Saturday, January 19, 2008

Data Safety - How to Secure Your Computer System

Nearly all companies depend on computers to keep their business running. We store data, records, email, personnel files, and documentation of all kinds. Many businesses maintain all invoicing and accounting records electronically. Doctors and dentists are quickly converting from paper to electronic files. Our computers save us time (it s quick and easy to retrieve information) and money (no storage space required). Pressing the Save button will update your data files, but are the files really safe? Most computer systems have backup programs that can be setup, and you may consider that adequate protection. While that is much better than nothing at all, there are other things to pay attention to as well. The key is maintaining an offsite backup and checking to verify it works: if there is a major catastrophe at the office (fire, flood, theft, or more likely an errant employee), then you still have the data available and the company can survive. Two of the backup formats currently being used include tape and hard drives. In my experience at the mid-sized business level, tape drives have been complete failures. While some may argue, the advantages of removable hard drives are hard to beat: speed, cost and accessibility. Here are several ways to equip your system and protect your files. SATA (Serial ATA) Hard This is the method we most commonly use. This typically includes two hard drives, each mounted in portable carrying trays. They are swapped out weekly with one drive being off-site at any given time. The backup program automates all the backups; someone just has to remember to bring in the offsite tray on Friday s, swap, and then take home the current tray. You ll want to make sure you can Hot Swap (meaning swap out the tray while the computer is running). E-SATA (External-SATA) is a version of this but requires that your computer has the external port. E-SATA would not require opening the case to install the mounting kit. USB (or FireWire) There are a lot of these out there, but we have found some troubles when backing up large amounts of data like you might see in a typical company. They just can t keep up with all that flood of information as well as SATA can. If given a choice go for the SATA or E-SATA versions as they are more robust. System Backups For businesses, it is important that the server also have good system backups, where the entire boot drive is backed up and can be restored to a new hard drive. In addition, the System State should be backed up and can be used to restore the Registry and most of the server s security settings to new server hardware. The trick here is that when your 4 year old server dies, do you really want to buy 4 year old hardware so that the entire server can be put back as it was, then in addition buy new hardware and migrate your network to it. OR, if there is a crash, would you rather buy the new hardware you probably need, and restore the settings (System State) that made your server specific to your company. Workstation Backup While most of our attention for businesses has been on backing up the servers, it may be worthwhile to backup workstations, especially if there are complex software configurations involved. With larger hard drives and good System backups (for Windows, think System Restore, with the new Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, think of the wonderful Time Machine) it s possible to have a simpler version of a restorable system. By evaluating your backup needs and reviewing your options, you can protect your company s data and avoid major disruption from natural disaster or employee errors. A little time spent now will save time and money in case of system failure. Dennis Blair, Founder and President of BlairIT Technology Solutions helps businesses get connected and stay connected. BlairIT design, installs and maintain backup systems for small and mid-size companies that protect their critical files against natural disaster, negligence and corruption. To learn more about securing your computer system, visit

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