Data under threat

This guest article by Flavius Saracut deals with the common data loss risks and how you can avoid them by doing data backups.

Common reasons of data loss:

Even with the most reliable computer hardware and software, there is always the possibility of something going wrong. The most common causes of data loss include:

  • Human error – accidental file deletion, over-writing of files etc.
  • Hardware failure – Disks that are used constantly, or have not been properly maintained may suffer from mechanical failure, over time heavy file-loading or new software can cause the system to shutdown or reboot, alternatively automatic file updates can cause a system to reboot when files are still open and in use.
  • Software bugs can also corrupt data files to make them inaccessible.
  • Virus attacks – every day new viruses are released into the open, and anti-virus companies release updates to combat the problem. Virus attacks have been steadily on the increase causing business data to be ever more vulnerable.
  • Natural disasters – even with robust hardware, software and virus protection, the threat from fire and flood remains.

The best defense is data backup. Backing up data is vital for businesses; lost information can cause a major crisis or worse, lead to business failure. Individuals who don’t backup computer data run the same risk. While this may not cause financial ruin, it can certainly be frustrating and even heartbreaking. So why do so few of us practice data backup?

Here are the common excuses:

“I’m too busy to backup my computer.” We are busy at work, family and friends fill our days and leave us little time for boring things like computer maintenance. But today’s backup software manufacturers make it easy. Through scheduled backups your system can automatically perform a backup that fits your needs at an interval you choose – without interrupting life.

“I don’t know how to backup data.” Like preparing for a natural disaster, most of us understand how important data backup is, but don’t know where to start. A big step is deciding how you are going to store the data you backup.

“My computer won’t crash.” You’ve had your computer this long and haven’t had problems so far why worry about computer backup now? Think about it you wear your seat belt even though you don’t expect your car to crash every day. Data backup is about protecting your data’s future, but with computers, it isn’t if you crash, it’s when you crash. In today’s high-tech world of sneaky spyware and venomous malwares, you are in more danger of data loss than ever before. Computer viruses grew by more than 50% during 2007 alone as Emsi Software’s Annual Report 2007 shows.

It’s like exercising. You know you should do it, but you put it off. A recent Harris Interactive poll found that 35 percent of consumers neglect to make backup copies of digital content stored on their computers, even though 50 percent have lost important data in the past.

Why? Because if you mention backup to most people, the first thing that comes to mind (after “I really ought to do that”) is probably burning data to CDs or DVDs. Optical media was the logical follow-on to floppy disks for personal data backups.

If you don’t have many files to back up, burning DVDs is economical and handy; most modern computers have optical burners. If you keep the discs off-site, it’s a fairly safe method, too.

But are you really going to go through the disc-swapping motions every time you modify a file? The answer, given the statistics mentioned above, is a resounding no. Why not implement a system that keeps your data backed up all the time? You’ll have to spend a little bit of money, but less than you might think. It’ll take a little bit of setup time, too, but far less than it would take you to retype even a single important document – say, that painstakingly perfected résumé. If you’re willing to commit the cash and time, however, you can have a bulletproof system that will reduce the chance of your data being destroyed to nearly nil.

The Hardware You’ll Need

First of all, look beyond the disc burner – you’ll need some additional hardware. The basic solution is an external drive, one that connects to your PC via USB or FireWire. A good one will cost several times the price of a spindle of DVDs, but it also will give you several times the flexibility, while eliminating the hassle of labeling, filing, and keeping track of media.

If you want to secure your whole network, you’ll need to lay out a little more cash for a network-attached storage (NAS) box that everyone on your local network can back up to. Multidisk NAS boxes also offer RAID functionality that lets you back up your backups, so if one drive bites the dust, you can reconstruct your backup from those that remain.

The Software That Makes It Work

Once you’ve chosen your storage gear, you need a good app to make it work. You could just trust yourself to remember to drag a copy of important docs to the backup every time you create or modify them, but, as they say, “The road to data-loss hell is paved with good intentions.” Or, maybe, “He who chooses to act as his own backup software has a fool for a client.” The point is, sooner or later you’ll forget, and that’s when the big crash will occur.

Your operating system may already have some help built in: both Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) include backup utilities. Mac OS X has Time Machine, which backs up everything on your internal hard drive to external storage automatically. Just plug in a drive and, as long as it’s formatted in the Mac’s native HFS+ format, Time Machine will ask if you want it to be a Time Machine backup drive. You then use the Mac’s interface to recover lost files or use your OS X DVD as a disaster-recovery tool if your internal hard drive stops working.

On the Vista side, it’s a little more complicated. Vista Home Basic and Premium include only a simple document-backup utility; Vista Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate include disaster-recovery backup, which lets you recover everything on a devastated drive, including the applications, OS, and data.

What we recommend, however, are third-party apps – there are plenty of great ones for backing up selected files and folders, or even all files of a particular type, wherever they might be. These start at a mere $20. If you want complete protection, consider also occasionally enlisting a drive-imaging app. These programs use a lot of space, but they can restore your entire system from the ground up – the data, your OS and applications, and the countless settings you’ve made to each product so that it functions the way you want. You’ll find drive-imaging software for as little as $0.

Finally, the best safety strategy is to keep a backup of your data off-site, in case a more widespread disaster strikes. You can, of course, keep a hard drive in a safety deposit box, but you’re not going to do daily updates. Instead, try an online backup service. If you’ve got the bandwidth, for about $50 a year you can keep your important files on someone else’s server farm and not worry about the hardware.

You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to storage hardware, software, and services. Like tires on your car, the electronic circuits your computer rides on will eventually wear down and blow out. When this happens, you can either grieve at your loss or simply restore your data with your data backup software.

Have a Great (Malware-Free) Day!