Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2009

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

Data backup is something everyone knows they should be doing (or doing better), but creating or reviewing your backup plan is best done before disaster strikes.

Regular backup of your vital information is your insurance against natural disasters such as flood, fire and tornados, as well as unnatural disasters like viruses, equipment failures and human error. If your office is destroyed it can be rebuilt, but can the same be said of your e-mail, word-processing documents and contact databases?

One of the first questions people have regarding a backup system is, “How much is this going to cost?” But don’t let money be an obstacle – any price you pay will be nothing compared with a catastrophic loss of data. That said, there are solutions to match just about any budget, and anything is better than nothing at all.

First Steps

Develop a solid backup strategy. Create a written plan that outlines what is being backed up, where it’s being backed up to, how often backups will occur and who’s in charge of performing backups.

Normally, your most critical information will be your accounting files and client database, followed by your important documents and e-mail files. These should be backed up before and after any significant changes are made. I suggest backing up these files once a week for your personal computer, but daily would be best for your work machines. Did I say personal computer? You really weren’t expecting to create a backup plan just for your firm, were you? You need to have a backup plan for all of your computers, including your laptop or handheld devices if they store any important data.

Files that are not used very often or used for archive or reference purposes don’t need to be backed up as often and can be stored separately from your other, more important data.

Don’t overdo it – not everything on the hard drive needs to be backed up. The operating system and program files can be easily reloaded from a CD if necessary. You can also trim down the size of your e-mail file by periodically removing messages from the Deleted Items and Sent Items folders. These two often-overlooked folders can contain copies of large attachments that are no longer needed.

Backing up your data is useless unless a copy is stored offsite. Keeping your backups in the office will provide quick access in case of a virus or other computer error but will not help in the event of a flood, fire or break-in. The best solution would be to store your data in a different geographic location or, better yet, several different locations. After all, you’re not the only one a disaster can happen to.

Finally, test your backups. Try restoring a few files to a different computer at a different location so you can test your plan before you actually need it.

Choosing a Backup Solution

With your backup plan in hand, next determine how much data you need to back up. Take a look at the machines on your network to get an idea of the size of each user’s documents folder and e-mail file and add in the amount of data in any primary shared folders.

Pick a backup solution with a storage capacity of at least twice the total amount of data you need to back up. This will give you room for growth, and will also allow you to perform incremental backups on the same tape or external hard drive along with a full backup.

• Tape drives. Tape drives are used by many organizations because of their high reliability and reasonably fast speeds with large storage capacities. Tape drives have long been the standard in backup media and are a reliable alternative.

• DVDs, USB flash memory devices and external hard drives. Should you use these devices as your primary means of backing up? Well, the price is certainly right for these items, and they can be read by any modern operating system on another computer with a DVD drive or functioning USB port.

Ah, but beware - DVDs and flash memory devices usually have plenty of space to backup one computer, but not if you have five or more staff members. DVDs are also fairly fragile and can be affected by heat, cold and scratching.
Flash memory drives are better served by carrying data you want to access or change while on the go rather than backing it up. You can use them to make quick, easy, redundant backups of super-critical files such as databases and accounting files.

External hard drives are a great cost-effective solution for single computers or a small office network, although, if left connected, they also become susceptible to computer viruses and natural disasters. Remember, offsite storage is the key, and to be really effective you should use multiple drives that are used in rotation.

USB drives and portable hard drives are also more prone to theft. Storing data on these devices is less secure than it would be in a harder-to-read backup archive, even with password encryption – and encryption is the key. Backup software will handle scheduled backups as well as encrypting your data.

• Online backup and recovery. One of the easiest, safest and reliable solutions for protecting your data is an online backup and recovery service. Companies like CoreVault offer automated backup solutions for all of your different types of data. The service encrypts your data before using your high-speed Internet connection to send it to multiple datacenters where it stays encrypted, keeping your data both safe and secure. CoreVault also offers a data-analysis tool to help determine which files to backup, as well as project data-growth trends. The other side of the data backup coin is recovery. With a click of a button you can immediately restore e-mails and files.

They also offer solutions for offsite backup of archive data. The restoration process takes a little longer, but you can store more data at a lower cost – an excellent option for your older data.

We know how important your data is. That is why the MSBA has added CoreVault as a member benefit. MSBA members can sign up for CoreVault for as low as $19.95/month. For more information call toll-free at (866) 981-5949, or visit www.corevault.net/msba.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May 2008

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