Don't lose your computer data!

Posted by Brian Bell
Brian Bell
Brian Bell holds an honours degree in accountancy (BAcc), a degree in Law (LLb) and a diploma in professional ...
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on Sunday, 17 June 2012 in General Category

You’re looking forward to the summer holidays! A few days off work and your cousins are coming down from Aberdeen. It’s always nice to see them and their children; only this time you’re a little anxious because in January you bought a new computer.

You know everyone will want access to the Internet over the summer holidays so you’ve already installed an effective firewall, anti-virus and content filter.

All set? Well almost......

The computer now stores tons of photos, a few games, the history of the pub football team you play for and, oh yes, the accounts for your brother’s joinery business (..he’s promised to buy his own PC next year!). Once they’ve changed for the barbeque you just know the juniors are going to head straight for your PC, kebabs in hand. You’re not worried though, because whatever damage they do, you have BACKUP. Mmmm. No? Maybe?

You don’t give it another thought until they all arrive and you notice Heather (cousin’s daughter) rushing over to say ‘hello’ and tell you about her first term at Aberdeen Uni. What’s that hanging round her neck? The latest student fashion? The result of an initiation ceremony?  “NO! It’s my first dissertation” Heather proudly tells you. After thinking how much weightier a dissertation used to be, you are told it’s actually a ‘backup’ of her dissertation on a 'flash drive'.

Out of the corner your eye you can’t help thinking the gathering crowd around your PC looks more like a gathering storm. You wonder if their merriment is going to result in some damage to your brother’s accounts data. You’ve noticed recently his sense of humour is not improving with his advancing years. Still. Too late now. Everyone is having FUN and you certainly don’t intend to be the one remembered for spoiling it.

What could you reflect on when the visitors depart? Firstly, that ‘flash drives’ don’t make very good costume jewellery. Secondly, and generally, that our increasingly digital world seems to have mistakenly persuaded us that the digital format is permanent, self-preserving, and unbreakable.

So...…consider grading the data you store on your PC according to personal/business worth, confidentiality, and frequency of change.

Find out where it’s stored. Some data, like Heather’s dissertation, might begin and end with a single Word document i.e. once you’ve backed up the single file, you’ve got the lot. Some business applications, like an accounts package, may have a facility that exports the current accounts data to a single file on disk. Other business applications, like ‘Document Management Systems’, are actually a combination of applications and you have to backup groups of files in different locations, all at the same time, to have a valid backup.

Be careful not to accidentally copy 'folder shortcuts' to your backup CD thinking it’s a copy of the real folder. It’s easy to do this with the “My Documents” folder. You might think you’ve checked by clicking on the folder on the resulting backup CD before removing it from the CD drive. Hey presto, you see all your Word documents and you’re happy the backup has been successful. What is actually happening is that the shortcut on your CD is showing you the (un-backed up) documents over on your C drive. Take this CD to a friend’s PC and the illusion disappears. The real documents are neither on your CD, nor your pal’s PC – as an error message may soon confirm.

For important data, particularly if it changes regularly, don’t keep backing it up to the same CD, the same tape drive, or the same flash drive. If you do, you only have one level of backup. Heather removed Chapter 5 of her dissertation in May as her lecturer had told her it was irrelevant. However the Head of Department disagrees and wants it re-instated. Unfortunately that flash drive was Heather’s only backup. Each time she takes a backup it just overwrites and replaces the dissertation that was stored there before. So the backup containing Chapter 5 has been overwritten several times.

Oops! A lot of re-thinking and re-typing ahead. Always more painful than the original work! The good news for you is that Heather won’t find out till September. So the summer holidays won’t turn into an academic crisis.

If you’ve spent months scanning, building up a library of family photos 2000–2009, there’s little point in backing up the final compilation every day, as the collection is now complete.

The data has become ‘static’. More important here to consider the quality of the backup medium (e.g. some CDs are better quality than others – and don’t last forever), the number of copies you plan to have, the different types of storage media available to you, and ensure that not all backup copies are stored in the same geographical location. Murphy’s Law dictates that the flood waiting to drown your PC when the pipes burst will damage the backup sitting next to it only if you don’t have any elsewhere!

For important, rapidly-changing data, keep a series of backups reflecting the state of the data at different points in time.

In business where you often periodically overwrite the same backup media (e.g. tape drives), backup schemes such as 'Grandfather/Father/Son' or 'Monday to Friday' are easy to control. In addition, keep a slower-moving cycle e.g. 'Month1, Month2, Month3'. Keep one or more 'off-site' or ‘out-of-the-house’.

If you are upgrading to a new PC keep the old one for a few months until you are sure that you have actually transferred all the data. If you are re-installing a PC , perhaps because it’s virus-ridden, and it contains important data, consider borrowing a PC and restoring your backed-up data to that PC first. Also install important applications on that borrowed PC (plus virus checker) so that you can see and verify the restored data before you finally pull the plug on your own PC. back to the barbeque!

©it-atwork (scotland) ltd
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Brian Bell holds an honours degree in accountancy (BAcc), a degree in Law (LLb) and a diploma in professional legal practice (DipLP) from the University of Dundee.

After being admitted as a solicitor in 1995 he has worked for a number of local firms as well as the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service. He also teaches criminal advocacy and advanced criminal advocacy on The Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Dundee.


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