Feb 8, 2013 / 5:00 am
Online Backup systems have become increasingly popular in recent years and appear to be the answer to many common problems with traditional backup systems. Until recently, companies would utilize some sort of hardware solution, generally a tape drive for larger companies, and smaller companies often use portable drives. In both cases, backups needed to be transported offsite to provide effective protection. Online backup systems seem to have solved the biggest problem of traditional backup systems by storing backups in the cloud. Online backups also solve another major problem associated with traditional backup systems – hardware faults. Tape backup systems were notorious for having problems and many of my peers simply avoided tape backup systems altogether. The clouds have split apart (no pun intended), and a shaft of light is shining down - Our data backup concerns are over – or are they?
The largest cause of problems with data recovery has never been the systems used. There, I have said it. The cat is out of the bag. In the many years that I have been consulting and working with Information technology, I can honestly say that the largest cause of data loss has been ignorance. Data is not recovered because it was never there to recover. In some cases, users don’t communicate to management processes that are in place and what needs to be secured offsite. Management remains blissfully unaware of what users are doing beyond critical systems like email and accounting. Sometimes management decisions are made such as adding new software but backups are never adjusted to allow for this. Many businesses outsource their IT needs since it is much more cost effective than employing internal staff, but are reluctant to pay the time required to test and confirm that backup systems are running properly.
There is a new problem created by online backup solutions that many users are not fully aware of. Doing a ‘full backup’ of the system can take hours or even days for some companies. During the backup, your system is vulnerable. Daily processes that could be critical to a recovery are not being backed up. Because of this, and also to limit the use of available bandwidth, backup providers and IT professionals will only occasionally do a full backup, and rely on backing up changes to the system (often referred to as incremental backups). The theory behind this is that you have a full backup, and incremental changes and it makes it possible to recover data to a certain point in time. How much backup to store offsite has a cost, and a place where businesses feel they can cut back.
A lot of techs recommend 45 days. So, a full backup, 45 days of retention has become the standard. There are problems with this system. If your full backups are not every 45 days, then a gap between your last full backup and the retention period exists. Most programs like accounting systems store data in a number of files, and if you are unable to recover a file, recovery of the whole program can be compromised. A modified file, if it remains unmodified beyond the retention period, will not be recoverable, except from a much older full backup. Retention periods should mesh between full backups. Test your backups – create files and store them for a week or two, then delete them and ask for them to be recovered from backup.
Mark Smed is a consultant and network Technician for Northern Computer Inc. in Kelowna, and also sits on the board of directors for the Network Professional Association (www.npa.org). He has clients in many cities in the Okanagan and lives with his family in Summerland.
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