The Importance of Backup Systems � Part 1

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted April 21, 2006

Earlier this week a client contacted me with a rather severe problem. When I arrived on the scene, I discovered that the situation was far worse then I had imagined. Originally, I thought that the server's hard drive had crashed and needed to be replaced. While this is without question a serious problem, I knew that the server was equipped with a RAID system that replicated the data across multiple hard drives. (A RAID system provides redundancy for your data. In the event that one of the hard drives fails, as was the case here, all you need to do is replace the crashed hard drive with a new one and let the RAID array rebuild the data onto the new drive).

It turns out that the entire RAID array was damaged. This means that all of the hard drives that made up the array needed replacing, and the data had to be restored from backups before the server could be brought back online.

This is where the nightmare began. The client had a problem with their tape backup drive about two months earlier and, as a result, did not have any current backups of the data. This meant that once the RAID array was back online and the tape drive was functional, I had to find the last complete backup (which in this was more than two months old), perform a restore and then visit each PC to get that data copied back to the server. This project could take weeks before the data's fully restored. Even then, some missing data will never be recovered.

When the client first informed me of their tape problems, I tired to convey the seriousness of the situation and how important it was that the tape drive be repaired or replaced as quickly as possible. They failed to heed the warning. Now they're paying the price.

You don't have to suffer the same outcome. Despite the fact that my client was negligent in getting the tape drive repaired, this problem was not unique to them. In fact, this problem has affected many of us — particularly those users who spend a lot of their time working on the road or from a home office. This problem isn't exclusive to non-technical people. Even some of the most experienced techies I know have often fallen into this trap. As a matter of fact, an associate of mine just recently had the hard drive in his laptop crash. He didn't have a current backup and as a result, lost six months worth of work.

Even though most of us know that we need to do regular backups, the fact is that many, if not most of us, don't do it. So let's take a moment to review why it's important to perform these backups on a regular basis. Here are six of the more popular ones:

  1. The Human Eraser — Have you ever reformatted a hard disk when you meant to format a floppy? Have you ever typed "Y" when you meant "N" and then it was too late? Have you ever overwritten a file by mistake? How about installing software you later found you really did not want? Today's computers can do a lot of damage in a very short period of time. Backup systems can save you hours, days or months of trying to reconstruct your valuable data. Before you do any important system change, such as adding hardware or software, remember to backup before you proceed.

  2. Hard disk failure — Mean Times Between Failure (MTBFs) have improved dramatically in the past several years for all peripherals. But so has data capacity — and the amount you could lose if your disk fails. The problem is you never know when a failure will occur. And, according to Murphy's Law, the loss will occur at the worst possible time. Backup systems give you immediate and automatic protection from unpredictable disk failures.

  3. Virus protection and spyware protection — Some unscrupulous individuals continue to write viruses that innocently hide in shareware programs and all throughout the Internet. These programs have the capability to copy themselves and load into your system along with the software you think you are getting. Once loaded, they proceed to wreak havoc with your system, causing errors, lockups and data loss. A reliable backup system can restore data lost through virus infection when used in conjunction with good virus detection software and an earlier, clean backup.

  4. Free up disk space — While we can't stop the steady growth in the size of application software and related data, we can help you do something about it by allowing you to offload some of the less-used files from your hard disk to a secondary storage medium like tape or DVDs. Removing those inactive files can open up your hard disk for new programs or growing data files. Inexpensive DVD or tape cartridges are a sure way to archive your programs and data while still keeping them accessible when you do need them. It could even help you put off buying a larger disk.

  5. Events beyond your control — Both natural and man-made disasters inject disconcerting variables into any application that require large amounts of data storage. These include fire, floods, lightning and outright theft. After such an occurrence, how will your business survive? Many don't, according to statistics. Regenerating vital billing or customer information from paper records would be very difficult, if not impossible. Backup systems protect your data against such calamity. Besides doing daily backups, plan to do an extra backup every week. Then store that backup in a fireproof safe or at an off-site location. If your system goes, your data stays — it may mean the difference between business as usual and bankruptcy.

  6. Large file transfers — Transferring large volumes of data can be time consuming. Tape backup drives in particular have the capacity for very high data transfer rates making them ideal for moving large quantities of data between systems. Tapes are compact, inexpensive and have a long shelf life. They can help you keep your data archived and accessible for years to come. And with a tape backup system you can conveniently send a tape cartridge across the country, through the mail or across the office in your shirt pocket.

Now that we're reacquainted with the reasons why backing up systems is so important, we need to figure out the best way to go about it — consistently and reliably. In our next installment, we'll discuss some of the different backup methods available and take a look at some of the different backup mediums now available. Till next time.

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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