Data Backup Challenges and Solutions

By: Ray Torres

I don't know of a single medical practice that does not perform some kind of data backup or save information on some medium. The correct choice often goes unnoticed, but the incorrect backup selection can lead to many issues. So what are some of the challenges you may face in a data storage environment?

&bullTraditional data backup is time consuming, intrusive and unreliable. Mission critical medical data and information can only be backed up into whatever time is available, usually during off hours or weekends.

&bullData restore is especially critical and must be fast and reliable. The backup process is usually uneventful, but the quality of data retention will not be known until someone needs the data right now. Did you know that 50% of tape back ups fail to properly restore data, and tape failures were often caused by human error.

Now there is a more effective solution; a "managed offsite" backup solution which securely backs up all of your network data. Backup is accomplished directly to an offsite secure vault. With this system:

&bullthere are no time-consuming manual programs;
&bullno tapes to manage or store;
&bullno expensive tape hardware to maintain;
&bullbackup more often to minimize data loss between runs;
&bulland quick recovery lost data.

Further, an offsite data back up system is cost effective because you only pay for the total aggregate amount of data protected-no matter how many servers, personal computers and laptops you are protecting. Typically pricing is based on gigabytes of data backup on a per month basis; and usually the more you store the lower the price per gigabyte.

If a practice is heavily invested in a current backup system, one should consider a migration strategy that begins with the back up of practice management or EMR data to an offsite vault. As the current backup system becomes obsolete, one can move additional data offsite.

In the final analysis, as with everything, not all offsite backup solutions are created equal. When a practice is considering an offsite solution, the following key factors need serious examination:

&bullFast, easy installation-is there just one software application to install or are you required to install multiple agents to accomplish your backup needs?
&bullAccountability-can you easily access real-time reports and/or is there email alerts to ensure that you will know your backups were successful?
&bullFast and efficient data recovery- is there quick restore capability? And is there an option of having the most recent data backup being stored locally and in the vault?
&bullData security-is there advanced security technology that is HIPPA compliant to ensure safety and confidentiality of your data at all times? The minimum is AES 128 bit encryption, but one should consider AES 256 bit encryption.
&bullNetwork optimization-is a solution capable of detecting data duplication and block-level incremental backup? Is the data compressed to reduce the amount of data transmitted to a vault?
&bullRestorability-is there an enabler that ensures that data stored in a vault is restorable? Without this feature, there is no way to confirm data can be restored.

As for implementing an offsite data backup solution, one must first perform an assessment of all medical practice data. The assessment begins with locating the data, then identifying duplicate data to ensure the back up of the right and appropriate data. Depending on the amount and size of data to initially back up, it may be downloaded to an external hard drive, enabling the delivery and uploading to a vault. All subsequent data backup would be completed automatically through a secure Internet connection. And scheduling of the
backup could be throughout the day, at the end of day or as dictated by policy.

In sum, there are many solid data storage solutions. However, the traditional backup method where tapes are used is expensive, time consuming, unreliable and could spell disaster. In fact, 40% of firms that shut down for three days due to a disaster, failed within 36 months as cited in Contingency Planning and Management magazine.

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