Monday, June 17, 2024

Preventing End-user Data Backup Woes

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By now just about everyone using a computer in a business environment knows how to backup their data; even more so for the mobile users. So it’s puzzling that we still see so many hard drives being sent to the lab to have important data recovered. And more often than not, the so-called “important” data consists of locally saved email, the typical myriad of documents and spreadsheets. So it begs the question, “Why?” Why don’t users consistently and routinely back up their data? Is it really so difficult? Is it just too time consuming? What is the problem?

In reality, the answers to these questions are irrelevant. What is relevant is that it does happen, data gets lost and ultimately, we IT professionals are tasked with finding a solution to the costly clean room bills associated with getting that data back to the user.

Local recovery techniques

Having your IT department attempt to recover the data using software techniques can often be disastrous since the attempt requires spinning up the hard drive, which could mean losing the only chance the data lab had to retrieve the information in a usable form.

Most experienced computer techs these days have a very keen sense for the symptoms and the way in which a failed hard drive sounds and acts while considering the circumstances of what brought on the crash. Often they will immediately know if using a utility such as Winternals ERD Commander or NTFS data recovery will render any results. Depending on the importance and the level of security surrounding the data in question, an experienced IT tech will need to make an informed and joint decision on whether or not to send the drive to a lab for special clean room attention.

When you do find yourself looking for a dependable data recovery company, I recommend that you find someone local who you can work with on a personal level. The reason being that dealing with these types of issues on a one-on-one basis will give you and the person recovering the data the opportunity to work together to choose exactly what data on which sections of the failed drive to recover from. This can save hundreds of dollars in recovery costs.

Fortunately for our organization, we where lucky to discover a local company called Hyland Technologies. Being local, these folks will often pick-up and hand deliver the drives depending on the urgency of the issue which is another important factor. More often than not, recovering data in a secure and immediate manner is essential to our businesses sales, legal and engineering teams, so finding a vendor that can be sympathetic to this demand is critical.

Which brings me back to my original point… Why? It seems like no matter how easy we make it for our computer users to backup their data while on the go and off of the LAN, they just won’t do it.

Trial and (lots of) error

Here is a quick assessment of what we’ve tried and ultimately dubbed them as end-user backup solution failures.

In the early days of mobile computing, our users had the dreaded floppy disk. There’s no need to review the countless shortcomings related to using floppies but I should add that there are still many people that use them to store their data. Next we had the ZIP drive. This was going to be the backup solution to end all backup solutions. This, of course, lasted for about a year in which zip disks where strewn across the landscape with no labels, no purpose and more than likely, corrupt data from being stored on top of the speakers, monitors and other nasty EMF emitting magnetic data destroying devices.

Then came the CDRW! But alas, this too proved to be cumbersome, time consuming, and resource intensive thus rendering the laptop all but useless while the machine crunched and clicked in a mad frenzy to find all the changed data and burn it to disk.

We even experimented around with P2P type software solutions to be used over the internet allowing the user to synchronize their laptop files with their office computer or designated file server, thus creating a backup copy of the data. This solution, among other things, added monthly costs, user information issues, and bandwidth constraints with remote connections. This ultimately proved to be just too much of a pain for our users.

The end result

The only practical solution that we’ve found has come on two fronts.

The first is, educating the users of the disastrous consequences of not making the effort to backup their data. This can be done by emailing or posting on your company newsletter the horror stories that you’ve encountered during your tenure as the bearer of the bad news when the data is gone forever. I’ve seen secretaries and salesmen in tears when they found out that the information was gone forever or that they just lost their boss’ or client’s data. And I can say for certain that it’s not a pretty sight.

Consider starting your first attempt with, “DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!”

The second part of the solution is giving each of our users a low profile USB Flash drive. To date, these are clearly the easiest, fastest, least resource intensive and most convenient method of keeping a backup of business data off of the laptop or notebook. These drives come in many forms including key chains and clip-on versions that can be easily attached to the average company badge. You can even consider giving out some sort of incentives for those who routinely backup their data.

This method does present certain security issues. Since the primary attribute of a Flash Drive is its miniature form factor, Flash drives are also easily misplaced or forgotten. Important data falling into the wrong hands can be worse then loosing it completely, so choosing a Flash drive that offers a method to secure your confidential data is extremely important.

Lexar offers a great product with a finger print reader that offers secure access to your flash drive. There are also many other products on the market that offer secure AES 256-bit encryption for password access to the files stored on the drive. None of which make the data completely secure from an experienced data recovery professional, as mentioned earlier, so implementing and following through with policies regarding what data can be stored on any external media should be reviewed and mandated carefully when dealing with businesses that deal with secret or otherwise critical data.


Winternal – Link
Hyland Technologies – Link
NTFS – Link
Lexar Flash Drives – Link
Flash Drive discussion – Link

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