Oops, I Lost My Data

by : Glenn Caldwell

You may be in a situation where you know your data is not being backed up correctly - or at all. You know it needs to be looked into.............but you just can't 'find the time to speak to the other team members about it.

Data is the second most irreplaceable and valuable asset after 'people'. In the event of a disaster, insurance money can only pay compensation and replace tangible assets; it cannot replace people or your unique data.

So where do you start? Well every business has their own requirements and generally will look to their IT support company for advice on their specific needs. In my experience IT companies (particularly for SMEs) just rather organise blue cable, servers, peripheries and maintenance plans - than ensure a decent Disaster Recover (DR) plan is in place. And if they recommend a DR plan, it will be based on their biases on the subject.

Here is what to consider and investigate when developing a data backup plan.

First - How much data are you generating each day? That is how many Gigabytes?

Second. How many days/hours of data can you afford to lose?

Third. If there is a major systems failure - how much downtime can you afford?

How much data needs to be backed up daily? You should only need to do an incremental backup of the NEW data for the day.

When to do a FULL backup? ................ Usually weekly.

Also you may require Archive backups...............often monthly.

Once you know the quantity of data to backup daily & weekly, you can then decide on the method.

You need to consider how much data needs to be stored on Disc (eg NAS) for rapid access in case of a systems failure; and how much data can be stored on Tape (LTO, DLT). Tape is cheaper to run but takes longer to backup and access.

The simplest method is to buy a Tape drive unit that can backup about 200 - 400 GB of data. The costs vary ($1000 - $2000) for the unit and the individual tapes cost about $50 - $60 each (you often need about 20 tapes). If your data is close to a Terabyte (TB), you are now looking into more money to set up ($5000 - $10000).

- Removable hard drives are becoming more popular as they are now becoming more affordable when compared to tape. Although they store less information than tape - you can access the data faster on a hard drive than a tape.

On the other hand, you can store a lot of your daily data on Disc Storage (NAS etc..) however the hardware can be very expensive to purchase and very expensive to operate. You need to keep the units running constantly - even if you just want to have access to a simple word file - the whole unit needs to keep running. A lot of electricity for disc, whereas tape just sits on the shelf.

You just have to know what data you need to store for rapid access (Disc storage) or archive or not so urgent (Tape) and balance your expenditure and operating costs accordingly. Also remember to factor in the amount of data increase you are experiencing in your organisation (thanks to emails and larger file sizes - there is at least a 50% increase in all extant data per annum!!!). Finally make sure you calculate the running costs (electricity, consumables, depreciation, repair) for the method you choose.


Some experts will say tape is vulnerable to damage and corruption. The solution is to make multiple tape backups and then store in a cool, safe place. Actually tape will last years without problems.

Many companies offer off-site tape storage. This allows you to store tapes in a library/cataloguing system that can be viewed online. They are kept in a secure vault with idea climate conditions for tape longevity. You are also able to instruct the storage company how often they visit your office to exchange your backup tapes on an agreed tape rotation plan.

What about the Internet?

Yes some people have backup software that allows their data to be de-duplicated and compressed so as to fit in the available bandwidth. Some IT people actually backup onto the available space on their Website Database. Web hosters often offer a certain amount of data to be stored in the back end of the web site itself - for a monthly fee. Just check to see the extra costs associated with data transfer. Also in the event of a systems failure (where communication lines can go down - thus internet and WAN) how are you going to retrieve the data?

IT people are also known for taking home older servers - placing them in their garage and backing up data over the internet to their second hand PCs. Is this a reliable solution considering sick days, holidays, burglary and internet integrity?

Some companies will host your data in a similar way to Web hosters? Just ensure that they are in fact a suitable option when you factor in costs, reliability, bandwidth, data restoration time and DR.

What if you need a 'Standby Data Centre" in the event of a major disaster?

You can always consult your IT Company on what to do if you need to rebuild a whole server room in a major crisis. Larger organisations have a remote DR site that allows their staff and their whole network to relocate and recommence with 1 - 2 days, in the event of a disaster. This of course bears a huge capital cost.

You can always ensure that you have data kept off site in one form or another and that you have a plan in place that allows your IT company the option to rebuild a server - load your data and get your company up and running in a couple of days....at least for critical systems. There will be some ongoing costs to keep this plan running....but keep in mind the cost of downtime for your own business. How much money is lost every hour your business is not operating?

Other simple solutions

There is more software being developed that will compress and simplify your data so that you are only backing up a smaller parcel of data.

This is definitely worth investigating, however I would recommend that you start changing policy internally with regard to backup solutions. Remember that a large source of your problem is that company employees often make several copies of the one file, do not delete there 'Sent files' and do not archive or manage their emails. This is where you can save a lot of memory - and thus know for sure the REAL amount of data that needs to be stored.

Glenn Caldwell