I recently read a great article by Jeremy Moskowitz entitled “Backup Tips for the 21st Century: Backup procedures so easy, your Mom could (and should) do it.” This is not directed at IT managers or anyone else who has to manage a business network, although there are certainly some common themes, which we’ll talk about a bit later. Rather, the article is targeted at the average home user – you know, those people who are always asking you to help them with some kind of computer problem, because you “know about computers.”
I’d strongly recommend that you click over and read his entire article, and share it with as many people as possible, because he goes into detail on why you should be doing each of these things. But just to give you a little taste of it, here are the seven things:
- Get an online backup service (e.g., Carbonite.com, Mozy.com, etc.)
- Get a full-disk backup program
- Backup to an external USB drive (in fact, get two or three – they’re cheap)
- Don’t keep all your backups in your house
- Rotate between at least two, possibly three USB drives
- Keep copies of your original disks, downloadables, keycodes, and drivers
- Test your restore procedure
Although he feels strongly that you should do all seven in order to be absolutely safe, he also points out that just doing one of them will make you better off than most people – who don’t do anything at all! (And if you only do one, he suggests #3.)
Why should people do these things? Because, in Jeremy’s words, “DISK DRIVES ALWAYS FAIL. ALWAYS. It’s a guarantee. Even the newest ones with no moving parts. They all fail. Eventually.” And he’s right. The only question is when. I’ve seen drives fail within days of being installed (not many, but some), and other drives last for years. But eventually, they will wear out. When they do, the data on them is toast, so you’d better either have a backup or have deep pockets to pay someone who specializes in forensic data recovery, and who may or may not be able to recover your most precious data from the dead drive no matter how much you’re willing to pay.
So, how does this translate to sound business practice? Allow me to paraphrase his seven points, and combine a couple of them:
- Make sure you’re getting a copy of your data out of the building. Use an on-line service, stream data to a repository at a branch office, or just take a copy home every Friday. But do something to get a copy out of the building.
- Your backup strategy should encompass both machine images and file/folder based backups. If you lose an entire system, it’s a lot faster to restore from an image than to reinstall the OS from scratch and then restore the data files. On the other hand, if all you need is a single file, or a single email message or mailbox, you don’t want to have to restore an entire image just to get that one thing you need.
- What he said about disks failing goes double (at least) for tapes. Tapes are far less reliable than hard disks. Their capacity is limited. They wear out quickly. The drives get dirty and are subject to a variety of mechanical problems. Unless you’ve either got an expensive autoloader or a night operator to swap tapes in the middle of the night, if your tape fills up you either cancel the job when you come in the next morning, or you finish the backup during working hours and live with the performance hit of doing that while users are trying to work. That’s why we believe so strongly in disk-to-disk backups.
And God help you if you’re ever involved in an eDiscovery action that requires you to produce, say, all emails for the last ten years that were related to a particular subject, and you no longer have the tape drives or the backup software that were used to create those archival backups from 5+ years ago. I’ve seen it happen. It isn’t pretty.
- Keep copies of your original disks, downloadables, keycodes, and drivers. It’s pretty annoying to have to replace a C: drive, and then end up having to re-purchase the latest version of some essential program or utility because you can’t find the installation media and/or the serial number/key code. Guess how I know that?
- Test your restore procedure. If you don’t ever do a test restore, you only think you’re getting good backups. And if you’re not, you won’t know about it until you have a catastrophic failure and find out that your backups are no good and your data is gone forever.
That’s all for today – you go read Jeremy’s post in full, I’m going to swing by the local office superstore and pick up a couple more USB hard drives…