The following backup suggestions favor having a computer ready to use ASAP after a data loss. Having only the data available can take significant effort to start practicing again with a working computer.
Compressing Backup Data
Most backup programs default to compressing data written to the backup copy. You can opt to backup without compression. The more compressed your data is, the more time the backup takes. If your data is compressed, you may need that backup program to restore the data to a usable form.
I don’t like compression because you may be forced to depend upon the backup program to access your data. At least three times my backup storage device broke or the program crashed and the data could not be extracted under normal office conditions. If your backup data appears simply as an exact duplicate of the data you use, you can access with all your normal existing programs. You don’t have to buy the thing that just crashed merely to access your data to store it more securely. Since you may be trying to restore years after you buy your computer, that backup program or device may be unavailable or hard to obtain, delaying your restoration.
Compressing a tape backup makes the tape drive run up to twice as long, wearing out the tape heads and corrupting the backup twice as quickly.
Emergency Computer Recovery
Backup systems should include the ability to recover the use of your computer after it crashes. If your OS claims it can do this, set it up and test it regularly before trusting it.
Onsite Backups: Small Office and a Peer-to-Peer Network
The backup strategy here assumes what is common for many small offices: there is only one computer or a small P2P network with one computer holding the office’s data storage file while used also as a workstation. All other computers in the office are workstations that use this one computer’s data storage file for all of their data.
Have Enough Backup Sets and You are Backing Up Enough
Backup data storage is becoming less expensive and more available. Before this Guide is published again, there may be a sea change in computing paradigms as law offices shift from a Windows office machine environment connected through the Internet to one where portable Apple/Mac-type screens use online data though a mobile connection. Any authoritative discussion of present hardware will soon become obsolete. However, common sense will always be a good guide. Keep daily incremental backups on- and off-site. Keep backups in as many different media as possible so if there is a problem with one media your redundant backup will still work. Another backup set is at least one more than you believe is enough. When that problem comes that not even your computer tech dreamed of, one of those extra sets will get you back to work.
The Best Backup: A Second Computer Offsite
Typically, if your computer crashes you either fix your computer or buy a new one, and then restore data to it. Often, this means reinstalling all of your software, setting up your computer, and then copying the data back to this new setup. I recommend having a backup computer offsite with a daily incremental backup. Assuming you test it regularly, you can go back to work right away and get a new computer set up at your leisure. This could be a home computer, if it is secure, or maybe even an older computer still capable of running your software. If you carry a laptop in addition to your office computer, using a backup program to save data to it as an additional data storage file backup let you operate your office when your office computer is down, allowing you to get a new office computer at your leisure.
Complete Instant Recovery Under Limited Circumstances
You can have a Complete Instant Recovery (CIR) of your primary, data storage computer if you make a duplicate image of the hard drive of the computer holding the data storage file onto a second internal hard drive in the same computer. Schedule the backup program to make an exact image duplicate of your first disk onto the second disk at night. Do not continuously backup your data or else any virus will corrupt the second disk immediately. When your computer’s primary hard drive crashes, take that out and put in the exact duplicate second drive, which lacks only that day’s data. Assuming nothing else is wrong with the computer and you have no corrupted data except for the day of the crash, you are up and running.
This CIR will work with a second hard drive in a computer on your office network as long as the computer is an exact twin of the data storage computer. There can be problems. Do not even think of this unless you test regularly, are handy with computer hardware, and know no one is modifying the receiving computer.
My hard drive wore out after running continuously for nine years. I had lots of data backup sets and software program disks I could have used to rebuild. Instead, I took the second drive out, replaced the first drive, and I was back at work in a leisurely 10 minutes with having to restore any data. An extra hard drive is less than $150 installed. Unless you can disconnect this second drive during the workday, the disadvantage to this is that when your primary hard drive physically fails, your second hard drive will probably fail soon, too. It must be replaced immediately.
External Hard Drive Backup
A portable external hard drive is different from a second internal hard drive. Typically, your computer will not let you boot from and run off of an external drive. Normally, a storage disk needs a working computer and operational software to restore the computer. If you rely on additional claims for an external hard drive made by either an OS or backup program, such as the ability to restore your crashed computer’s data, software, and OS to a specific date, test it regularly before relying upon it, and then keep testing it.
Any CIR is an expedient that you hope will get you right back to work. You need additional backup sets because the CIR will not work under many conditions, like if there is a problem with the computer other than a physical failure of the primary drive.
Stay tuned - Part 5, the final installment of this series, will follow on Tuesday October 15, 2013.
Remy Luria first logged on to the DOD Internet and other remote computers from Cornell University in 1977, where he obtained his JD from the law school and was an editor on the Cornell International Law Journal. He studied international trade and tax law at the Europa Institute in The Netherlands before practicing law in New York City, New Jersey, and then Honolulu. He used three kinds of pre-DOS OS and computers without hard drives before getting an 8088 DOS PC. Mr. Luria has held many bar positions with the ABA, ABA-YLD, NYSBA, NJSBA, HSBA, CLLA, and ACA, was elected five times to the Nuuanu/Punchbowl Neighborhood Board, and has testified before the Hawaii State Legislature. He wrote the first Information Technology Chapter for the HSBA’s guide for lawyers opening their own office over 10 years ago and recently updated it. His areas of practice include international law, commercial law, bankruptcy, real estate, mortgages, and administrative law for foreign companies. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.