Does your backup actually work?

Tips & Hints

Anybody with important data backs it up. But even if you dutifully back up every day, are you sure you could recover the data if you had to? You must run a test restore on a regular basis.

Posted 14 March 2003

Data is the most important asset of many businesses. If a business lost all its accounts, records, customer and banking details it could well be out of business. Wise businesses backup their data.

However diligently backing up is not the end of the story. If something goes wrong, you will have to recover the data from the backup. That is when you may get a nasty surprise.

The worst example we've seen was a business whose server hard drive had crashed. While not happy, they at least had a set of backup tapes that they had been running for the last two years. Feeling confident, we installed a new hard drive, setup the software and then found the backup tapes were blank, they had never actually worked.

No matter how good the software is, it is essential that you test the backup on at least a quarterly basis. Even if the backup is working, you’ll need to know how the software works. When you do lose data, you’ll be under enough pressure without having to learn an arcane set of commands.

When testing a backup, choose some files to restore. So that you don’t destroy your current files, make a copy of them before doing the test restore. Many backup programs allow you to choose where you restore the files to, but you still have to play it safe with your data.

Depending on the type of backup you use, there are different ways you can test the backup.

Disk Backup

By disk backup we mean copying data to another hard drive, a CD, or a removable disk like a zip drive. These systems are generally used for smaller backups. The great thing about them is they are portable.

The easiest way to test them is to take them to another machine, connect them, or put them in the drive, and see if the other machine can see your data. With CDs you have to be careful that you haven’t used the packet writing software such as Roxio CD Direct or InCD. If you have used specialist software, then you need to make sure you have the software available to get the data back.

Tape Backup

Much more complex, but easily automated and suited to large amounts of data, tape backups present different challenges. Because of the cost and the different software, media and standards, it’s unlikely you’ll have another tape unit or you can test it on your home computer. You’ll need to know how the restore function of the tape software works.

Program Backups

Many programs have their own built in backup. This is particularly true for accounting programs and personal information managers. If you use these, you must understand not only how they work but where they save that backup. It’s a great risk saving the backup to the same drive as the data.

Because computers do throw unexpected disasters at you, it is important to know how to recover from them. Just as you should backup your data at least weekly, you should know how to recover it. Think of it as fire drill for your data.

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