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Fri 1 Jul 2005 04:00 AM

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Fail Safe

Picture the scene: your company’s small business server goes down and all your firm’s data goes with it. You can’t resolve the issue because you don’t employ dedicated IT staff. So what do you do? Well you stop imagining, read this article, then get busy backing up your data before it happens.

Fail Safe|~|SMB-backup---m.jpg|~|“Data back-up right now might be like a dull pain in the back of your head, but you need to transfer it to the centre of your eyes, notice it, and act on it,” advises Vikram Suri, Symantec MEA’s country manager for the Gulf and Levant.|~|Large companies may generate the most data, but they also employ IT support teams, one of their main responsibilities of which is to safeguard this info by regularly backing it up. If you’re a small business user however, it’s doubtful you have this luxury, which is why forethought and planning is key. Setting up a back-up process will take a little of your time, and it might also cost you a few (we stress, a few) dollars, but it could ensure your business stays the course.

Small business owners must be sensible then, and that in turn means taking a deep breath and imagining the worst that could happen. Remember Murphy’s Law? Don’t let it make a fool out of you. “Assess your risk before an incident happens,” advises Vikram Suri, Symantec MEA’s country manager for the Gulf and Levant regions. “Data back-up right now might be like a dull pain in the back of your head, but you need to transfer it to the centre of your eyes, notice it, and act on it.”

“If it’s stored on a hard disk, you need a safe copy of that data,” agrees Veritas Middle East’s technical consultant Omar Dajani. “Even disk drive companies offer statistics that tell you that at some point that disk drive will eventually crash. It’s a given fact. Therefore a second copy of your data is essential, it’s mandatory. Trying to regenerate this data is often impossible, which means your business losing money.”

In this region, enterprise customers are backing up and magazines like Windows are constantly reminding personal users to do the same (see page 70) but, according to Veritas Middle East’s technical consultant Omar Dajani, many SMBs here are not. “There are some medium size businesses – with 50 or 60 systems even – who aren’t doing any back-ups at all,” he warns. More serious still are his next words of warning: “What happens sometimes is that when firms with five or ten PCs lose their data, they go out of business. You can’t rewind history.”

From All Sides

If at this point you’re not yet won over, consider the many threats to your firm’s data. Aside from the ever possible hardware failure, there is the ongoing threat of viruses and hackers getting at your crucial info. “Stats show that 50-70% of data loss and corruption happens from inside the business – whether deliberate or not, such as unknowingly putting viruses onto your system,” claims Dajani. That’s not forgetting physical disasters, such as fires.

If you’re not already protecting your business by keeping your data safe then, what’s the first step? What data should you back-up, how should you do this, and what challenges might you face?

“If small firms see the need (to back-up), that’s the start point,” says Suri. “The second is being knowledgable about the tools available. Thirdly, if there is a security breach and data is lost, do they have a last ‘best known’ state available – a point of reference to go back to?”

In terms of the specific question of what data to back-up, the vendors out there are far from agreed on what’s best. “What many tend to do is back-up their whole hard drive,” suggests Rudy De Meirsman, sales and marketing manager at Plextor Europe. “This isn’t necessary. The biggest part of your data is software, like Windows, which can be reinstalled.” A fair point, but not one necessarily mirrored by Maxtor. “The good thing with USB2.0 hard drive back-up is that it’s so quick, you can do a back-up of the whole system,” asserts Jean-Frédéric Bistagne, director of Maxtor EMEA’s Branded Products Group. “The advantage or mirroring your system on a hard drive in this way is that – if you have a system crash – with the boot CD, the basic installation of Windows server etc. and our back-up application, you can restore the entire system.”

What the small business owner should certainly consider first and foremost is what information they cannot live without. As De Meirsman puts it, “What should really be backed up is your firm’s personal data, such as financial information – that which represents workings of company itself.” He suggests storing this data in one crucial data directory, not in program files, “as if you need to try and back those up, that can be complicated.”

Perhaps the most valuable questions to ask yourself are these, from Klaas de Vos, vice president of Western Digital EMEA. “What are your requirements? What can you afford to lose? How much time can you stay out of business? I recommend businesses do two things: one – have a plan; two– test it.”

