You’ve read all the stories about losing your valuable data on a computer. Maybe you’ve experienced a loss of data.
Whatever the reason, you’ve been convinced that backing up your data is the best possible protection against data loss. You’ve set up a scheduled backup either locally on an external drive/CD/DVD or you’re using one of the many online backup services.
You keep multiple versions of the most important files and you check that the backup is running regularly.
But before you start congratulating yourself that your data is truly protected and recoverable I want to ask a question: How do you know for sure?
I spent more than 25 years in large-scale corporate IT environments working with disaster recovery, and the one thing that I’ve learned is that a backup isn’t just about backing up your data. You’ve got to know without a shadow of doubt that your backup is backing up the correct data on an appropriate schedule and that you can recover the data at the level that you need it.
In the corporate environment that meant on a daily/weekly/monthly basis we verified the backup process, and for our critical files we recovered them to test out the system.
How does that apply to your church computers? Let’s set up a typical computer scenario. Your church has some kind of tracking software or you’re using Quickbooks or other financial system. The data that is stored is crucial to the continued operation of the church.
You’ve started running automated backup software (say Time Machine on Macs and Windows Backup on PCs) and you’ve determined that you only need to back up the files once a week. You determine that you need to keep four versions of the backup file (one for each week). This gives you a month’s worth of backups that lets you guard against accidental deletion or file corruption. So far so good.
Backing up the data is only half of the data protection cycle. The other portion that isn’t talked about much is being able to verify that what you think you’re backing up is really what you want to back up and being able to recover the data properly. How do you do that?
It depends on the software or backup service you use, so I’ll discuss the general principles and then you’ll need to check with your software or backup service on their particular way to do it.
First, when you set up the backup you’ll usually have an option to verify the data. What that does is that the software runs a self-check on the data integrity of the backup. It doesn’t mean that it checks the actual data (that’s your job). It checks to see that the backup file isn’t corrupt.
Second, manually verify that the data that’s backed up is correct. That’s done by looking at the backup file on the backup drive or service.
Look up the file name that corresponds to the file name on your computer. The file size should be identical (unless you’re compressing data). If it’s not, then you need to find out what’s changed, especially if it’s just been backed up and nothing has changed.
The next step is to physically verify that the backup file has all the right data and that the restore procedure works. What good is backing up the data if you can’t restore it?
If you’re using local software make sure that you have a copy of the software stored offsite in case something happens to your computer. Nothing’s worse than having a backup but don’t have the software to restore the data because you no longer have access to the computer you backed up. To verify the restore procedure, you want to copy your local file to a different location or to rename it temporarily. Then run the restore portion of the backup software.
Usually the restore process will ask if you want to restore the entire backup (you don’t) or a specific file (you do). Check the specific file that matches the one you’ve moved or renamed. Then the software may ask you which version of the backup do you want to restore.
Go for the latest version since if you’re verifying your files on as regular a basis as your backup that will be all you need to check. The software will probably ask you to be sure you want to restore the file and it may ask you if you want it to be restored to the original location/computer or a different location/computer. Once you decide where you want it the restore procedure takes over and run the restore process.
After that completes (if all goes properly) you should have your backed up file on your computer. Go ahead and open it up with the software that you normally use with it. If it opens and everything looks good you know that your backup is truly a backup and you can rest comfortably knowing that you really do have a good backup. If not, review what you’re backing up and how you’re doing it.
There are a lot of horror stories about companies, both large and small, that thought they were backing up their data only to find out that either their backups weren’t running or the data was wrong or corrupt. They couldn’t recover. Don’t let this happen to you.
While it does take some time and effort to verify your backups think of it as an additional insurance policy. And, in the event you ever need access to the backup, you’ll look like a hero instead of a zero.
Here’s a fun but instructive video on the subject:
Brian Gowing has helped over 30 churches meet their technology requirements. Brian works towards shepherding the church, analyzing their technical requirements, sourcing the equipment, installing the equipment and training the volunteer personnel. As he likes to say, “equipping the saints with technology to help spread the Good News.” Contact Brian here.