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Data Loss Happens

Digital data is an absolute mainstay in our society. From irreplaceable family pictures and videos to financial documents, many of us maintain a significant portion of our lives digitally. In the business world, it has been that way for more than a decade but it is now becoming more common to see “paperless” households. We sign up for paperless billing and receive email confirmations for appointments; when was the last time you received a hand written letter? There is a definite nostalgia in receiving a letter from a faraway friend or former colleague because it shows they took the time to put their thoughts on paper, find a stamp, and put in in the mailbox, but let’s be honest, how often does that happen these days? Now it is a few flicks of your finger to send a text or firing up your email to send off a quick note. I will save my comments for the effect this may have on our society for another time <grin> but the reality is that we are far more efficient in both time and effort by relying on digital data.

All that data needs a home though and for that, we turn to various forms of storage. Most common of those forms is the hard disk drive. We see flash drives and solid state drives growing in their market share but the vast majority of today’s data is still stored on hard disk drives that spin at absurd speeds of up to 7200 RPM. To put that into perspective, the little CD-looking things inside your hard drive (the platters) clear 120 rotations in one second. Combine the whirling speed of the drive, the fact that the heads which read the data hover over the platters at a distance so minuscule that it is nearly undetectable to the human eye, and the hundreds of tiny mechanical and electronic parts that make up the rest of the drive, it is truly a matter of when, not if, your hard drive will fail. Think of it as a car, if you were to drive your car without an oil change or any maintenance whatsoever for say three to five years (most HDD manufactures’ recommended life span for their drives) you would not expect it to survive. The same is true for hard drives. They have moving parts. Those parts eventually fail due to wear.

In a recent survey we conducted at Kroll Ontrack, we found that “66 percent (compared to 29 percent in 2010) of 1,066 surveyed customers cited a hardware crash or failure”. It happens. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will eventually fail. Solid state drives have the reputation of being a bit more stable but are by no means failsafe. The same survey revealed that of the 50,000 recoveries Kroll Ontrack performs annually Solid state drives and flash devices account for 15 percent of our recoveries with RAID/Virtual infrastructures making up 13 percent. If you take into account the number of hard drives in the market vs. the number of SSDs, 15 percent is significant. This illustrates that data loss affects every type of storage from the consumer grade up to the enterprise level and the impact is great.

The moral of this story is not to scare you away from a digital lifestyle. It is simply this: If you have something important saved on your desktop, laptop, thumb-drive, SSD, HDD, home network, Enterprise server (and the list goes on…) BACK IT UP!

If you have priceless photos of your kid’s 2nd birthday party with the relatives from out of state –BACK IT UP!

If you have your master’s thesis on your laptop, your companies quicken files on the file server, your CAD drawings on your workstation, a presentation and proposal for your biggest client on a thumb-drive, or your wedding video on a DVD, BACK IT UP!

I think you get the point here but like with many things in life, it may be easier said than done. A good plan always helps so here are some points to consider when making your backup plan.

  • Prioritize: As a general rule, if you cannot live without it, back it up immediately. If it is “nice to have” data or pictures, set up a scheduled reminder to do a larger backup weekly or monthly. There are a lot of apps and programs that can help with this but they are only as good as you make them.
  • Determine how long to keep your data: After you identify the data that is worth maintaining, then identify how long you need to maintain it. This may be “forever” with personal data but there are rules and regulations with most corporate and business data that only require that you maintain archives for established time periods.
  • Do some research: Use your favorite search engine to do some research on what types of products best fit your environment, operating system, types of data (documents and spreadsheets are much smaller files than photo, video, and audio files so that will likely impact your backup strategy), and time constraints.
  • Verify your backups: One issue that we see frequently is that backups are in place but no one checks them to verify the correct data is being backed up and that it is in a useable state (i.e. not corrupted)

At Kroll Ontrack, we are consistently coming up with new techniques, software and utilities to help get your data back if you lose it but data loss can be mitigated in most cases by a good backup strategy. Hope this helps and please feel free to share your back-up strategy or tips in the comments section!

Click here to see our “Data Loss Happens” infographic in more detail.

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