Upcoming Case Study: Backups

I’m working with a new client right now that has had hard drive failure. This is never a good thing, but this particular client was silent when I asked where their backups were. My only thought:

“Uh Oh”

Silence is never a good thing when asked about backups. An immediate “here are our backups” is better. The best answer is “here are our backups, and they were spot checked last Friday.”

The cost of not having this third statement is expensive. My time and the cost of a hard drive recovery service such as DriveSavers can end up costing thousands of dollars, and there isn’t any guarantee that you’ll recover your data at all (although DriveSavers does not charge for failed attempts.)

You could be spending time and money with the only thing to look forward to is spending more time and money manually rebuilding the lost data.

Mac OS X 10.6’s Time Machine is a great start for backups. Plug in an external hard drive, click one button, and it does it for you.

Can you afford not to?

Update:

The hard drives are off to DriveSavers, which means that the price tag for recovery just got quite a bit higher. Assuming that the data is recoverable.

Photo courtesy of kelsey_lovefusionphoto

Backups

This was originally published on the Des Moines MUG mailing list, where it was suggested that it be published.

The fiasco with the Sidekick phones provides the opportunity to talk about backups a bit…

1) A good backup is a verifiable backup.

If you are dumping info into Time Machine, and you are never pulling info back out of it and checking, how do you know that the data is good? In the instance of the SideKick data, this means that they would have known that the backup is good, and that they could rely on it. Until you know that you can recover from it, you cannot call it a good backup.

Spot checks of the data should be as important as the actual backup itself.

2) A good backup consists of many backups of the same data.

At my current job, I store three months of backups, and I consider that too little, but don’t dare increase my budget. They are located both on-site and off-site, although they are only separated by about three miles, meaning there are several scenarios that could cause data loss.

– What happens if you are relying on all of your data being on a single hard drive, and there is a fire that destroys both your computer and backup?
– What happens if all of your backup is in one online cloud, and that cloud bursts like the SideKick cloud did?

If you have daily backups on a time machine volume, and a weekly backup to an online service, you are protected from either scenario. In this third scenario, the Time Machine backup is your primary, saving the changes that you make often. The online service is then your offsite backup, protecting you from physical destruction of the time machine and the computer at the same time.

If your backup strategy has any one point of failure, you need to reassess.

3) Synchronization is not backup.

Synchronization ensures that all of your data is the same between all instances that you create. If you are syncing your address book on your mac with an iPhone, you have two instances of the data, but they are tied together. If you delete a contact on one (or a virus deletes all of them) that deletion is transferred to your backup.

I realize that there are ways that the sync service tries to reduce the chance of this, but data loss is still a possibility. However, an offline copy of your address book on a USB thumb drive that is not plugged into your computer cannot not be changed, at least until it is plugged in again.

Furthermore, file corruption is not protected at all with Syncronization. Chances are, your corrupt file will appear more current than the good copies, and overwrite all of the good copies, usually just before you realize you don’t want to sync them.

Dropbox is a synchronization service, meaning that it makes sure that two different folders, on two different computers contain the same information. However, Dropbox also has a backup service integrated into it as well; which saves your files in DropBox’s cloud. There is a distinct possibility that DropBox could behave in the same way as the SideKick fiasco if their cloud were to burst, causing all of your files to sync with the now-empty file store on the cloud.

The way I use Synchronization Services is that I use it to ensure that all of the data is on our SAN, which is then backed up using normal backup procedures, this way, there is always an offline copy of the users’ data.

4) RAID is not backup.

RAID (except 0) is a way to protect from hard drive crashes. It does not protect against application corruption, accidental deletion, or intentional deletion. All of which are much more likely than hard drive corruption during the majority of the life of a hard drive. RAID is useful for server admins who deal with distributing data amongst many hard drives, which actually is a great way to exponentially increase the likelihood of data loss due to hard drive failure.

RAID 0 offers no protection at all- in fact, it is will exponentially increase your likelihood of data loss due to hard drive failure. Be careful when purchasing large external hard drives, as they are sometimes two drives that are internally configured as RAID 0. This is useful for professional video primarily.

5) Backup as sparse as you are willing to recover from.

– If you couldn’t stand losing more than a week’s worth of data, you’d best be backing up weekly.
– If you couldn’t stand losing more than a day’s worth of data, you’d best be backing up daily.
– If you couldn’t stand losing more than an hour’s worth of data, you’d best be backing up hourly.

You know what is important and what is not. Make sure to tailor your backup routine to your needs. Incremental backups, such as Time Machine are good about this.

6) Recovery options are available, but expensive.

Data recovery costs a minimum of $1000 for a hard drive. And they don’t guarantee they can recover anything. If you need such a service, please contact me and I can arrange for a discount with DriveSavers.