"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
here, word for word, for all of us to experience.
Part 6 - Disaster Recovery
This part is a little longer than
the other seven, reflecting the extreme importance of the
a series of Articles titled "How
Safe is Your Success?"
By Bill Hely
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Finally, the catch that few people ever think about until too
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
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
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 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
• 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
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in this series, where we discuss a most important but little
understood protective mechanism - the Firewall.
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