Back Up Your Data to Survive a Disaster; What You Should Know about Information Storage Strategies

By Hunton, James E. | Journal of Accountancy, April 2002 | Go to article overview
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Back Up Your Data to Survive a Disaster; What You Should Know about Information Storage Strategies


Hunton, James E., Journal of Accountancy


How safe is the information in your computer? If a fire, flood, earthquake or even sabotage struck your office, would your electronic data survive? And if you could access your data, how long would it take to get your information system up and running again?

These questions are being asked with far more urgency since the tragedy of September 11. While the questions, as you shall see, are often difficult to answer, what's clear is that organizations large and small need to prepare comprehensive disaster-preparation strategies. This article focuses on just one area of disaster preparedness: data backup.

The first step in designing such a strategy requires that you answer two questions:

* Downtime: How quickly must you recover the information before your business experiences serious setbacks?

* Cost: How much are you willing to pay to implement a data-backup plan?

To answer the downtime question, you must address, among other things, issues such as how well your organization can tolerate missed sales opportunities, delayed cash receipts, decreased employee productivity, lost purchase discounts and possible loss of customers, investors and trading partners. Faster recovery times equal lower downtime costs. However, strategies that speed recovery also can be expensive. While this article cannot cover all aspects of each strategy, it will summarize the major techniques.

A SAFE HAVEN

The practice of storing the backed-up data in a secure place, called vaulting, assumes that an organization's computer files are copied regularly on some type of removable medium, such as magnetic tape, CD or hard disk, and then delivered to an off-site location for safekeeping. The timing and extent of backups can vary (from continuous real time to once a day or once a week), depending on the organization's needs.

Renting a bank's safe-deposit box is about the most costly way to store backups, ranging from $15 to $100 a month, depending on the amount of space needed. At the low end of the cost spectrum is to have at least two employees bring separate copies of the data home every night.

Performing backups, if done manually, is slow and tedious. However, there is software on the market that does the task effortlessly. The least expensive tool, which is built into the Windows operating system, copies data from your hard disk, compresses it and then stores it on another medium. The utility also makes it easy to restore the data from the archived copy.

If you require more functionality, consider buying specialized software such as SmartSync Pro (www.smsynu.com), Retrospect (www.betterbackup.com) or NovaStor (www.novastor.com). The purchase price of backup-recovery software ranges from around $35 to $1,000, depending on its sophistication. Key features to look for in backup-recovery software include the ability to handle various media such as tapes, disks and rewritable CDs, to automatically schedule full and incremental backups, to report backup activities, to verify archived data, to support multiple file types and specific needs such as SQL databases and Exchange Server and the ability to track archived files and selectively restore them.

If you need to back up less than 650 megabytes (Mb), you can use a rewritable CD drive (CR-RW) such as the Yamaha CRW 2100SZ internal SCSI drive (www.yamaha.com), which costs around $300. If you need to store up to 20 gigabytes (Gb), consider a removable hard drive such as the Peerless drive from Iomega (www.iomega.com), which sells for approximately $400. And if your needs exceed 20 Gb, you will probably need to go to tape, such as the ADR50 (50 Gb) internal SCSI digital tape drive offered by OnStream (www.onstream.com), which carries a price tag of about $900.

An effective alternative to physical vaulting is electronic vaulting. For instance, a small business can electronically transmit mission-critical data over the Internet to the home computer of a key employee using software applications such as Altiris Carbon Copy (www.

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