Disaster recovery goes beyond just restoring lost data. To quote Wikipedia:
Disaster recovery is the process of regaining access to the data, hardware and software necessary to resume critical business operations after a natural or human-caused disaster. A disaster recovery plan (DRP) should also include plans for coping with the unexpected or sudden loss of key personnel. DRP is part of a larger process known as Business Continuity Planning (BCP).
Those of us who are sole proprietors don’t necessarily think a lot about business continuity and ensuring that someone else could take over and keep the business running if we were incapacitated. Maybe we should, but then again, my business is built on the personal relationships I have with clients, and there’s no guarantee they’d want to continue working with my successor if I had one. (Okay, okay. I’m making excuses.)
Like Wikipedia and Tech Republic, I’m going to focus on data protection. Most data loss is caused by human error, and simple file backups can save the day if you accidentally delete something you meant to keep. Nevertheless there are fires, floods, thefts, and small children, any one of which might destroy your entire office, or at least put paid to your hardware along with your data. The possibility of a disaster is the reason for making off-site backups.
In addition to your data, here are a few other things to keep in that safe-deposit box:
- A list of your hardware specs, and/or the receipts for your insurance. If you make complete drive images, you need the same hardware to restore them to.
- Install CDs for your most important software.
- Passwords, particularly those you need to access online backups.
- Instructions for restoring your data, if you’re not familiar with the process.
The first thing that will prevent you from recovering your data is not making regular backups. That one is pretty obvious, but unless you’ve got an automated backup schedule, it’s easier said than done. That’s the reason I started writing the Backup Reminder, after all: because one of my clients kept forgetting to make backups.
In order to get your business back up and running, it’s not enough to be able to recover data from six months ago. You need the projects you’re working on now. Take a look through your documents and ask yourself “How much would it cost me if I lost this?” and “How long would it take to do this over?” Decide which things are critical and make sure you back them up daily. There’s plenty of free software which will do that for you, like Karen’s Replicator and SyncBack Freeware for Windows and SilverKeeper for Mac, not to mention online services like Mozy.
Next on the list of Worst Practices is “Save money on backup media.” This actually a warning against not buying enough backup media. You need enough tapes/disks/drives to make at least two full backup sets. And there are only so many times you can re-use a tape or a re-writable CD/DVD before it wears out.
The other danger in “saving money” is buying cheap no-name CDs and DVDs. These are much more likely to degenerate within a couple of years. (See the 9/26/03 Backup Reminder for more details.) It can also be dangerous to put labels onto CDs; the last I heard, you’re only supposed to write on the innermost plastic ring, where there isn’t any data. I do think, however, that if you buy CDs which are coated for printing on, it should be safe to write on the tops with a soft-tipped pen. (More on labels here.)
The next worst practice on TechRepublic’s list is “Don’t look at your logs.” You may be asking “What logs?” Many software programs keep “logs” recording the success or failure of the backup. Some programs will only tell you if the backup fails, but they’re usually still keeping track. If you don’t know where to find the log, check the install directory for the program. For instance, if I go into Program Files\System Tools\Mozy\Data, I find a text file called mozy.log. It’s full of things like this:
23Mar2007 05:28:22 mozybackup.exe: Mozy Remote Backup service is starting...
23Mar2007 05:28:23 mozybackup.exe: Client operating system is 0 0 5 1 a28 2 0 10100
23Mar2007 07:45:12 mozybackup.exe: Starting backup
23Mar2007 07:45:12 mozybackup.exe: Latest client version is 184.108.40.206
23Mar2007 07:45:15 mozybackup.exe: Retrieving manifest from servers...
23Mar2007 07:45:25 mozybackup.exe: Fetching encryption type from Mozy servers
23Mar2007 10:12:12 mozybackup.exe: Finished backup with code: 0x00000000
Fortunately, there’s actually a handy little “Mozy status” icon which tells me when my files were backed up last without my having to actually look at the logs, but logs are important. In the TechRepublic article, Peter Herbener recommends looking for error messages, checking to see if anything obvious is missing, making sure the number and size of files back up seemed right, and checking the start and end time of backups.
The fourth Worst Practice is not testing your backups. Testing every backup of every file every day isn’t really practical, but you should definitely check the first backup you make with any new program. Herbener’s tips for testing are:
- Test with tapes (or whatever media you use) from your regular backups.
- Don’t just spot test a couple of files. Make sure you can restore entire directories, servers, or applications.
- Do a test restore to a different computer or server.
- If you can afford it, have the same model of tape drive at another location. Test it to make sure it’s really compatible! If you can’t afford that, at least make sure you know the exact model of your tape drive and know where to get one in a hurry.
- Make sure to keep a copy of the install disks for your backup software with your backups.
- Make sure to document the procedure for restoring or reinstalling applications, especially any special tips or tricks. Put this into a text file in the application so that it gets backed up with everything else.