Are Your Backups Really Backups?

I have heard many stories over the years from people who “thought” they had backups of their data, only to experience a data loss and discover that their backups were useless.  Do you know if your data backup is a true backup?

There are many reasons why a backup might not work:  the original data was corrupted, the media is no longer readable, or the data is obsolete.  There are some simple steps to verifying that your backups will work for you in your time of need.

Verify your data is not corrupt

Often, people set their computers to have automated backups and do not realize that they have inadvertently deleted or moved a file or have a system that is infected with malware.   Once your system has become infected the integrity of your data is at risk.  You should have a good scanner installed on your system and periodically run thorough checks to confirm that your files are intact.  If you think your system is infected here is a brochure: Tier3 Malware Brochure, to assist you with removing the malware.

Once you have completed a backup you should review your logs to verify that no errors occurred during the process.  If you have automated backups, you should create a reminder to check the logs periodically.  There are many types of backups settings and the ability to recover a deleted file may be a short-term setting.

Not all backup types are the same

While backing up your data is paramount, the way you backup your data is also vital to data recovery.  The best solution is to have multiple backups on varying media in multiple locations.  To accomplish this you will want to consider media types.  Many companies use tape backups, which require a person to actually physically go to the data server to manually rotate tapes.   Consumers have copied data to CD’s/DVD’s because they are extremely portable, but the longevity of this media is still in question.  Many portable devices are considered disposable and while you might have a copy of your data on a thumb drive, this may not be a true backup of the files you need.  Secure online backups have become popular in recent years because it is a true backup located off-site, requiring only the internet for access.

When choosing backup solutions you should consider the ability to access your backup.  Are you in an area that might be evacuated?  If so, remembering to take your backup device and power cords might be difficult.  It is a good idea to “share backup” services with another field office, or even another family member who lives in another region.  Make a backup of your data, verify that it is valid and then mail a copy.  You may not have immediate access but if your data does not change often, for example, archives of family photos, you will have the data secured.  An excellent addition to “shared backup” services is secure online backups accessed anywhere from the internet.  You will have access, or another field office or family member, to easily bring your data online from anywhere.

Check to make sure your file types are supported

Imagine that you have your entire family collection of videos on BETA or VHS tapes.  While having the data is important, half the battle is having access to that data.  You may save your box of BETA tapes from a house fire only to discover that your ancient BETA recorder has been lost.  The same goes for electronic data.  Many popular file formats are already beginning to see changes.  For example, Microsoft recently made changes to the file extensions used in its popular Office Suite software.  You may have noticed your .doc is now a .docx and so on.  Music types have also seen changes in recent years.

It’s a good idea to periodically review your backup data sources to make sure those files are still accessible.  If you notice that your file types are becoming obsolete there are many options available to assist with conversions.  Never destroy the original version, who knows, BETA might become popular again one day.

[originally reviewed October 2009]

For more information:

Tier3 offers secure online backup solutions, for more information visit our Tier3 Backup website.

A great new article, dated December 2010, discussing many of the same topics can be found at CNET:  Future-proof your data archive

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