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Computer Data Backups: Test Now or Cry Later

If youíre like most small business owners, your computerdata backups are one of those things that you rarely payattention to. Computer data backups are kind of likeflossing your teeth and eating low-fat, high-fiber foods...everyone knows what theyíre supposed to do... but how manyREALLY do these things religiously?!?

Unfortunately when it comes to your computer data backupshowever, complacency can be very dangerous. Of course, itísalways a good idea to have a local computer service companythat you can rely on for advice on selecting and maintainingyour computer data backups. But, unless youíre prepared toput a full-time PC support person on your companyís payroll,itís really important that you get some basic understandingof the major issues with computer data backups.

So hereís a compilation of some really crucial tips oncomputer data backups that Iíve put together, after nearly15 years of helping small businesses protect their valuablecomputer data files.

Test your computer data backups regularly and monitor theirlog files.

To be effective, computer data backups must be highlyautomated to ensure that jobs are launched consistently andcorrectly, but your computer data backup system also needsto be watched over diligently to make sure it continues tofunction reliably.

Unfortunately, monitoring the computer data backup systemgenerally isnít a priority until something goes wrong. Bythen itís too late. Like the article title says, "Test Nowor Cry Later!"

People have a strong tendency with a computer data backupsystem to set it and forget it. Automation clearly has manybenefits, but a totally hands-off approach can be verydangerous if no one is overseeing your computer data backupprocess.

Test and Then Test Again: VERY Important with Computer DataBackup Systems

With any newly installed computer data backup system, don'tassume everything works correctly right out of the box. Evenmore important, don't take for granted that your backupsystem will continue working indefinitely. You needperiodically to restore some folders and files from yourbackup media to validate that your computer data backupsystem still works.

If your automated computer data backup routine is configuredto include a verify run with each backup job, testing asample restore job monthly should be adequate. However, ifyou have an extremely low tolerance for risk, you may wantto simulate a sample restore job once a week.

The Hazard of Moving Parts and Open Design with ComputerBackup Systems

Why do you need to take these precautions if youírepurchasing a reliable, business-class computer data backupsystem to start with? Typically, a tape drive or otherbackup device is one of the few components in a PC or serverthat still have moving parts.

As a result, itís more prone to mechanical failure. Inaddition, because a backup device generally is open, asopposed to the sealed design of a hard drive, itís easy forthe inside of the computer data backup system device toattract a significant dust buildup in a relatively shortperiod of time.

Sample Restore Jobs and Cleaning Tape Heads of Computer DataBackup Systems

Testing a tape for a sample restore job is also a great timeto clean the heads of the backup drive if your backup systemrequires this kind of maintenance.

Restoring a few hundred megabytes (MB) of data to a scratchdirectory and running a head-cleaning tape should take nomore than 15 to 30 minutes.

When running a test restore job, always restore the data toan alternate server folder path, so as not to disrupt theuse of any shared folders.

Building a Computer System Backup and Restore ProcedureChecklistIn times of crisis, the most crucial issue becomes howquickly you can get the data back onto your system,undamaged. So, as you build your computer data backupsystem, be sure to document your test procedures into handychecklists.

This documentation also can be great for cross-training andcrucial for avoiding panic during an emergency. Be sure youhave a hard copy of this documentation next to your systemand stored off-site with your backup media.

Watching the Log Files of Your Computer Data Backup System

In addition to running test restore jobs, you must inspectyour computer data backup system log files daily. When thebackup system is first installed, take time to get familiarwith the way log files look when everything is working. Thisway, if something goes awry, youíll be better prepared topinpoint the nature of the problem immediately.

As network operating system (NOS) suites and backup softwarehave become more sophisticated, itís now possible to monitorbackup system log files remotely and more proactively. Inmost cases, the backup system log files are just plain text(.txt) files.

Many third-party tools and utilities, as well as thoseincluded with Microsoft BackOffice Small Business Server(SBS) and Microsoft BackOffice Server, can automatically e-mail or fax a backup system log file at a preconfiguredtime.

Automatically and Remotely Monitoring Tape Backup Log Files

Many computer consultants have their small business clientsílog files automatically e-mailed to them daily, so theconsultants proactively can watch out for potential problemswith the computer data backup system.

However, donít think this proactive monitoring is limited toprofessional consultants. If your company has one or morebranch offices you support from a centralized location, youalso can use a similar method to monitor backup systemhealth in remote locations.

For greater flexibility, you can set up an e-mail alias sothe computer data backup system log file automatically issent to you, your second-in-command and perhaps an externalcomputer consultant... so you are all kept in the loop.Also, this way, monitoring continues even when youíre out ofthe office or on vacation.

The Bottom Line

If your small business depends greatly on its computersystems, backing up your data is not optional... and it isnot something that can be casually brushed to the backburner.

Use the computer data backup tips in the articles to helpyou become a more IT-aware small business owner. Andremember, when it comes to computer data backups, "Test Nowor Cry Later". The choice is yours.

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Joshua Feinberg is a 15-year veteran computer consultant, an internationally recognized expert on small business computer consulting. He has appeared in dozens of business and IT trade publications including American Express OPEN Platinum Ventures, Entrepreneur, Inc, SCORE, Small Business Computing, and USA Today. To learn more about Joshuaís money-savings tips for small business PC support, visit his site at

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