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Computer Data Backups: Test Now or Cry Later

Written By: Joshua Feinberg

If youre like most small business owners, your computer
data backups are one of those things that you rarely pay
attention to. Computer data backups are kind of like
flossing your teeth and eating low-fat, high-fiber foods…
everyone knows what theyre supposed to do… but how many
REALLY do these things religiously?!?

Unfortunately when it comes to your computer data backups
however, complacency can be very dangerous. Of course, its
always a good idea to have a local computer service company
that you can rely on for advice on selecting and maintaining
your computer data backups. But, unless youre prepared to
put a full-time PC support person on your companys payroll,
its really important that you get some basic understanding
of the major issues with computer data backups.

So heres a compilation of some really crucial tips on
computer data backups that Ive put together, after nearly
15 years of helping small businesses protect their valuable
computer data files.

Test your computer data backups regularly and monitor their
log files.

To be effective, computer data backups must be highly
automated to ensure that jobs are launched consistently and
correctly, but your computer data backup system also needs
to be watched over diligently to make sure it continues to
function reliably.

Unfortunately, monitoring the computer data backup system
generally isnt a priority until something goes wrong. By
then its too late. Like the article title says, “Test Now
or Cry Later!”

People have a strong tendency with a computer data backup
system to set it and forget it. Automation clearly has many
benefits, but a totally hands-off approach can be very
dangerous if no one is overseeing your computer data backup
process.

Test and Then Test Again: VERY Important with Computer Data
Backup Systems

With any newly installed computer data backup system, don’t
assume everything works correctly right out of the box. Even
more important, don’t take for granted that your backup
system will continue working indefinitely. You need
periodically to restore some folders and files from your
backup media to validate that your computer data backup
system still works.

If your automated computer data backup routine is configured
to include a verify run with each backup job, testing a
sample restore job monthly should be adequate. However, if
you have an extremely low tolerance for risk, you may want
to simulate a sample restore job once a week.

The Hazard of Moving Parts and Open Design with Computer
Backup Systems

Why do you need to take these precautions if youre
purchasing a reliable, business-class computer data backup
system to start with? Typically, a tape drive or other
backup device is one of the few components in a PC or server
that still have moving parts.

As a result, its more prone to mechanical failure. In
addition, because a backup device generally is open, as
opposed to the sealed design of a hard drive, its easy for
the inside of the computer data backup system device to
attract a significant dust buildup in a relatively short
period of time.

Sample Restore Jobs and Cleaning Tape Heads of Computer Data
Backup Systems

Testing a tape for a sample restore job is also a great time
to clean the heads of the backup drive if your backup system
requires this kind of maintenance.

Restoring a few hundred megabytes (MB) of data to a scratch
directory and running a head-cleaning tape should take no
more than 15 to 30 minutes.

When running a test restore job, always restore the data to
an alternate server folder path, so as not to disrupt the
use of any shared folders.

Building a Computer System Backup and Restore Procedure
Checklist
In times of crisis, the most crucial issue becomes how
quickly you can get the data back onto your system,
undamaged. So, as you build your computer data backup
system, be sure to document your test procedures into handy
checklists.

This documentation also can be great for cross-training and
crucial for avoiding panic during an emergency. Be sure you
have a hard copy of this documentation next to your system
and stored off-site with your backup media.

Watching the Log Files of Your Computer Data Backup System

In addition to running test restore jobs, you must inspect
your computer data backup system log files daily. When the
backup system is first installed, take time to get familiar
with the way log files look when everything is working. This
way, if something goes awry, youll be better prepared to
pinpoint the nature of the problem immediately.

As network operating system (NOS) suites and backup software
have become more sophisticated, its now possible to monitor
backup system log files remotely and more proactively. In
most cases, the backup system log files are just plain text
(.txt) files.

Many third-party tools and utilities, as well as those
included with Microsoft BackOffice Small Business Server
(SBS) and Microsoft BackOffice Server, can automatically e-
mail or fax a backup system log file at a preconfigured
time.

Automatically and Remotely Monitoring Tape Backup Log Files

Many computer consultants have their small business clients
log files automatically e-mailed to them daily, so the
consultants proactively can watch out for potential problems
with the computer data backup system.

However, dont think this proactive monitoring is limited to
professional consultants. If your company has one or more
branch offices you support from a centralized location, you
also can use a similar method to monitor backup system
health in remote locations.

For greater flexibility, you can set up an e-mail alias so
the computer data backup system log file automatically is
sent to you, your second-in-command and perhaps an external
computer consultant… so you are all kept in the loop.
Also, this way, monitoring continues even when youre out of
the office or on vacation.

The Bottom Line

If your small business depends greatly on its computer
systems, backing up your data is not optional… and it is
not something that can be casually brushed to the back
burner.

Use the computer data backup tips in the articles to help
you become a more IT-aware small business owner. And
remember, when it comes to computer data backups, “Test Now
or Cry Later”. The choice is yours.

Copyright MMI-MMV, PCSupportTips.com, All Worldwide Rights
Reserved.

About the Author

Joshua Feinberg is a 15-year veteran computer consultant, an
internationally recognized expert on small business computer
consulting. He has appeared in dozens of business and IT
trade publications including American Express OPEN Platinum
Ventures, Entrepreneur, Inc, SCORE, Small Business
Computing, and USA Today. To learn more about Joshuas
money-savings tips for small business PC support, visit his
site at http://www.PCSupportTips.com

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