Last week we talked about how my brother and cousins and aunt and uncle back up (or don’t). This week brings us the last two major players in the family backups department, my father and my stepmother. (My mother doesn’t own a computer. I tried getting her one, and she gave it to my great-uncle—whom I should also ask about backups, come to think of it. I wouldn’t want to give unfair preference to my father’s side of the family.) We’ll start with Dad.
My father works as a very senior attorney for a large oil corporation whose U.S. offices are now based in Chicago. Dad commutes between an apartment in Chicago and a house in Cleveland, and he uses a corporate laptop with a docking station and external keyboard at both locations.
Dad is one of those people who wouldn’t use a computer if he didn’t have to, so he doesn’t have a computer for personal use. His machine (which runs Windows 2000) is almost useless unless attached to the corporate network via a secure VPN (that stands for Virtual Private Network)—a fact I learned the hard way when setting up the router in his Chicago apartment. (If you don’t have the logon password, not only can you not access the network functions, but the machine gets completely locked up. It’s not pretty.)
Employees at Dad’s company each get a personal drive which is actually part of a corporate server, of which there are several, in different locations. This drive is designated (“mapped to” is the geek way of putting it) H. If you open up Windows Explorer on Dad’s laptop, and go to “My Computer,” you’ll see Drive C, the internal hard drive, Drive D, the CD-ROM drive, and Drive H, the network drive. Other employees will also see Drive H on their computers, but it’s no more the same Drive H than their Drive C is the same Drive C, so employees can’t see each other’s documents.
This setup is actually quite similar to what we had on the Warwick campus back when I was an academic. In that case, most documents were stored on your computer’s hard drive, but most of the applications, for which the university had a site license, were served from a network drive. If you didn’t use your Novell Network password when you logged on, you couldn’t run those programs.
Dad backs up his Outlook PST file to the H drive “every couple of weeks if I remember.” (My father does not subscribe to my newsletter.) He doesn’t back up his document files, but believes that most of the documents are in the PST file anyway (by which I deduce that he either mails them to or receives them from his colleagues using Outlook).
The next question, of course, is how that H drive gets backed up, and how often. Dad kindly asked the IT staff, who were good enough to answer. “The server with the H-Drives is backed up on a daily basis. Not all servers have the same backup policies and rotation schedules. Yet, for the most part, the H-Drives are secure and the backups done on a daily basis are also secure. The backups are placed on a backup tape or tapes which at the end of the week get sent to outside storage (most likely Iron Mountain). After one week, the backup tapes are returned. At this point we have one set of backup tapes on site for the current week and one week’s worth off-site. After the tapes are returned, they are recycled for the next backups (this being the third week of rotation). The tapes are over-written. The purpose of the backup tapes is for restoration only.”
Iron Mountain, for the record, is also the storage facility used by City National Bank and Time Warner, whose missing backup tapes created a scandal earlier this summer. Before this rash of missing tapes, the company had a good reputation. They’ve been doing corporate document storage (paper as well as electronic) forever. And it’s not their fault if their clients don’t encrypt their backup tapes.
If the oil company’s tapes are encrypted, there’s no mention of it in the message. Odds are that they’re not: 60% of respondents in an Enterprise Strategy Group survey did not encrypt their tapes, and only 7% always encrypt their data before backing it up. Encrypting tapes, or rather, the data that goes onto them, seems to be an idea that’s just barely dawning on the corporate world. (Maybe Dad’s company should check out LiveVault and ditch the tapes altogether.)
But purely in terms of being able to restore from backups, Dad is in pretty good shape. My personal recommendation would be for him to make sure he copies the documents, as well as the PST file, onto the H drive, and that he do it every week rather than when he remembers it.
I wouldn’t recommend that he put his work documents onto an external drive or CDs at home, though, at least if it’s of a sensitive or confidential nature. The H drives might only be secure “for the most part,” but they’re still more secure than most people’s personal computers and media, just as the data centers will be far more secure than most people’s homes. And who wants to be liable for losing something like that?
Not a lawyer, believe me.
If you’re a teleworker for a large corporation, don’t forget to back your files up to the company network. And check to see what your company does to back up and what kind of security precautions they take with their backups. Who knows? You could save them from a Missing Tape Scandal.