Disaster Recovery Planning for Data Loss
Recovering from Data Loss

 
 Recovery from a Data Loss Disaster
 

"How Safe is Your Success" is a series of eight articles by Bill Hely which address different aspects of a universal problem of particular importance to all of us who use the Internet — the safety of our data files.  Mr. Hely covers the area between the bare basics and more technical details so clearly, that I have placed his article about data recovery here, word for word, for all of us to experience.  ...Richard                                  

                   Part 6 - Disaster Recovery
                  From a series of Articles titled "How Safe is Your Success?"
                                               By Bill Hely

This part is a little longer than the other seven, reflecting the extreme importance of the subject matter.

The term "disaster recovery" means different things to different people. Even confined to events that affect the usability of computers in the conduct of business, a "disaster" can have a wide range of meanings, and "recovery" can vary quite considerably in scope. In this article I am going to restrict the meaning of "disaster" to mean data loss.

Nor will we concern ourselves with how the data may have been lost, other than to reflect briefly on the fact that events that can cause data loss are many and occur frequently. They include fire, flood, earthquake, electrical surge, theft, vandalism, equipment failure, user error, vindictive acts - to name just nine of many possibilities.

Similarly, we'll use only a narrow definition of "recovery", as in "getting back data that was lost". Beyond that, smart entrepreneurs will have at least a rudimentary Disaster Recovery Plan in place.

The DRP will include information on where to quickly source replacement computers (perhaps temporary hire) and all the other things that will need to be done to get a business up and running again very quickly after a catastrophic event. Under certain policies insurers may require that a Disaster Recovery Plan be submitted for approval before cover is granted. For information on DRPs, also called Business Continuity Plans, just do a web search - there is a lot of information out there.

     Thinking about such things now may save your business in the future.

In practice a diverse mix of methods is used to take copies of important data, ranging from doing nothing (a disturbingly large number) to complex, expensive and dedicated network-attached storage devices.

 Methods in common use include:
               burning to CD, copying to floppy (rare these days due to large file sizes),
               copying to another PC on a network,
               storing to ZIP, JAZ or the now obsolete LS-120 drives,
               detachable USB storage devices, and so on.

And of course the venerable Tape Backup Unit (TBU). There are dozens of different tape formats, with the most common probably being the 4 millimeter Digital Audio Tape (DAT). Regardless of tape format or drive type, this method is usually just referred to generically as "tape backup", with only the IT professional concerned with specifications.
 
But no matter which method or storage media you use, backing up critical data is a pointless exercise if that backup remains in the computer, in the office or even in the building.

Considering only the nine types of disaster I mentioned above, at least six of those can also render your backups useless, along with the original data storage, if the backup is not taken completely off-site.

Now before you start to get bored, I'm not going to just repeat the admonition you have probably heard ad nauseum - to take your backups off-site. If you haven't been doing that up to now, then my harping is unlikely to make you change your ways. And even if you have been taking your backup's off-site, how effectively have you been doing it? Will you in fact be taking yesterday's backup with you when you leave today, and leaving today's backup running?

Hey … I understand. Who wants to hang around after work every day for an extra hour or more waiting for a backup to run? And that's if you are using some automated method with a large capacity removable media, such as tape.

If you are manually backing up to some other media, say CD or ZIP drive, then you have even more work to do and no guarantee that you will be getting every important file off every computer.

Another thing to consider: Just how certain are you that the data you are copying to a backup media is "good"? When was the last time you performed a test "restore" from your backups to ensure that all was as it should be? I can tell you from long experience how often the average person does a test restore. Never!

Your main concerns should be:
          Have you got a copy of all the files you should have?
          Have you really got the very latest version of each of those files?
          Was the data transferred from hard disk to storage media without error?
          Is the integrity of the storage media 100%? It only takes a scratch on a CD
            or a kink in a tape to render a lot of data unreadable and thus unrecoverable.

       Finally, the catch that few people ever think about until too late.

Let's say you have an important file that gets updated periodically, a spreadsheet for example. Let's also assume that today someone accidentally deleted some cells or made a significant error in that file that was not caught at the time. The file is saved and you take a backup. This goes on for a few days - edit, save, backup - before the problem is noticed. What now? Of how much use will your backup be? Even if you are making redundant copies, how far back can you go to recover a pre-error copy of the file? For most small businesses the answer will be from zero to a couple of days at most.

OK, I could go on and on with examples of the problems you can face even if you are making backups, but it's time for some answers.

Look, this is the Internet age, right? If it wasn't for the Internet you wouldn't be reading this, so I know you are connected. Further, if you are in business you probably have a broadband connection. The Internet connects you to "the world".

Look at it another way: In backup terms, the Internet connects you to off-site servers. With the right accounts and services it connects you to off-site storage. And it's those special services that are available to you that will make all the difference.

In my small office I have two tape backup drives, a couple of USB drives, several CD burners, floppy and LS-120 drives, external hard drives and networked computers. That's a lot more storage options than most small businesses would have. For long-term storage of files that I may never need again, but which I have to keep anyway (e.g. accounting records), I burn to CD. For everything else I backup to "the Internet".

That's right. I've got tape drives and tape backup programs and I never use them.


My backup is scheduled to take place in the evening after I have finished for the day. It is 100% automatic and requires no initiation from me. None at all -
 
             no swapping tapes,
            •  no inserting CDs,
             no anything else.

It backs up any file that has changed since the last backup. Plus, the backup system keeps the ten most recent versions of every file backed up during the last 90 days.

               No capital outlay.
             
 No extra hardware.
             
 No media to deteriorate and need replacing.
             
•  No need to "remember" to take some action.

Online backup services are not all that new, but finding one that is extremely reliable, very easy to use, very affordable (even for an individual home user), and requires no term contracts is not at all easy. Here's the service I have been using for over a year now: http://www.DataSafetyCenter.com (Webmaster note -  Since publishing this article, online services such as Carbonite offer safe and reliable data storage)

This is the ONLY way for individuals and small businesses to ensure reliable recovery of data with minimum cost, minimum risk and minimum effort.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what happens if the data center itself suffers a catastrophe … each day the data you have stored at the center replicates itself to another data center in a different geographical location.

In under half-an-hour you can put backup problems behind you forever. Or … you can wait for Mr. Murphy to come calling. You already know he only visits at the worst possible time.

If this article has been passed on to you by a friend, please subscribe yourself so you can be sure of receiving another part in this series, where we discuss a most important but little understood protective mechanism - the Firewall.
 

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Bill Hely is a technologist, consultant and author living in Brisbane, Australia. For most of the last two decades his professional focus has been on advising and supporting small business operators in Information Technology and Office Productivity issues - and rescuing them when they didn't heed his advice the first time around. He is the author of several books on technology for the business operator, including the Bible of Internet and computer security "The Hacker's Nightmare". For more information on this must-read tutorial and reference visit:  http://TheHackersNightmare                                 

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Please help us educate and protect the unwary by sharing this article. Reprint it if you have a newsletter, website or ezine. Copy or print it to give to your friends. It may be used at will so long as no edits or changes are made to the content and links, and the full attribute box is included. We'd appreciate a short note telling when and where you have posted it. Thank you....Richard (mailto:Richard@firewalls-and-virus-protection.com)
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Please visit http://www.Firewalls-and-Virus-Protection.com where many of the issues mentioned in this brief article are addressed in greater detail.  A few minutes browsing there now might save you many hours of agony and grief later.


Thank you and Safe Surfing.
Richard
www.RichardPresents.com

                          

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