James E. Gaskin

Are You Backed Up (Enough)?

When it comes to backups, make sure yours are done automatically, are tested regularly and have multiple processes.

Unfortunately, when you say “backup” to users, they hear “blah blah, nag nag.” Why? Because backup is boring. Users don't care about backup.

The first rule of backups: If they aren't done automatically, they aren't done at all. Never rely on a user to do a backup, because both of you will be disappointed.

The only time users care about data loss is when they try to restore a file. Therefore, to users, backups aren't important. Only restores are important. Because the goal of backup is a successful restore, the users are actually right on this. Techs focus on backups, but users only want restores.


The second rule of backups: Untested restoration procedures fail when they are most needed. When you conduct backups, you're not finished unless you regularly test the restore success rate of those backups. The older the data, the more restore problems you will find. Luckily, most restoration sessions are for data less than two weeks old, so stay current.

Disk-based backup systems offer transfer speeds, random-access capabilities and easy offsite storage options beyond the reach of tape backup systems. While these systems make restoration faster, easier and more reliable, they must still be tested on a regular basis.

Another important reason to test file restora­tion is to ensure you're backing up the proper data for each user. Desktop users might store all their data on a network-attached storage appliance or a file server, but what about notebook users? Mobile users tend to add their own applications, even when warned not to, and they may store that data in unusual places. Whether you use full-disk imaging for notebooks or just copy data files, test the restore process to a new notebook, and see if the user gets everything back. If he doesn't, he isn't backed up enough.

Better Safe than Sorry

The third rule of backups: Almost every school needs multiple backup processes rather than a single procedure.

If your school keeps all data inside devices on your local network, you might be able to get away with a single backup procedure. More than one location for any of your files means you need more than one backup procedure. You need a backup system that covers all of your data files – no matter where the users and applications create and store those files.

While you're thinking about all of these issues, rethink what you call your data protection process. We've established that users don't like “backup.” But what if you instead roll out a series of “pre-restore processes” to protect your data?

Automatic, unattended, invisible “pre-restore processes” won't aggravate your users nearly as much as “backups” will. And putting restore in the name puts the emphasis where it belongs: on restoring the data that's critical to your school.

Nov 24 2010