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Hair-raising approaches to data backups

We are smack dab in the middle of hurricane season, but SMBs should be keeping an eye on well-intentioned employees in addition to the local forecast.

Like the intern who was hired to perform daily data backups to tape drives and mail them to the SMB’s disaster recovery location — an off-site vault. An IT manager decided to check up on the intern’s work after the intern left — and found that the tape drives had no data on them … zilch.

The architect who told me about this chuckled, partly because an intern was used to perform such an important part of his company’s disaster recovery plan, but also because, well, it was just bad quality control on the part of IT.

I look back on the summer jobs I had while in college and remember an example of bad quality control. I worked for an advertising agency that had me (an English major) making copies of floppy disks — its strategy for daily data backups. Did I know the importance of these mysterious black squares? No. Did I do a few things wrong? Oh yeah.

For example, a guide on how to make duplicate copies of your floppy disks says:

  • Don’t allow them to come into contact with heat, dust, magnetic fields or electrical appliances.
  • Do not keep all of your backup disks together in one place.
  • Do not continually use one disk, as disks do wear out! One high-density disk can store a lot of text-related documents, but it is best to make several copies of your work on separate disks.
  • It is best to use Windows Explorer or My Computer in Windows to copy files to floppy disks rather than application software such as your word processing or spreadsheet programs.

I didn’t know any of this, and neither did the person in charge of me — we used the same disk over and over.

I know that most SMBs have better quality control for data backups in place than these scenarios, and the technology has come a long way: disk-based backup options are dizzying, and there’s new cloud-based backups popping up all the time. Then again, a recent study by Enterprise Strategy Group found that on-site disk and tape are still the backup approaches of choice at most businesses.

Moving into September, SMB backup options is a topic that several experts will tackle on, including how one CIO is sticking with tape drives as his primary backup plan, and why he’s not keen on cloud-based backup options.

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