# of Tapes in Set

A Backup is Done


Replace Every



At the end of every day the business is open.

One for each day of the week you are open. Rotate so each tape is used once per week.

1 Year



At the end of the day every Friday (or other selected day)

One for the each Friday (or other selected day) in the month. (There will be four or five each month.)

2 Years



At the end of the day on the last day of the month, except the last day of a quarter.

One for the first end-of-month in the quarter, one for the second end-of-month in the quarter.

3 Years



At the end of the day on the last day of the quarter, except the last day of the year.

One for each of the first three end-of-quarters of the year. For a calendar-year business, this would be March 31, June 30 and Sept. 30.

4 Years


1 per year

At the end of the day on Dec. 31 or the last day of the fiscal year.

These tapes are archived permanently and never reused. You can use one of the tapes that you are about to remove from rotation. Most tapes have a write-protect tab on them that should be set.


Who Is Responsible?

The ultimate responsibility for proper backups rests with the self-storageowner. While it is perfectly OK to delegate the job of creating the backups toother staff, I strongly recommend that the owner personally verify the backupsare being made and tested on a regular basis. If at all possible, the ownershould do the testing himself.

Without a proper backup plan, you may find yourself facing the worst-casescenario: a disaster. You would not be able to tell who your customers are, whohas paid, who owes what amount, who should be allowed into their units and, forthat matter, who should be allowed to come through the gate. You most likelywill find your system doesn't accept customers' codes and your accountingrecords are lost. In contrast, with a proper backup, your worst-case scenario isa few hours of downtime. Unfortunately, too many people learn this lesson thehard way. Don't wait until it's too late. Create your computer-disaster recoveryplan today.

Michael Richards is the president of HI-Tech Smart Systems, maker ofRentPlus® and Mini-StoragePlus® software forself-storage. Mr. Richards has been involved in the self-storage industry formore than 20 years, and has been a frequent speaker at industry events and acontributor to industry publications. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected];phone 800.551.8324. HI-Tech plans to begin offering an Internet-backup servicestarting April 1. For more information, visit

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