Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Protecting Your Library's Data

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Protecting Your Library's Data

Article excerpt

Systems

librarian

It was a stormy night. Lightning strikes were reported all over. The next morning, when you come into work in the library you find that while most computer systems seem to be OK, a few computers just don't start up, including your director's. A closer inspection reveals a total failure of the hard drive-it's practically melted. You know that there's no chance of recovering anything from it. Your boss, the director, mentions as you examine the charred remnants of her computer that she'd just finished the library's budget for the next year-the culmination of many weeks of work. "It's still there? Right?" she asks.

Though this worst-case scenario is fictional, if it happened in your place today, would you be sweating buckets, or would you simply be able to say "No problem. It's safe and sound. Just give me a few minutes to replace your hard drive."

As long as I've been managing technology in libraries, one of my main concerns has always been ensuring that libraries manage their data well. Libraries just don't have the luxury of being able to recreate data lost to any of the many vagaries, events, and incidents that plague computer equipment, such as hardware failures, human error, and malicious viruses or worms. It's a cruel world sometimes. While today's generation of computer hardware has proven to be more reliable than ever, the other vulnerabilities seem worse than ever. I especially worry about each successive generation of viruses and worms as they become more difficult to detect and stop, and as they demonstrate increased ability to destroy data.

In my experience, the only effective way to manage library data involves using network servers. Local hard drives-- while exceedingly capacious these days-- lack the levels of security, redundancy, and protection offered by a healthy and wellmanaged network server.

My basic argument against using local hard drives for data storage involves the fact that computer users don't back up their hard drives. They say they do, but they don't. Even though you may have a Zip disk, CD-R drive, or other suitable equipment, workers just don't have the time and discipline to manually back up their files every day. It's also not good use of their time. If you expect each library employee to spend 20 minutes each day performing backup and other housekeeping tasks on their computers, the cumulative cost to the organization can be enormous. This is an activity that is best performed behind the scenes using an automated procedure that doesn't forget and that doesn't make excuses.

One possible strategy would be to allow staff members to save data to their local hard drives, and design a process that backs up every hard drive each night. While that's technically possible to accomplish, this approach generally doesn't work well. The computers have to be left on, and the complexity of such backup processes among dozens or hundreds of computers far outweighs the logical alternative-that of using a network file server for all critical data.

I believe that every library-or for that matter any organization that relies on computers-should have a network-based data storage strategy. You can't guarantee the safety of the organization's data without the right hardware, software, security, and procedures. A viable data storage environment in a library would include this equipment:

Network File Server-A network file server configured for secure and convenient access for the whole staff should lie at the heart of the organization's storage strategy. A well-implemented file server works almost invisibly to its users. Access to the server does not require a separate login and blends its resources with the computer's natural interface. The volumes and directories of the remote file server appear, for example, just like regular drives and folders. The key to success is making it just as easy for the computer user to save their stuff into the proper folder on a remote server as it is to keep it on his or her local drive. …

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