How safe is your company data? Could you survive a catastrophic crash? From External drive to online storage, Rob Jamieson gives a whistle stop tour of backing up.

After recently damaging my laptop when I fell asleep on a flight and the laptop took its own flight into the cabin wall I started to check out my backup policy with all my data.

There are many ways to backup data but what is the best fit in relation to what you do and how much data you have? If you don?t have a backup policy and think that your data is safe on your mechanical hard disk, think again. If I add up the amount of failures I have had over the years it amounts to over 50 disks. Yes, I was an IT manager, but it?s very easy to get blas? about it, particularly as we are now told how reliable hard disks have become.

Backing up is about much more than just protecting against failures, it?s for protecting against viruses and/or deliberate damage. This point is often overlooked and I often see that different revisions of files are stored over a network and considered ¤safeË but one self replicating virus could spread to all your storage areas. There is no substitute for offline ¤read onlyË backup. A burnable DVD is the cheapest backup with 4.7GB and disks are cheap. HD DVD and Blueray improve the size but are a little more expensive.

External drives: The simplest backup is an external hard drive. These can be very cheap but you are putting your data onto a mechanical device, and viruses on your computer can still infect your files when it?s connected. Some of these devices come with backup software that can create a complete image on the drive which gives some protection and something I like, a snapshot in time. Incremental backups can save the backup time and space taken but it?s very easy to introduce ¤badË files so a policy needs to be implemented that every set period you have a complete image too. This is ideal for a one man band or somebody who is always out of the office like me.

What about Raid: You can implement multiple hard drives in a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives) system such as RAID 1. This is where the data is ?mirrored? in case of a disk crash. This is a useful policy and with the more advanced versions you can hot swap out a hard disk if it fails while the system is still running. This is commonly used in a server environment. However, as it acts as an ¤instantË backup if you get a virus or corruption it is automatically mirrored to the other disks as well.

Web storage: The next cheapest option is online storage where a web server or ftp site is used to host your files. Local to the UK (BT British Telecom) will give you 20GB on a server for ú4.99 a month. This is a safe option for data as it?s off site and you can access it anywhere. A lot of the CAD vendors offer a tailored solution as well with 3D viewers and more functionality. You have to be more careful with security but if your building burns down and you remember your password you still have your data.

Tape backup: The traditional tape backup is one of the safest ways to protect data. If your data is stored centrally then backing this up every night is the best action. However, some important points exist to make your data accessible. All designers want to be able to look at a previous design or drawing but the more you create the bigger the data storage requirement becomes. If you are not careful it can become slower and if you have implemented a PDM system it will keep every revision of a file (every save after a modification) and your data storage requirements have just gone x10. Archiving or exporting some of these revisions off to effectively slower storage is well worth thinking about.

One important point is that if you backup there are ¤Scheduling Backups & Tape Rotation MethodsË you need to adopt. A full system backup is the slowest and largest and then often in the week an incremental backup is done where the data that?s changed is backed up. If you had a failure you would put on the full backup followed by the incremental one. Every month take a full backup out of the loop and store it. If you had a catastrophic virus that got onto your system and effectively got on your tapes then you could go back to the previous monthly tape. Also, it?s wise to take a tape offsite so if the building burns down and your fire proof safe is crushed you can still function.

I haven?t detailed backing up local machines or laptops if you are on a corporate network as I personally hate it when I go in the office after being away and the startup scripts run virus scan and backup the system. I have a problem with not being able to do any work for two hours so I prefer to do my own which is never popular with the IS.

I consulted with a company a few years ago and had a run in with the IT department when I found that all the CAD users were effectively running on one drop cable and it took ? an hour to open a file in the morning. I forced them to check their backup status which they stated was fine. However, when we tried to restore the tape there was no data on the tape as the backup routine was pointing to the wrong directory. The IT hadn?t noticed that it took only two minutes to run the backup as it was automated...

The MD stated in the wrap up meeting that I had earned my fee just for this point alone...

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Robert Jamieson works for the hardware manufacturer AMD. The opinions in the article are not necessary the opinions of AMD as a company...