Hard Drive

Backup Backup Backup

Recently I was contacted by a partner from a law firm who frantically explained to me that his office could not access any of their critical software or data. Upon going to the office and inspecting the situation, I quickly became aware that the single hard drive on their server which stored all of their critical data and documents had failed. I tried to get the server back online but quickly detected the dreaded click of death coming from the hard drive.

Apparently the IT firm that had originally been contracted to setup the hardware and software was long gone and the office functioned fine for 5 years with minimal problems. No backups ever, really ? Yes, apparently it never even crossed anyone’s mind. I explained the options and 3,500 dollars later with the most sincere attempts from a very reputable data recovery service the majority of the data was found to be unrecoverable due extensive damage to the platter.

I can not express how awful it is to have to tell someone “Yes you have lost all of your critical data, and, No it doesn’t look like it’s going to be recoverable”. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really applies to this one. The cost is really something you can’t put a price tag on. Just how much is five years of your data worth? Contacts, records, sales leads, accounting; it is invaluable to the modern business. Unfortunately many business owners don’t learn the value of data backup and disaster planning until it’s too late. As the modern business model continues to shift to the medium of electronic storage the importance of having a well thought, well administrated, and most importantly well tested data backup system is of the utmost importance.

Who Does This Really Apply To ?

Burned Computer

Life comes at you fast

If you run any kind of data storage application or paperless document management system the lifeblood of your system – the data inventory, client lists, accounting, etc. – is being stored to a physical hard drive. The reality is: hard drives fail (more often than you’d think), servers crash, and people screw things up. Unfortunately, many business owners’ faith in that spinning piece of metal in their server is way unrealistically high, really some don’t even realize this is an issue until it is too late. If your hard drive does crash and you are lucky, a data recovery company may be able to recover the data off the disk.  However, this is going to cost you anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 dollars. If you are running an organized backup schedule and this happens it is simply a matter of  restoring the data from your backup in accordance with your disaster management plan, rather than coming out of pocket the cost of a compact car.

The Fix

A well thought backup solution will include automatic interval backups that will distribute your data to one or more physical locations to maintain redundancy. If you are backing up your database to the same drive that your database is stored on and the drive crashes, guess what ? You still lost all your data, you might as well not do the backup. The data should be separated to several physical drives. For mission critical data you should consider taking an external drive off site in case of fire, electrical, theft or other unforeseeable circumstances. Another possible solution is to upload the data to an online backup site such as Mozy©, however this is only practical for relatively small amounts of data and information that is not of a high security nature. For instance I would not try to back-up a terabyte database containing personal information such as social security numbers to an online backup site. It is simply neither a prudent nor practical solution.

Interval of Backup

Determining the interval and type of backup you will perform comes down to the nature of your business. If you can afford to lose a day of data perform daily backups, an hour perform hourly etc… When you’re getting to the point where data loss is not an acceptable option such as e-commerce, financial, and government applications you have to consider upping the stakes.


Raid Array

Redundancy with Raid 1 Mirror

A good way to add an extra layer of protection is to implement something called a Redundant Array of Independent Disks or RAID. Without getting too technical RAID allows you to have running mirrors of data so if one hard drive should happen to fail a mirror will keep your system up and running. This eliminates down time and provides the highest insurance against data loss. Unfortunately the correlation between the need for data integrity and the hardware it necessitates are directly proportional and the more your business model lends itself to absolute assurance of data concurrency the more money you will end up investing in your IT infrastructure. The ultimate example of this is a SAN or storage area network which can commonly run upwards of $100,000 dollars.

Static v Dynamic Data

A good way to organize backups is to separate your data into static and dynamic partitions; this is particularly important for larger applications. What this means is that if you can break your data up into meaningful units you can backup only the data that you know is being modified. For instance if you have a folder for each month of the year and each month you save data exclusively to said corresponding folder, you would only have to actively backup your current monthly folder.  At the end of the month you could add it to your master backup containing the previous months.

Disaster Recovery Plan

It’s not a matter of if, it really is a matter of when. So what happens when you do have a problem of this nature ? This is where having a disaster recovery plan in place becomes essential. Having a tested, practiced plan, and employee(s) in house who can quickly implement a restoration is something that is invaluable when situations like this arise.

The bottom line

Backup systems and data integrity are crucial yet often neglected or overlooked pieces to the IT plan of any technology powered business. What you don’t know can really hurt you here, don’t find yourself saying I should have. Contact us today for for your backup system analysis, implementation, and testing.

David Wetherell