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Data recovery guru offers backup tips

An executive for CBL Data Recovery Technologies offers five handy tips for backing up your enterprise data. As a bonus, he offers a real-life example of one very sorry company that failed to heed this advice.

When the server crashes and the data is gone, there is nothing worse than discovering that somehow the backup did not take, that in the blink of an eye, everything was lost.

Doug Owens, manager of U.S. operations for CBL Data Recovery Technologies Inc., a data recovery firm based in Armonk, N.Y., has seen this IT tragedy again and again. It is a nightmare for anyone that has to go through it.

Recently, CBL received a call from an automobile parts manufacturing company. Its server had crashed, taking all the accounting and parts ordering information with it and virtually shutting down the company's operations. Luckily, the IT department had been regularly backing up everything to tape. They thought they were fine -- until they took a look at the tapes. They were all empty. It turns out that in order to successfully back up their data, they needed a software patch that they had never installed.

The company had to make that dreaded call to a data recovery company. In the end, the company lost about $500,000 in revenue and a few staff people before the problem was rectified, Owens said.

Owens has a few easy-to-follow tips that will increase the odds that you'll never have to explain to your boss why you lost half a million dollars in a day:

1. The first step is having a system for backing up data, whether it is stored on tape, disk or CD-ROM. "If you only have one copy of your data, chances of needing our services increase dramatically," Owens said. IT managers need to assess how often their data is updated and then back up on a regular basis in a way that makes sense. If data is updated daily, backups should probably be made daily, Owens said.

2. Make sure the copies are valid. As in the example above, just making the backups is not enough. IT managers need to check the backups to make sure that they work. Even if IT managers think they are backing up correctly, there are any number of things that could go wrong and lead to corrupted backups. Tape heads might be dirty, which means that data may look fine the day it is recorded, but over days or months it may deteriorate to the point where it is unusable. People doing backups may ignore error messages that occur when backing up to CD-ROM. Every medium has its weakness, and the only way to combat that is to check the data periodically to make sure it is being copied correctly.

3. Always make sure backups are stored in a safe place with adequate climate controls. A successful backup is no good if someone steals it or it gets damaged. In dusty places without proper cooling, disk drives can overheat, causing data to degrade. Computers left on the floor can be kicked, causing them to be damaged or come unplugged.

4. Security. Nothing is more likely to send someone running for the data recovery man than a virus that wipes a hard drive clean. Firewalls are an important way to safeguard against intrusion, and virus protection is a must, Owens said.

There is no way to guarantee that data will not be lost, but with a little extra attention to detail when it comes to storage, IT managers can dramatically reduce the risk of pink slips and huge losses, Owens said.


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