Backup Has Changed - Are You Keeping Up?

December 22, 2015

Backup Has Changed - Are You Keeping Up?

By Andy Wolber

“The meeting’s tomorrow. My system crashed. Can you help?”

With those three sentences, you begin a real test of your disaster recovery system. You pass only if you recover the needed information accurately and quickly. Backup methods have changed significantly in the past few years… and over the the past few centuries. The time it takes to create an accurate copy of information has decreased. Unfortunately, not every organization’s recovery system represents “best-in-class” backup practices. What grade would your backup systems receive?

Medieval era backup
Grade: F… or failed

Monks meticulously hand-copied texts, which meant it could take up to 20 years to create a complete copy of a long book, such as the Bible. Your systems likely don’t take this long.

But if you rely on manual—not automated—backups, you’re not much better off than the monks.

Renaissance era backup
Grade: D

Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press reduced copying times significantly. A copy of a book could be printed in months, instead of years.

But metal moveable type reduced the time required to set text, not images. Each illustration still had to be hand-created. So some copies take less time to create than others: words could be composed and printed more easily than pictures.

If your backup method relies on a monthly process, or excludes certain types of files—due to size or type—give yourself a D. You’re still stuck in the Renaissance era of backup.

Victorian era backup
Grade: C

Photography gives us the language we use to discuss backup today. We “create an image” and make a “snapshot” of data.

In the early days, the technology of “drawing with light”, allowed us to capture and preserve visual information. Accurate reproduction of an image required specialized skills and equipment, while mass reproduction of an image often lost data: an image would be reduced to many dots. There was a noticeable gap between the data we could capture and the data we could reproduce—or recover—in quantity.

A Victorian era backup offers selective or “lossy” backup. Give your organization a C grade if you backup only select files or folders—or if you compress images to a lower-than-original resolution to save space.

Mid-century Modern era backup
Grade: B

Modern backup systems let us make a copy as a good as the original. Write a file to tape, burn it to disc, or save it on a hard drive (or SSD), and each format stores the same information. Digital technologies allow us to store audio and video alongside our documents and images.

Electronic backups present three challenges. Archivists copy files to new media to battle archival decay (e.g., from floppy disks to DVDs). System admins juggle multiple copies in hopes that at least one works. And we all migrate files—from .doc to .docx, for example—to maintain data in a readable format.

If you keep multiple backups of your data in modern electronic formats, give yourself a B.

Broadband era backup
Grade: A

Fast, high-speed internet allows you to move huge quantities of data quickly. The Bible that took Gutenberg two months to print, now takes two seconds to download. That means your data can be safely stored not only in your organization’s data center, but also copied automatically—and securely—to remote storage sites.

If your first action when asked to recover data is to login with your browser, give your organization an A.

Want a more detailed grade?

For a more detailed assessment of your backup and recovery needs, visit Answer twelve questions to obtain an assessment of how well your data is protected.

One question that isn’t on the quiz: Who first used metal moveable type to print a book? Gutenberg, right? Actually, no. Gutenberg developed his printing press in the mid-1400s. The oldest book in the world printed with metal moveable type is the Jikji, a Buddhist book, printed in 1377 in Korea. Today, only 38 pages of the book survive. Gutenberg’s legacy benefited, in part, because he made more copies of his books. Better backup means your data—and reputation—may be more likely to survive.

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