It was back in late 1995. Basically my second junior position when I got into the technology field.

I was given a relatively easy task; on one of servers that stored everyone’s work data we were running out of space.  I had to make the space available bigger.

This process is not overly difficult, but it is destructive. Meaning you have to have a server backup first because you will be destroying everything while you recreate the spot for everyone’s data. (in tech speak, I was re-partitioning the drives)

Yes, I had done my backup of that server hard drive! – but I did not test it properly. And that was a failure on my part.

As you may have guessed,  I lost much of that data because the backup did not restore all the data to the new disk properly.

Lesson Learned – in spades

Backups are absolutely useless until you have tested your ability to restore them.

And to this day – I try to ensure I have more than one before that kind of destructive work.

The amazing part is that I was not fired.

(thanks Scott)

The SMB Takeaway

Backup is useless without testing the restore. So test that on a regular basis.

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The title borrowed From a Small Biz Thoughts post of the same name: A Few Backup Rules To Save Your Butt

There is no auto-backup system that will work forever. Get over it.

Go read the rest

‘Nuff said

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Doing Backup Right

January 4, 2010

Backup, but Restore is key!

Brien Posey at Techrepublic has an excellent primer titled; 10 common backup mistakes

The article is excellent so I won’t repeat it here.

The questions

As a general manager in the small to medium business, your business technology staff tell you that they are making backups.

But the critical questions you need to be asking is; what is the time required to restore that backup?

The only way to carefully calculate your risk vs cost is to look probability of a data restore risk, with the cost of mitigating that risk.

So ask questions!

How long to restore data if the entire server fails? Is there another one available? or are you going to have to order a new machine, wait a few days for delivery and then have to restore?

How long to restore data if a server fails, and the backup tapes are off site? Is there turn around delays?

How long to restore data if all servers failed due to fire or flood?

The SMB Takeaway

It is too easy to say we backup our key data – but that is not the correct question! The correct questions are can we restore it? and how long will it take under various circumstances?

Because system failure happens. It is not if – just when

And if you were expecting that your IT staff or suppliers could replace a completely dead server in moments, when they know that purchasing a new one can take several days – you have a disaster just waiting to happen.

UPDATE: Joel Spolsky covers this topic excellently in this post titled;  Let’s stop talking about “backups”

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Photo Credit twicePix via flickr

Some estimates put up to 66% of data loss either accidentally or deliberately performed by insiders.

That is a dry statistic.

Real World

Three times in the last two weeks, and twice today alone, our development staff accidentally deleted data on production servers. Twice were accidentally writing errant database delete statements that deleted entire tables in a database.

The third was dumping data into the wrong spot, overwriting the stuff that was supposed to be there.

The SMB Takeaway

Sure, outsiders, hackers etc are a risk. But the largest risk is inside your walls.

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I was talking with the owner of an IT Services organization. His business is outsourced network and IT support, as other IT services to smaller businesses.

He told me that he was talking to a prospective client and asked what backup strategies were in place, the prospective client said he did not need any back up as the server disks were mirrored.

Hoo Boy!

If you are not familiar with a basic Disk Mirror, mirroring is simply keeping two identical copies of all data on separate hard drives on the server.  In the event that one disk fails, data on the other is still available until the failed disk is replaced.

Let Me Count The Ways…

1) Mirrored drives are exact replicas (exact copies) of all data written to the server drives. Well, If you accidentally delete that critical financial plan, it is deleted. Period. There is no second copy on that mirrored disk, it gets deleted too. (I have had three of those in the last two weeks. More on those in a later post)

2) Mirrored drives are designed to protect your data in the event that one disk in the mirror pair fails. That does not help you if there is a more catastrophic failure on the server. That could include the mirror controller failing among other events.

The SMB Takeaway

Single server disk mirroring can mitigate one single disk drive failure. They are not an adequate backup and recovery strategy.

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A Change In Policy

A Change In Policy

We use a hosted, online Software as a Service tool. It is not a huge or complex one, but use it for a key internal function.

As the possibility of the vendor going out of business, shutting down, or being acquired always exists, we negotiated at the outset that we wanted periodic copies of our data.

In this case, the vendor was simply supplying a raw backup of the database. In the event they did shut down, our development team could at least extract the data for import into any other tool that we wished to use.

A few weeks ago I stopped getting that data backup.

After several weeks of calls and e-mails, I finally received this;

Hi Elliot,

I am with Replicon support. I tried to contact you few minutes back to discuss this issue and reached your voicemail. I left a voicemessage for you. Currently there are some changes in our company policies because of which database backups are not provided

The SMB Takeaway

Using software applications ‘out in the cloud’ has some benefits. But there are risks.

In this case our data backup strategy for our corporate data had the rug pulled out from underneath it.

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Photo Credit JM3 via flickr

Laptops - Backup!

Laptops - Backup!

Like phones and PDA’s. laptops are mobile devices.

They can move around daily, plus, as they aren’t nailed down they are at a much higher risk of theft and can breakage.

Yet even though laptops have this higher risk of losing some of your corporate data, too often they rarely (if ever) have all of that corporate data on them backed up!

With desktop PC’s, it is easy to have a policy that all critical data be stored on your servers. It is even fairly easy to simply schedule data backups of those workstations if you so choose.

But with laptops?

If they are not in your office – well, a backup gets harder to do.

You can try to get people to regularly move their data to your network servers – but people won’t. Too much effort or too much time, or too hard.

Mobile vs. Remote

When looking at ensuring that data on laptops is properly backed up, it can help to divide your laptop users into two camps. The first one, lets just call Mobile.

These folks work primarily in your office, may travel once in a while, and generally use the laptop because it adds flexibility to their work environment.

I personally would fall into this category, the laptop basically travels between my office and home as it allows me to get caught up with work that is behind, plus allows me to quickly respond to alerts and problems with our IT infrastructure.

Then we have the truly Remote.

These men and women are either true Road Warriors, gone for days or weeks at a time, or they work out of remote locations or offices, visiting your facility a few times per year.

The Backups

It can be easier for the ones I simply define as mobile. You have the choice of a policy that all corporate data resides on servers, and and that only copies be carried on the laptop, or you can possibly have a backup job that runs during the day, specifically for the laptops.

Personally, I don’t like doing backups during the day, but as a small business I compromise. Those of us lower on the corporate totem pole have the server storage policy, but an exception made for the senior executives.

For the truly remote workers, it gets more difficult. I can supply backup devices that plug into their laptops, I can even subscribe to online backup and storage services.

The Problem?

People are people – and unless you make it automatic – most simply won’t do it. Part of it is regularly communicating the risks, and if you are just reviewing backup services for remote workers, ensure that minimal user intervention is required. The more automatic it is for those remote workers, the better off you will be when it comes time to rescue that data.

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