Our main speaker today was Ed Correia of Sagacent Technologies, Inc. His topic was mobile connectivity and productivity, but the subject of backups inevitably arose. Sagacent is called in to fix a couple of hard drives every month, and more than once Ed has seen cases where the backup drive and the main drive both failed at the same time.
Ed is less fond of external hard drives as backup systems than I am. I agree with him that if your internal drive can fail, your external drive certainly can, and hard drives, what with their moving parts, are at risk of failure.
On the other hand, every backup medium is at risk of failure. DVDs and CDs can get scratched. Tapes can get tangled up. Flash drives get re-set. Paper printouts can get burned or shredded. Anything at all can be stolen. That’s why the answer to the question “How many backups do you really need?” is “Just one more.”
Ed backs his personal data up onto DVD each week and puts the DVDs in the safe-deposit box, and I think that’s as good a strategy as any. I haven’t developed that discipline yet (first I need a safe-deposit box), but I endorse it. I do make year-end backups not only of my Quicken data but of all my client data, and keep them outside my office.
For enterprise backups, Ed recommends reputable online backup services, the kind that use solid equipment in secure data centers and back their own servers up to other servers. A single drive “server” isn’t really sufficient for a company’s critical data; better to have a RAID system where the drives are mirrored. (Of course, there are disadvantages to that, too: any errors in the data on the first disk will simply be duplicated on all the rest of them.)
And speaking of data, Ed made an interesting point about how much data you carry along with you. He keeps his laptop clean of data except for the presentations that he’s giving with it. For anything else he needs, he connects back to his office computer using GoToMyPC, or relies on his Palm Treo smartphone.
This led to some wag (not me, honest!) asking how he backs up the Treo. His answer: Sprite Backup, about which I’ve seen a few press releases. For about $30 you get a downloadable backup program for your Pocket PC or smartphone. You can make manual or scheduled backups to the flash memory card in your device. Ed Correia has a 1 GB flash memory card, which holds his backups and then some.
After listening to him make his point about what would happen to you if your laptop with all your confidential data got swiped, I couldn’t resist asking what would happen if he lost his flash memory card. “Then I’d be crying in my coffee,” he admitted, though he does sometimes take that card and copy all the information to his desktop machine back in the office. (He also only syncs the Treo to the desktop machine, not to the data-free laptop.)
This demonstrates just how difficult it is not to keep vulnerable data with you if you’re actually going to be productive when you’re out and about. Even if you didn’t bring it with you, you’re likely to create it if you’re out for very long. And whether or not there are security implications, just not having that data (I’m thinking of the numbers in my non-smart cell phone) is a setback.
I have to admit that the password on my secondary laptop (the one I was taking notes on) wouldn’t be too hard to crack. (Really confidential information goes into encrypted files, though any skilled hacker could break into that, too.) I’ve been planning to reinstall Star now that Enna is successfully up and running, and I think keeping her drive empty of anything but what I need when I take her out is a fine idea.
One of the phrases we kept coming back to this morning was Einstein’s line about how things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. You can set yourself up for trouble by trying to keep things too easy. If you have more than one computer or device, you need to back up each of them.
The extra steps involved in backing up to more than one medium and keeping backups in more than one location can seem like an unnecessary pain. The first time your office or home is broken into, you’ll learn why it was you were supposed to keep data backups offsite, and why it can be worth the monthly fee for the online data service.
As I said to a colleague after the presentation was over, any backup is better than no backup. There is such a thing as a point of diminishing returns. Even so, it’s worth taking a look at your current systems to see whether there’s something you can do which gives you an extra layer of protection against theft, fire, or the failure of your backup hard drive.