Backup Software ó Belt and Suspenders
By Dr. Dallas E. Hinton
As any experienced computer
user knows, the question is not ďWill I lose data?Ē but ďWhen
will I lose data?Ē
The question I prefer to ask
is ďHow can I recover from losing data?Ē
Keeping good backups is
critical to coping with data loss. It is estimated that 43% of
all businesses suffering major data loss fail within 6 months of
that loss. And if you lose those family photographs you may be in big trouble!
There are a number of
elements we need to consider when discussing backing up:
The data must be secure.
You probably wouldnít want your medical or financial records
stored somewhere in cyberspace where only your password
stands between you and the criminal element.
The backup program must
be easy to use. You may not do a backup if the backup program adds significantly to your workload.
The backup program must
be quick to do a backup. You arenít likely to spend hours
backing up data you may never need to recover, and human
nature being what is we all know a drive crash will never
happen to us.
The backup program must
be quick to restore. Once data is lost we want to recover
and get back to work as soon as possible.
The backup program must
be affordable. For many this is the first criteria
considered, although in my opinion it should be the last.
It is important to
distinguish between backing up data and backing up the entire
computer. A personal computer or a laptop with a small drive can
be completely backed upódata, programs and allóand will usually
restore to something very close to a working machine again,
although this is really a job for drive imaging software. With a
more complex computer itís usually faster to reinstall the
operating system and programs and then restore only the data. On
a server-based network, users should be discouraged from having
any local data. This approach makes it simple to just ďdrop inĒ
a new computer at any desk whether as an upgrade, a replacement,
or just a loan during repairs.
The following discussion
applies to either a stand-alone computer or to a server-based
network excluding the process of backing up the local
The most convenient backup
system would have duplicate copies of every file and program
immediately accessible whenever data is lost. On a domain-based network it is possible to
achieve this protection by using Volume Shadowing and version
tracking. Windows 7 offers some of this protection but itís not
particularly convenient or easy. Earlier versions of Windows are
even more challenging.
The simplest of solutions is
to use an online storage site such as Mozy or iDrive.
There are many such sites, some free and some not, but
they all suffer from the same problems: lack of speed and
(potentially) lack of security. All online sites are inherently
slow to access because the userís upload speed is usually quite
slow compared to the download speed. In addition, itís seldom
possible to be 100% sure that the online site data is kept
A second solution is to use
another hard drive, either permanent or portable. This method is
much faster and security is not such an issue, but there is
always the risk of mechanical failure or physical loss (fire,
theft, etc.). Optical media (CD, DVD) are somewhat less
vulnerable to damage but there are problems writing to optical
media and they donít hold much data.
A third solution is to use a
networked drive, but this presumes you have a network and still
doesnít address the issue of mechanical failure or physical
Finally, there is the
solution taken (I fear) by the majority of users, which is to do
nothing and hope for the best. This is no solution at all, but a
guarantee of unhappiness somewhere down the road!
The method I use
The method I use for my own
network, and for the networks I have maintained, is a
combination of these solutions. In brief, I make more than one
backup and each backup is successively more difficult to access.
My first line of defence is to back up to a local, dedicated
hard drive. This backup is done nightly using automated
backup software such as
GRBackPro or even <shudder> Windows backup (but there are a lot of problems with
using this free software). This first backup ensures I have the
dayís work protected against drive failure or user error; if the
user happens to erase the wrong file the backup is no more than
24 hours old. The chance of both hard drives failing at the same
time is small, although not zero, but there is no protection
against physical damage or theft.
Later in the night (I do this
every night but you might do it less often depending on your
level of paranoia) I back up the dedicated drive to another
location on the network, usually to a computer which does
nothing else but store backups. This now gives a second level of
protection, and I normally use a password on this backup as the
computer may be somewhere else in the building (by preference in
the Server room, since it will usually provide a UPS, air
conditioning, and security).
I backup all the second level backups onto a removable
hard drive (I prefer to use a third computer for this task but
the drive could be in the backup computer) and then I take the
removable drive off-site. You might be able to do a data
exchange/storage service with a friend, or a local business with
which you have a good relationship; in a pinch even your local
bank vault will work. This offsite backup now ensures that you
have your data stored in a separate location so that you donít
lose all everything in case of disaster. Since itís a backup of
a passworded backup, itís reasonably secure even if it does
happen to wander into someone elseís hands.
Physically exchanging the
removable hard drive is the only part of this operation that
canít be automated and if it isnít done on a rigid schedule itís
not terribly serious.
The end result, then, is that
you have an original data source, a very easily accessed local
backup, a less easily accessed and slightly older nearby backup,
and a very secure, somewhat hard to access and even older
backup. The chance of all these backups being lost at the same
time is very small indeed.
There are an almost infinite
number of programs which purport to be the answer to your backup
needs. Iíve tried many of them, and have settled on GRBackPro as
the software which does what I want. Part of the choice is cost,
of course, but itís important to consider whether itís possible
to get assistance with the program if it becomes necessary. One
of the reasons I recommend
GRSoftware is that they have been very responsive over the
years. Itís worth noting here that some software uses a
proprietary method of data storage. With Windows Backup, for
example, is not only is the method proprietary but data backed
up under one version of the software often cannot be restored by
another version, even a newer one! GRBackPro uses the standard,
familiar ZIPô file format, which if necessary can be restored directly from
Windows. If you have a favourite program, by all means use
itóanything is better than nothing. If youíre hunting for
something to use, I suggest you take a look at GRBackPro.
It takes a little while to
get everything set up for this multi-level backup solution. It
takes some planning, and you may have to buy some hardware.
Fortunately, very large hard drives are now quite inexpensive;
the cost is small compared to the cost of data loss. With a
little thought and a little money you can set up a reliable
backup solution that will let you recover quickly and easily
from even the worst disaster.
Dr. Hinton is a retired
Network Technician and noted Educator. Trained by Nortel, he
instructed local teachers in the field of Network Management and
also taught Computer Science and Career Preparation at secondary
school. In addition he spent many years as owner of Associated
Computer Technologies, managing and maintaining networks in
business offices and for organizations such as the Down Syndrome
Research Foundation in Burnaby, BC.