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Backup Procedure

What would you do if you turned on your computer some morning and you got the message "System disk unreadable, unable to boot", or worse yet, there is an empty place where your computer used to be? One of the first questions you will be asked is "Do you have a backup?" The intent of this guide is not only to give you some options on how to back up your system, but to help you put together a Disaster Recovery plan in case you need to actually use those backups. Your recovery plan can be as simple as having a boot disk and the software needed to read your backup tapes, or you may have to consider hardware replacement and setting up shop at a remote facility.

Our Simple Share ™ system has proved to be very valuable to companies looking to back up and restore data easily.

Why Backup?

When you consider the years worth of data contained in your computer and the value of its software, the files on your hard disk may be worth many times the cost of the computer itself. You should be able to recover from a total loss of your system due to a disk crash, computer theft, fire or other disasters. However, one corrupted or mistakenly deleted file can be just as bad. How long would it take you to rebuild that database or contact list? Could your company or department continue operations without it? Whether you are responsible for all of the computers on your office network, or just your individual system, you should have a backup and recovery plan.

How to Back up

One of the first decisions that needs to be made is who should be responsible for doing the backups. If you only have one system, or you want each person to be responsible for backing up their own system, each computer should have its own backup device. If you have a number of systems, a portable backup device can be taken from system to system. You can also have your systems backed up automatically if they are connected to a fast network.

The easiest method of backup is to have a duplicate hard drive in your system. Data can be copied to the second drive as often as needed. The danger in this method is that if your entire system is damaged or stolen, your backup is also lost.

The most popular backup method is tape. It is an inexpensive medium, and has enough capacity to back up most hard drives. The problem with tapes is that they are easily damaged. You should periodically check that you can restore from your tapes and replace them with new ones frequently. You should also clean and inspect your tape drive regularly. Tapes have a short storage life and are not good for archival backups.

zip driveYou can combine the ease of backing up to another hard drive with the portability of tape by using a removable media disk drive such as the Iomega Zip (100 Mb) or Jazz (1 Gb) drives. These disks are more dependable than tape and you can locate and restore individual files more easily. The downside is that these are more expensive than tape, and in the case of Zip disks, the storage capacity is low.

A newer method is data warehousing. Your data is backed up via modem or the Internet, and stored on your service providers systems. This can be setup to be done automatically and also takes care of the requirement to have an offsite copy of your backups. The downside is that large amounts of data can take a long time to transfer using a modem.

CDRWIf you need archival storage of data you should consider recordable CD-ROM or Optical disks. These are less likely to be damaged and have a longer storage life. The drive and media costs are more expensive for this format.

When deciding on a format, you should look at the cost per byte of storage and the amount of data you will be backing up. While it is important that the backups are reliable and meet your storage needs, the media costs should not prevent you from making frequent backups.

Backup What to Back Up and How Often

What you back up and how frequently depends on how you value the data. A directory of old memos might be OK to copy to a floppy disk, every once in a while. A database or contact list that changes frequently should be included in a daily backup. If the loss of even one day's worth of data would be significant, you may want to copy the file(s) to another disk several times a day or set up disk mirroring.

A good backup plan should include;

Daily incremental backups of files that have been added or changed since the previous daily backup.

Weekly backups of all of your data directories.

Monthly backups of the entire contents of your hard drive, including system files, preferences and programs.

Some backup strategies exclude programs from the monthly full backups. Before you decide to do this, consider the amount of time it would take to restore your system from the original distribution disks and their availability.

You should keep a rotation of two or three cycles (daily, weekly and monthly) of your backups. Do not leave the backup media in the drive; if the system is stolen, your backup will be gone as well. It is EXTREMELY important that you keep one set offsite. If your office is destroyed or inaccessible, you will need to use this set to restore your data. Your application disks should be kept offsite as well if they are included in your recovery plan.

Media Rotation Schedules

The most commonly used media rotation schedule is "Grandfather-Father-Son." This scheme uses daily (Son), weekly (Father), and monthly (Grandfather) backup sets.

Data Recovery The GFS scheme begins with the daily backups. Typically, four backup media are labeled for the day of the week each backs up; for example, Monday through Thursday. Each tape is recalled for use on its labeled day.  If only a one-week version history of files is maintained, then each tape is overwritten each week. In order to maintain a 3-week version history of files (recommended), more tapes are required. For example this week's Monday tape will not be overwritten for 3 weeks.

Weekly backups follow a similar scenario. A set of up to five weekly backup media is labeled "Week1", "Week 2", and so on.  Full backups are recorded weekly, on the day that a "Son" media is not used.  Following the example above these would be "Friday" tapes. This "Father" media is re-used monthly. Five weekly tapes are required in order to maintain a one-month history of files, as some months have 5 weeks.

The final set of three media is labeled "Month1", "Month2", and so on, according to which month of the quarter they will be used. This "Grandfather" media records full backups on the last business day of each month. If your backup plan follows a corporate fiscal calendar, then your monthly tape will take the place of the week 4 or week 5 weekly/Father tape, depending on the month. If your backup schedule follows calendar months, then your monthly backup will vary throughout the year, replacing a daily or weekly tape. Typically, monthly tapes are overwritten quarterly or yearly (recommended), depending on version history requirements.

Each of these "media" may be a single tape or a set of tapes, depending on the amount of data to back up and the type of backup used (incremental vs. full). Weekly and/or monthly tapes are generally pulled as archive tapes.

Online Services - with recent developments in broadband connectivity it is now viable to back up to a central server via the Internet. There are a number of reasonably priced services available and well worth investigation.