Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Backing up data meets future technology

Data backup is now generally inexpensive and easy. Probably the easiest, most effective, and least expensive solution is to use the Windows backup program that ships as an accessory to every Windows program installation. Although this program, archaically, still defaults to backing up to a floppy disk drive — the least reliable computer storage media of all — Windows Backup can be redirected to other more reliable, faster media.

I prefer using an external hard disk connected to a USB or Firewire port for routine daily data backups. This is the fastest and easiest approach. You should have at least three sets of external backup hard disks, rotating them so that any backup is made on the disk previously containing an older backup set. Use a different hard disk every day and be sure that you keep one hard disk backup set at least two weeks before reusing it, just in case of slow, subtle data corruption from a failure computer system or a human error that is not noticed immediately, both of which really do happen on occasion.

Your hardware cost will be around $500 to $600 for the three backup hard disks with their external cases and connecting cables. Be sure to get the highest-capacity backup hard disks that you can easily afford. High capacity hard disks are now very inexpensive, and a larger disk drive will give you more flexibility later.

Before starting to make a backup, be sure that you know all of the places where Windows might store data. You’ll likely be surprised. Make a full backup every day. “Incremental” backups tend to be unreliable and rather more complex to use when trying to restore data.

Making DVD or CD disks are a useful approach to sharing data or long-term archiving of a small amount of data, but they are not a reasonable alternative for daily data backup. Their data capacities are low and disk writing speeds much too slow. Reusable DVD and CD disks are not very reliable, and you’ll need to sit around doing nothing but occasionally feeding a new disk into the computer, being sure that you’ve kept each disk in order and correctly labeled. On the other hand, if you use a large external hard drive, you can simply start the data backup process and go home, disconnecting the hard drive the next morning after the backup process is done. By the way, be sure to turn on Windows Backup’s “verify after write” feature.

The remainder of your physical security methods are pretty straightforward: Use a high-quality, high-Joule surge protector between the electrical wall outlets and all computing equipment, including computers, monitors, printers, incoming phone line, Internet and other network connections.

Be sure you store your critical business computer data in a single spot that’s easy to identify and back up. I strongly prefer putting all of my Windows and application programs on a fast C drive but adding a second hard disk, a D drive, to my computers and storing all of my data in logically named folders on the D drive. That way, it’s easy to back up all of your data — just back up the D drive. The Windows default of putting several thousand documents and photos into an unsorted “My Documents” or “My Pictures” folder is basically awful and suitable only for computer dilettantes who have little valuable business data.

Connect a reliable, uninterruptible power supply backup battery between each computer and network device and its surge protector, but make sure you don’t connect any laser printers to an uninterruptible power supply. Laser printers draw so much electrical current that they’ll likely overload the uninterruptible power supply and burn it out. About every 18 to 24 months, have a skilled computer technician replace the D data drive with a new, high reliability hard disk.

Finally, train yourself and your staff to use your computer systems correctly and carefully, paying particular attention to confirming dialog boxes such as “Do you really want to delete this file,” rather than just clicking through them until you realize it’s too late. Even then, some “deleted” files can still be recovered from the Recycle Bin, or using dedicated data recovery programs such Undelete 2009, sold by Diskeeper at www.diskeeper.com.

Local attorney Joseph Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and has been writing and lecturing about technology throughout the U.S. since 1990 for American Bar Association, Alaska Bar Association and private publications. He also owned a computer store in Soldotna between 1990 and 2000.

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