What's the worst thing that can happen to your computer?
Worse than a hard disk crash, virus infection, spam
assault, denial-of-service attack, hacker takeover,
fire, flood, or other human, mechanical, or natural
disaster is a faulty backup when you really need it.
If the computer blows up, you can recover as long as
your data is backed up securely.
Tape backup is still popular among business users because
of its long use and cost-effectiveness per megabyte
This is despite the increasing popularity of other
backup solutions. Many home and small businesses use
recordable CDs and DVDs to back up newly created data.
Various types of computer users are now employing an
external hard drive, connected to a USB port, to quickly
and cost-effectively back up entire hard drives. Those
with broadband Internet connections can use Internet
backup services to conveniently store selected backup
Still, tape backup has a large installed base. But
like anything having to do with a computer, backing
up to tape isn't foolproof. Tape drives, backup tapes,
and tape backup software can fail.
When they do, panicked computer users often rely on
the services of a data recovery firm such as CBL Data
Recovery Technologies Inc., a company headquartered
in Armonk, N.Y., with branch offices around the world
and a Web site at http://www.cbltech.com.
CBL and companies like it want your business, and they
try to be helpful in multiple ways. Here's how you can
minimize the chances of a tape backup failing in the
first place, according to Doug Owens, managing director
of CBL's San Diego laboratory and resident tape expert.
Many of these same precautions apply to other backup
systems as well.
Make sure you have more than one copy of a backup tape.
Instead of using the same tape time after time, use
multiple tapes, rotating through them. You can use any
of a number of different systems for this.
With the odd/even system, you use one tape on one day,
a second tape the next day, reuse the first tape on
day three, and so on. With the 5-day rotation system,
you use a different tape for each day of the week.
Backup tapes are typically rated to be used from 5,000
to a half million times, depending on the type of tape.
Tape backup software typically will keep track of the
tapes, regardless of the rotation system you go with.
Make sure you verify your backups. Most backup software
will automatically do a quick "read-after-write"
verification and will optionally do a full verification.
The latter is more thorough and more time-consuming,
roughly doubling the backup time.
If your data is crucial, it can make sense to do a
full verification on a regular basis.
Make sure your equipment is being maintained properly.
You should clean your tape backup drive periodically,
following the directions in its manual regarding frequency.
You also should consider having an authorized maintenance
person from the manufacturer of the tape backup drive
or from a third-party repair firm check the alignment
of the drive every 12 to 18 months. Most businesses
just send the drive back to the manufacturer when it
begins to have problems, but if a drive has problems,
so can the backup tapes.
Make sure you store one backup tape off-site. This
will ensure that your data is preserved if your site
experiences a fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado,
volcanic eruption, or other disaster.
Some companies swap backup tapes with other offices
(for example, sending them via Fed Ex). Others periodically
do a "remote backup" through the Internet
from one office to another. With some small businesses,
a selected employee takes the backup tape home with
him. A further option is using an off-site storage firm,
which provides fire-protected storage facilities for
print and digital media as well as tape.
Make sure that the backup tapes kept on-site are stored
in a stable environment without exposure to extremes
in temperature, humidity, or electromagnetism. Don't,
for instance, store the tapes in a safe on the opposite
side of the wall from a large generator, whose electrical
fields can wreck havoc with the data on them.
Finally, make sure you periodically test your backup
tapes and your restore procedures. You can, for instance,
try restoring some of the data on the tapes to a different
server or to a different partition or folder on the
same server where the original data is stored.
With backups, the old maxim applies: Better safe than
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author
of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org