Test Those Backups

Today brought another story of a company having to redo most of a month’s work due to failed backups.

Business 2.0, a magazine that frequently reminds readers that they need to back up their data and compared it to…

…flossing – everyone know’s it’s important, but few devote enough thought or energy to it.

Their editorial system crashed and then lost all the work they’d done for their June issue. The only thing that saved them was the fear of litigation. They had copy-edited the text and sent it off to their lawyer via email. Even though the magazine listed off-site backups as being among the “usual precautions” they never had to rely on the backup system so they never knew it was “obsolete, dysfunctional, or both.”

At the risk of attracting bad karma and suffering the same fate I’ll take the opportunity to emphasize that not only do backups have to be done, they also have to be tested. And along the same lines, it’s why I avoid backup systems that puts everything into one big blob (like multiple DVDs) that has to be completely intact in order to get anything out of it.

Some rules I follow when doing backups:

  • Automate as much as possible. I won’t do the manual steps as frequently as I should.
  • Avoid “blob” style backups. These are backup programs that combine all the individual files in one file that you need the program to read. These usually require all pieces of the backup to be intact. If you have large amounts of data this may be unavoidable. If this case, have two complete backups.
  • Do test restores on a regular basis, even if this means only restoring a few files every month or so. You should do a full restore at least once to make sure you restore your system. If you use something like SuperDuper a full restore probably isn’t necessary as it’s simply an image.
  • Have multiple backups of truly critical data. For example, my truly critical data gets encrypted and copied to my iPod weekly in addition to being included in my regular backup. It’s also included in my Mozy online backup but as that’s still in beta I’m not trusting it yet and others have reported problems with Mozy.
  • Simple and easy is good.

The magazine publishes an annual list titles “101 Dumbest Moments in Business.” They should make the list this year. (More bad karma.)