• John Bentley

You're Doing Backups All Wrong!


Sometimes I just want to scream out to the world that they’re doing backups all wrong! Here I sit, again, with the external hard drive of a good friend with precious family pictures that exist nowhere else in the world. And the drive is dead, dead, dead. And his pictures are gone forever. This drive was his backup from about 5 years ago.


You’re probably doing some kind of backups, and regardless of the naivete you’re enjoying, they’re probably junk. Yes, junk. External hard drive? Just waiting to crash. USB memory stick? Destined for the washing machine. DVDs? Kindling. Internal hard drive? Worthless. A friend’s computer? Give me a break. Tape drive? That’s a joke, right?


All good backups have these 4 things in common:

  1. They happen automatically. If your backup solution requires you to do anything after installation, absolutely anything, it’s too much. Backups should happen without you lifting a finger. They should either run continuously or be scheduled to run at least daily. Even if all you have to do to start your backup is to plug in an external drive, you’ll forget, get lazy, or just start putting it off. If you only put it off for a few days while you’re traveling, that can be disastrous.

  2. They are stored offsite, without effort. I’m just going to say it: external hard drives make terrible backup destinations. Why? Because they crash, get stolen, dropped, lost, forgotten, burned up in a fire, or even overwritten. I once went several years without seeing a single external drive last more than 12 months. They’ve since gotten better but still, why tempt fate? USB sticks, tape drives, CD’s, and DVD’s aren’t any better. Backups need to be stored offsite so that when the unexpected happens, your backups will still be intact regardless of whether your home or office was affected; fire, tornado, theft, sabotage, ransomware, data corruption, zombie apocalypse, etc. If you have to take the backups to an offsite storage facility or even just home, again, you’re just asking for it; you’ll forget, get lazy, or procrastinate. Said another way, your backups need to happen across a network or the Internet; they don’t need to be made onsite and then moved offsite. They need to backup to an offsite destination.

  3. They are tested. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen someone attempt to restore from a backup after a data loss only to find that their backup was no good. What usually follows is some salty language, disbelief, apprehension, desperation, and even tears. A recent survey by the data recovery specialists at Knoll Ontrack found that while 57% of IT managers have a backup solution in place, 75% of them were not able to restore all of their lost data. IT managers are the ones who are supposed to know what they’re doing! If you’re a business owner without IT staff, how well is this being done? Test your backups, and test regularly. By that, I mean that you should go through the motions of restoring your backed up data on a regular basis. Create a calendar for testing the restores and stick to it; audit your restores; do whatever you have to do to make sure your backups are not only being done but are actually good.

  4. They maintain multiple versions. That just means that you can restore a particular file from an hour ago, two days ago, or two weeks ago. If you’ve suffered a ransomware attack then it’s possible that your last backup was encrypted by the ransomware. Ransomware is a huge threat these days. It works by encrypting your files. They can only be decrypted with the cryptographic key which is what the saboteurs are hoping you’ll pay them to get. And even when you do pay, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the key or the key will work. So if you’re not able to restore from a backup that occurred before your data was encrypted by the ransomware, your backups will be useless.

Back around 2003, I lived beside a family where the wife and mother also ran a small business from her house using her Internet-connected computer. She occasionally asked me to help her with her computer which I was happy to do. I noticed that she was backing up her files to a 100mb Zip Drive (those were all the rage back then). She would leave the disks sitting on top of the computer. I mentioned to her that she really needed to have another form of backup and to get them out of the house. She could lose everything in a fire, theft, tornado, etc. I then asked her what would happen to her business if she experienced a disaster and she lost all her files. She told me that her files were her biggest tangible asset in the business and that she would likely be out of business if they were lost. She was smart because she readily agreed and asked me to make a recommendation.


After a little research, I recommended an Internet-based backup solution and we got it installed and running. We then just forgot about it. Fast forward three months. I had moved across town so we were no longer next door neighbors. The phone rang one night at 2:00 AM. My friend was crying and in a panic and exclaimed: “I’m watching my house burn and my computer is burning with it! Are my files OK?” Wow! Besides still being asleep, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I assured her the best I could that her files should be just fine. The next day she brought me a replacement computer and I had all her files restored and business applications installed by the end of the day. I was also sure to install the same backup software on the new computer. Talk about being a hero!


Fast forward another three months; phone rings, “My house was broken into last night and my new computer was stolen! Are my files OK?!”. It took another computer and another day, but she was back up and running in less than 48 hours as though nothing had happened.


Fast forward two more months; phone rings, “My computer isn’t acting right. I think the hard drive might have crashed.” She was right, her new hard drive had indeed crashed. And you guessed it, a new hard drive and another day and she was back up and running.


You won’t believe it but in less than two more months her new hard drive failed and I had to replace it, restore her data, and rebuild her computer one more time. You can’t make this stuff up! If you still aren’t convinced of the need to have good backups, maybe I need to move next door!


So bottom line, here is what I recommend. For individuals and all but the largest and most complex businesses, I recommend cloud backups. Remember that “cloud” just means we’re talking about a computer somewhere else in the world that you’re accessing over the Internet. So “cloud backups” just means that you’re backing up your computer to another computer over the Internet.


My favorite cloud backup solution is Backblaze. I could go into the details but suffice it to say that it checks all the boxes; install it and forget it (backups are performed continually), they are stored offsite in the cloud, and previous versions are kept for 30 days. The testing is still up to you but this is as good as it gets. The cost is $50 per computer per year and there is no limit to how much is backed up. If you question the value then just ask yourself how much you’d be willing to pay to recover your personal photos or your business data after a total loss. I’ll bet it’s a lot more than $50. Do us both a favor and use my affiliate link to sign up for a free trial: backblaze.probitytec.com. But even if you don’t use this link, Backblaze is still my top recommendation.


If you’re a business with a server or NAS (Network Attached Storage) then their B2 storage is the way to go. Your backup software must support B2 but the savings over other cloud backup solutions can be substantial.


Backups are without a doubt the most critical piece of your disaster prevention and recovery planning. If you’re a business this means that staying in business after a disaster is much less likely to happen if you’re not able to recover your lost data. Take a few minutes today to ensure your data is protected.


Contact ProbityTec today at www.probitytec.com and let us show you just how economical and beneficial it is for us to manage all this for you.


Mr. Bentley started ProbityTec in early 2018. He explains that the word probity just means integrity and he requests that you stop using the word integrity in favor of probity from this day forward. ProbityTec provides managed IT services to small and medium size businesses, churches, and nonprofits throughout West Tennessee. Mr. Bentley can be reached at 731-410-7017 and john.bentley@probitytec.com.

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