Monday, August 29, 2016

Develop and Implement a Backup Strategy

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

I’ve been working with computers both professionally and personally since the late 1980’s. Quite a lot of the technology has changed. My first computer with a hard drive had a whopping 20 megabyte drive. The laptop computer I am typing this on right now has a 320 gigabyte hard drive. That’s 16,000 times more storage space. All that over the course of about 25 years.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the need to back up your data. While computers and their storage medium are much more reliable than they were back when I started, they still are far from infallible. In my day I’ve seen drives fail, data files become corrupted, network drives overwritten, drives accidentally formatted, files mistakenly deleted and a virus encrypt and lock out user’s data.

Let me ask you a question. Just how far back would you be set back  if the files on your workstation disappeared? How would you do your job? How much would this affect your agency? If you’re like me, a loss of these files would create quite a problem. This is why it’s important to develop a sound backup strategy.

In this post I am going to look at a personal backup strategy. That is, a strategy to backup files on your workstation. I’m not going to cover server backups, shared database backups, etc. I know for some of you, you have a competent IT department that handles backups on the network. However, you might find that while they back up your shared network folders they often don’t backup anything from a user’s machine. Even if they did, don’t be surprised if getting them to recover  from a backup tape that one Word document you accidentally deleted is not very easy or timely.

This is why I firmly believe that you should be in charge of your own backups. Let’s cover a bit of terminology first. There are different types of backups. They are:

Full or System Image Backup - This backup backs up your entire drive; your operating system, applications, settings and user files. You could take a brand new empty hard drive restore your entire machine to just like it is now.

User Files or Selective Backup - This backup only backs up the user’s files and not programs, system settings or operating system. It would backup the files in your My Documents folder, Desktop files, etc.

Complete Backup - Backs up all the files selected (either Full or User Files) every time the backup is run.

Differential Backup - Only backs up the files that have changed since the last backup. The first backup would have all the selected files and subsequent backups would have only the files that have changed. This saves time when running the backup compared to the Complete Backup.

There are a number of ways to backup. You can backup to CD or DVD media, to a tape backup device, to a network, to another hard drive or to USB storage. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of backup media. There’s a pretty good Wikipedia article that outlines the advantages of each of them here.

However, there are a number of things I do want to cover when it comes to developing your own backup strategy. One, you need to develop a method of backups that is easy to do and to do it regularly. Two, this strategy needs to include multiple, redundant backups. You need to create several backups using different medium and to store those backups in different places. Lastly, you need to execute your backups like clockwork.

Here’s a peek at my workstation backup strategy.

I currently only do a Selective Backup of my user files. Until I can get them to buy me my own personal Network Attached Storage device or RAID array I don’t have the space to do a complete backup. While this isn’t ideal, it has the advantage that a drive failure would mean a fresh clean operating system and application install. Choose your poison.

Every single workday, I use a large capacity USB drive to copy all of the folders and files in my My Documents folder. I use a batch file with the XCOPY command to copy every directory and every file in it to the USB drive. I also use the /d switch to copy only those files that are newer than the ones on the USB drive. This option cuts down on the time required to complete the operation from over two hours to just under 30 minutes once you’ve made the initial backup. This is for just under 16GB of user data. Plug the drive in, double click the batch file and wait for it to complete. Couldn’t be simpler. This handles all the mission critical stuff that I would need to get up and running if need be. Plus, since the files are just copied to the USB drive, it’s super easy to find a file you need.

Every week, I then burn all the files from the My Documents directory as well as all the files on a shared network folder to DVD /R’s. These disks are then stored in a fireproof safe. I also periodically make additionally copies of these disks and store them off site. I use a repeating To Do item on my Task list to remind me to accomplish the weekly backups. I also archive old project files and data yearly to DVD /R and store them in a fireproof safe by year.

More than once I’ve had to go to my backups to find something that inadvertently got deleted or corrupted. The time spent backing up is nothing compared to the time and headache saved by being able to retrieve a file that went AWOL.

Do you have a backup strategy? Do you regularly backup using it?

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