Backup Backup Backup!

Ok folks, moving on from our last topic on Cyber Security, one thing that seems to crop up quite often here at TER is someone in a panic because the hard drive in their PC or Mac has died or the machine won’t boot up. I should add this is typically on personal machines as most office environments will use a server to store data.

Hard disks are (usually) mechanical devices, although see my piece on SSDs here, and will eventually fail. This is due to a number of factors, not limited to mechanical wear, accidental damage from shock or bumps, and difficult environments such as hot and dusty places.

smashy hard drive

When this happens, there is a significant chance the data on the hard drive cannot be read by conventional means. Yes, we can try all kinds of tricks to get to the data, such as freezing the hard drive (yep, this actually works), to see if we can get anything off it, but typically the drive has had it.

At this point your only hope is to use a data recovery agency, such as Kroll OnTrack, however this can be expensive (£400 at a minimum) and no guarantee that the data can either be recovered or be useful. So what to do?

Well, the best thing is to avoid the heartache of having to worry when this sort of thing happens. Backup your machine and you can have access to your data almost instantly and the loss of the machine becomes an inconvenience rather than a catastrophe. Both Windows and Apple offer built in solutions (depending on version) that can utilise an external hard drive as a backup repository that can be used to recover your machine in the event of a hard drive failure. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of user involvement, reliability and ease of use but will provide  a layer of protection.

There are also a number of online backup providers – we use JungleDisk here a lot at The Engine Room – it’s cheap, easy and pretty reliable. The best thing about it is that it’s fairly hands off and you can largely not worry about it. The only catch is that being an online service accessing your data can be a slow process and it’s a monthly cost.

Dropbox, SkyDrive can also provide a limited form of backup but can be a more expensive solution and is still reliant on you to make sure your data is in the right folder being sync’d. The other consideration is that Dropbox will sync corruption as well so is not a failsafe method.

In the context of a server, we recommend using a combination of both. The local hard disk backup is for speed and local failure, with the online backup used for business continuity. You can’t have too much protection from failure.

And lastly, test your backup. I remember in the olden days when backing up to tape was the norm. We had a server that would backup every night and we’d get a success report the following morning. Then one day someone deleted their mailbox and we needed to get the tapes out to recover the data. Except the tapes were blank. It turned out the write head on the tape drive had fallen off and no one knew about it until we needed to restore the data! So check it periodically by running trial restores, be it from a local source or an online backup. You don’t want to find there’s a problem when you’re trying to recover your data.

We’ll talk about Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity another time so we’ll leave it at this for now. If you want to find out more about how we can help you with your backup and other processes around protecting your data get in touch.