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I would like to take the opportunity to thank Matthew Malcolm for his support on Tuesday in helping Harbourside Market resolve a major connectivity issue we were experiencing with the Motorola PDA’s and the commercial wireless installation. Please pass on my thanks to Matthew as his support was very much appreciated.

Merv Williams

Harbourside Market


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Data Backups - Information & Techniques

Important files are accidentally deleted all the time; mission-critical data can become corrupt; natural disasters can leave your office in ruin. A solid backup plan is the only method of recovering from any data loss.

Data backups are an important aspect of any business strategy and planning. The data contained within your office computer system is worth magnitudes more than the computers or the cost associated with backing-up.

Consider the costs involved with rebuilding your datafiles from scratch; the labour required to literally rekey data is one aspect, the other is the problems in continuing to trade during this time.

The costs involved with making an accurate, comprehensive data backup is minimal compared to possible costs and losses.

Some industries have legislated requirements under various Acts to complete a daily data backup and take that backup offsite. The offsite requirement allows for the worst possible disasters such as the office burns to the ground or floods.

Image arriving at work and finding a charred hole instead of the office, make a quick evaluation on the effect on your business. If you cannot be absolutely certain that an accurate and current copy of your critical datafiles (accounting, word, email, excel, etc) is available, rectify the situation today.

The main aspects to consider when implementing the type of data backup appropriate to your operation are covered within.

WHAT TO BACKUP  
MINIMUM - SPECIFIC DATA FILES AND FOLDERS

Any site with more than one computer (i.e. a network) must be configured with one machine acting as the “file-server” where all datafiles are stored.  Any new, altered, or updated data files must be backed-up – and datafiles that change on a daily basis mandate a daily backup.

Preferably the system is configured so that that all users are forced to save their datafiles into fixed locations on the file-server; and these locations then backed-up. Allowing end-users to store datafiles on their individual machines must be actively discouraged as an accurate backup would be impossible.

Most sites use the same suite of applications programs on a daily basis (such as EasyRez, Word, Excel, MYOB, etc).  To backup each of the programs requires copying datafiles from many different locations on the file-server. To manually copy the datafiles for each of these programs would take some knowledge of where the files are stored, plus possibly some hours in actually waiting for the data transfers.

A properly configured data backup would enable the selection of a single icon to initiate a full backup of all datafiles.  An even better solution is to have the data backup run automatically at a specified time each day; leaving the operator the task of simply swapping backup devices every day.

The best solution is to have the backup configured to run automatically overnight, and swap backup devices each morning.

It is worth paying a professional to ensure that all the datafiles important to your business are included in the data backup. It is also worth periodically checking the contents of the data backup to ensure it is functioning.

 WHAT TO BACKUP  
 SYSTEMS BACKUP

 A system backup is different to a data backup, in that your important system setup files are copied. As the system setup changes infrequently, a system backup would be carried out periodically (i.e. monthly) or whenever the system is changed.

Again referring to a complete disaster situation, if the time required to rebuild your system is critical in terms of getting the business running, a system backup would provide the fastest method of restoring the system to pre-disaster status.

With most smaller systems (without a dedicated Windows Server) where each computer is individually configured, a system backup is generally not viable.  It would be impractical to backup and then maintain accurate records for multiple workstations.

Whereas any site with a dedicated Windows Server, it could take 20+ hours to complete a full rebuild of the system, so a system backup should be considered.

 SYSTEMS BACKUP - FULL HARD DRIVE COPY

This is the most common form of data backup and is what most people think of when they hear the term “data backup”. However, it is seldom the backup that is actually implemented.

To make an entire copy of the Server hard drive requires the backup units have a larger capacity than the Server drive. Depending upon the type of computer system, the amount of data to be backed-up, and the type of backup device used, if it takes more than 18 hours to copy the drive contents, there is insufficient time between work periods for this to complete.

 CORRECT SYSTEM CONFIGURATION

 System and data security begins with installing the correct technology.

 DISK MIRRORING AND RAID DRIVE ARRAYS

Any machine acting in a File-Server capacity, no matter what the size of the computer network, should be fitted with dual hard drives in a RAID (redundant array of independent devices) where the entire system setup, all datafiles, and all changes are completed on twinned hard drives.

Should any single drive fail, the system can keep running on the remaining drive until repairs are carried out. This reduces the chance of a Server failure interrupting operations, provides a first level of system protection, and reduces the chance of data loss.

The main advantage here is you essentially have two copies of everything that is always kept up to date. A drawback; it is physically kept at the same site, on the same computer, and certain events may simply wipe them both out.

Disk mirroring should be regarded more of essential system setup parameter than a backup method.

NETWORK

If your computer is part of a network of two or more machines, all the data files for all users should be stored on one machine (the File-Server).

The system should be configured to force all users to save their data files into fixed locations on the file-server and these locations then backed-up. Allowing end-users to store data files on their individual machines must be actively discouraged as an accurate backup would be impossible.

TYPES OF BACKUP DEVICES 
PORTABLE USB STORAGE DEVICES

USB memory sticks generally do not have sufficient capacity to complete a full data backup.

While useful for temporary storage or moving data files around, we find the units to be a little “volatile” in that they regularly just drop dead. With no possible recovery from a dead USB stick, we do not encourage their use as the only level of system backups.

If you do use USB memory modules to store data files, use more than one module and regularly rotate them.

USB external hard drives are highly recommended, the advantages being portability, ability to connect to any machines, and being able to easily store backups away from the office.

You should also use more than one USB drive, and use them alternately to further reduce the risk of data loss.

DVD AND CD BURNERS

Most machines are fitted with a CD or DVD burner; and storing datafiles onto a CD or DVD is recommended under certain circumstances.

While useful for “burning” archive copies of long-term storage (e.g. month or year end financial records) or for generally moving files around that are too large to email, a CD or even a DVD generally does not have sufficient capacity to complete a full data backup.

TYPES OF BACKUP DEVICES  
INTERNET / ONLINE BACKUPS

All your data files are transferred via the Internet, to a remote storage facility. This can be an effective and convenient method for storing data backup at offsite locations.

However, due to limited Internet speeds the amount of data that can be transferred in a given time is restricted. There may not be sufficient time between work periods for all the data files to transfer.

These systems also tend to be incremental backups, which we also do not recommend.

For all Trust Accounting sites, there is also a question as to whether an online data backup meets the PAMD Act in terms of data backups and auditors.

RECOMMENDED DATA BACKUP SYSTEM

Before any accurate data backup system can be implemented, the system must first be configured with all the data files used by all users stored on a single machine. 

The recommended data backup system involves using at least two USB drives on a rotating basis.

The data backup is setup to automatically copy all the required data files to the USB drive overnight; with the USB drives swapped each morning; and the latest backup taken offsite.

As this requires the File-Server to be left permanently powered-up, some form of power protection (such as an Uninterruptable Power Supply - UPS) is recommended to protect the machine from power fluctuations.

 

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