What will be useful for most businesses will be to back-up the entire small business server (or each PC’s crucial data files if running a P2P network with no server) in full, just once, and then configure the back-up software in question to do incremental back-ups after that (in other words, the software only backs up new or amended data.)

De Vos suggests running a back-up test – ideally to a hard disk product, as he claims this is faster both to back-up to, and recover, than tape solutions. Then his second ‘must-have’ for your firm is a software imaging solution. “So,” he says, “if your disk drive crashes, replace this. From here, use your imaging solution to recover the OS and all the applications that were on your system. Then from your external back-up disk, restore the folder(s) holding all your important files. The best case scenario is you lose maybe half a day.”

The Product For You?

Once you have worked out the data your firm can’t do without, calculate how many gigabytes this runs to and grab the best hardware solution for your needs.

Windows spoke to a wide range of vendors about what products are suited to what businesses. The conclusions we reached, and which almost all vendors agreed with, were these:

- CDs and DVDs are valuable for archiving data (such as stock images for instance or digital copies of legal documents) but it is simply too time consuming to use this approach as a complete back-up solution (after all, who has the time to sit there for hours swapping discs?)

- If the data you intend backing up totals up to 300GB (or even 500GB in the case of Maxtor’s new products - see pg 9), an external USB2.0-based hard disk is the buy of choice. Its data transfer speed will be super-quick, it will be simple to use, and perfectly useable software will be supplied with it).

- If you have more data to back-up than this (a publisher for instance will have many high resolution pictures, PDF files and thousands of archived articles), consider a tape back-up system.

Western Digital’s De Vos further clarifies the benefits of external hard disks, explaining, “They’re easy to connect to, you don’t have to open up a PC, and you can take the disk drive home. Also, if you don’t run a network, you can still have individual PCs back-up to one hard disk.” This solution is also, according to Maxtor, a more effective one than going the tape drive route. “If we look at the systems that are usually used by small firms, there are many different sorts of entry-level tape systems, but an external drive costs maybe 30- or 40% of this sum,” claims Bistagne. “For well under under $600 you have a drive you can back-up up to 300GB, using open file server (i.e. you can back-up your server whilst it’s still running). The same solution using tape and the respective licences would cost maybe between 1600 and 1800 US dollars.”

The software side is of course part of the equipment equation too, but the quality of back-up packages now on offer is so high, and the user experience they offer so straightforward, that the supplied software should easily do the job you need. “It really doesn’t matter as long as it’s useful for company,” says De Meirsman. Dajani even points to Windows XP’s own built-in utility (explained in full on page 70) ” Windows back-up is simple to learn, even for people who aren’t that IT literate.”

Whilst Windows hopes to have made small business users take getting protected more seriously, we’re aware that someone still has to organise this back-up process and set-up a solution. In an ideal world though, try to avoid yourself being the only person with the knowledge required. “It’s always good to have one person in-house (that understands the process and how it’s run), but a second is even better, for if the first isn’t available or leaves the country,” suggests Dajani. “Even with Windows’ own backup function, you can’t learn it on the fly, so people should at least be familiar with it. When it comes to recovery time, that’s not the time you want to start learning the product.”


· Resolve to back-up and keep your data safe
· Identify the data your business can’t do without
· Calculate the capacity of this and purchase a suitable
hardware solution
· Consider an imaging solution to use for backing up your OS
and software
· Back-up all the data you’ll need
· Out-of-hours, keep this away from your office space
· Run a ‘catastrophe day’ test, preferably with another
member of staff on hand to learn the ropes too

Possible Purchases

Symantec: ‘Helpdesk in a Box’
This software solution includes PC Anywhere and Norton’s Ghost Solution Suite, plus basic reseller support.

Western Digital: ‘NetCentre’ A new network hard drive for small offices and home users.

Plextor: ‘Network Attached Storage (NAS)’ device. A printer can be attached to this 250GB network hard disk, transforming it into a print server.

Maxtor: ‘Shared Storage Drive’. In some markets called the ‘OneTouch II Small Business Edition’, this user-friendly external drive is reviewed on page 64.

Veritas: ‘Back-up Exec’. A good software solution for small businesses running Windows-based servers.

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