Thursday, September 18, 2008

COMPUTERS - Hard Drive Backup

Today the backup standard has shifted away from using tape drives and CDs.

The newer standards are:

  • Backup to an external hard drive
  • Backup to an off-site computer system in a Data Center
  • Backups made by a Backup Service provider, off-site and can be real-time

The first standard can be used by anyone. Very affordable. For companies using this option, you need only remember to have more than one backup hard drive, and always store the drive containing the last backup off-site, so if your building burns to the ground you still have the last backup in a safe place so you can rebuild your computer system.

Both "off-site" options are generally used in the commercial world, since they are high cost. These options became a standard, especially after 9/11; when many companies in the Towers lost all their data because their computers, including backups, were lost. There is a home-user offering, Norton 360 Premier which includes online backup at their site and is included in their monthly fee.

The Data Center option is where a business uses a computer that is physically located elsewhere. Usually a site maintained by a provider. The computers in these facilities can be owned by the provider and hard drive space leased for backups, or the computer can be owned by the client and the space (cage) where it is located is leased. In many cases the Data Center provider also provides maintenance, depending on the contract. These Data Centers have very high security standards, fire protection, environmental control (temperature & humidity), and power backup systems.

Of the 3 options, the Backup Service is the most expensive. What the Backup Service provider does is automatically backup your systems to a computer at the provider's site. This, of course, requires a T1, or faster, broadband connection. In addition, for security, the connection requirement may be direct (not via the WWW, World Wide Web). According to contract, the Backup Service provider can do backups whenever the client wishes, including hourly (example) Differential Backups.

Now as to software:

Under the old standards using a Backup Utility, some supplied with the OS (like Windows Backup), was OK. But there is a problem with these utilities, they perform File Backups. The problem with this method is you cannot simply recover your system or drive if it is destroyed, and this is a real problem if it is your boot drive (C: in most cases). In these cases the only option is to build a new hard drive, including loading your OS. Then after you get to the desktop, without doing anything else, use the backup utility to recover all your files. Note for C: there is a problem, some files on your new hard drive will be in-use, and therefore cannot be copied over by the backup recovery process. This is especially true of drivers and running services.

The newer standard is to use a Drive Imaging Utility. These utilities make an image (aka picture) of your hard drive or drives. Therefore you can use the utility to write your old hard drive image to a new, empty, hard drive, and the new hard drive will boot normally if it's C:. One popular Drive Imaging Utility is Norton Ghost.

What should a good Drive Imaging Utility include?

  • Must include a way to BOOT to a CD that will run, at minimum, the Backup Recovery module.
  • Must be able to see your backup device; CD, DVD, external drives no matter how their connected (USB, Firewire, etc.)

Software I've used?

  • I have used Ghost in the past and the install CD is also a boot CD that will run the Ghost Recovery module only. The problem I had with the version I was using, it could not see my external Firewire hard drive that contained the Ghost images. I stress that is was an older version than Symantec offers today.
  • I have also used Acronis True Image in the past and they provide a way to create a boot CD that will run the full utility. To create their boot CD you must have your OS install CD. For Windows, they are making what is known as a PE (Pre-install Environment) CD with their utility on it, using your OS. Acronis True Image is very popular, but I had a problem on my system. I could not get their verification process to work consistently. In addition, when verification fails the backup process just stops. The error message gave no details as to just what caused the failure. Through experimentation I found out that Acronis did not like imaging various folders, System Information folders for example. When doing a Hard Drive Image (C: as an example) you cannot exclude folders, I could never get a Drive Image to work. I stress this was on my home system, many people swear by Acronis True Image and do not have problems.
  • What do I use today? O&O DiskImage. This utility provides you with an ISO (CD boot image) that, after you write it to a CD, gives you a boot CD to the full O&O DiskImage utility and running on Vista. Note that the CD has the full utility not just recovery. This utility has saved my system's C: on two occasions, a WinXP crash and getting rid of a particularly pesky virus. Both times my system booted without problem after recovery. Did you note that the utility's Vista boot CD imaged and recovered a WinXP C:?

Here's a link to Wikipedia's article on Computer Backups

Update 9/25/2009

Disaster Recovery:

While this subject is most defiantly applies to businesses and Computer Servers, it should be considered for your home PC.

Disaster Recovery is in the same category as backups, but the differences is WHAT you backup.

The scenario we are talking about is the infamous 9/11, the total destruction of a computer (physically or electronic failure). Companies in the Twin Towers on 9/11 had to go out of business because ALL of their records were lost. The ones who did survive where the ones who had there computer records backed up in a safe place, therefore could rebuild their financial records at a new location. This is Disaster Recovery.

What needs to be considered, your computer is gone. You will need to buy a new one, with an OS installed and applications you run. What you need to recover is your financial and other business data (vendor list, open orders, stock for insurance claims, payroll, etc.).

This means that for Disaster Recovery what needs to be backed-up is your DATA FILES, not your entire system. This is because a System Backup would not be compatible with a new computer.

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