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Reliable power required for system reliability...


Reliability- the most important factor...

Never mind hertz and bytes and system RAM, the most important factor for your system's performance and reliability is something most of us usually take for granted: electricity.

Power problems can destroy critical hardware and eradicate your data.  Even a simple power failure could literally put you out of business.  Often regarded as frivolous or luxury items, power control components should be an essential part of every business system.

At a minimum...

Standard line voltage contains irregularities which over time will damage your equipment.  At minimum, each system should be plugged into a simple surge suppressor, those multiple outlet power strips available almost everywhere.  These will filter out the transient spikes and surges present in even the best power systems.  Don't forget that phone lines are electrical, too.  Your surge suppressors ought to have connections for your phone and modem lines.  There's no need to go overboard here- about $25 ought to cover it.

Isolation is a good thing...

Computers and peripherals have those heavy duty three prong plugs for a reason. Always connect your equipment to three prong, grounded outlets.  A dedicated, separate power circuit is ideal, but seldom practical.  Try to find a usable outlet on the circuit that carries the lightest load.  Avoid plugging into lines that also service air conditioners, heaters, copy machines, or other power-hungry equipment. 

But what you really need is...

Beyond possible damage to your hardware, power irregularities such as sags or outages can potentially wreck your file system and consequently all the data and software on your computer. Any situation which causes the lights to flicker is cause to shut down your system and turn it off until power returns to normal. These types of interruptions may be overcome by the addition of an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS for short.

A UPS is meant to provide temporary power, typically no more than 2 to 5 minutes. This affords complete protection from momentary sags or outages, and in an outright power failure gives you time to shut down your system.  The more powerful the UPS, the more time you will have to take the necessary measures.
More detailed information:  click here. 


No way around it...

Lightning is your computer's worst enemy. Surge suppressors and standby UPS's are inadequate protection.  Don't be lulled by "protection policies" that accompany surge and UPS equipment.  Although they include "data recovery" provisions, there are a lot of conditionals, conjunctives, and disjunctives, greatly reducing the odds of collecting any compensation or reimbursement. 

The only real protection against lightning is to physically disconnect your system from all incoming power sources including your telephone line. Inconvenient? Yes, but much less so than the complete destruction of your system and everything on it.

Policy is the best, honestly...

Regardless of what measures you take, the unhappy truth is definitive: no matter what you do, the computer you rely on will eventually fail.

No matter how sophisticated your hardware protection measures may be, there is honestly no substitute for an ironclad policy of maintaining complete and up to date backups of the information you entrust to your computer. For the business computer user, backups are the only real protection for the only real asset your computer represents- your data.

Protect your hardware any way you can, and backup everything. Backup frequently. You will be glad you did.    More about backups... 




Basic system maintenance...

Things to take care of now...

Top of computer section... 

 

Next time in this section: The Lap of Luxury...
In the Jacksonville, Florida metropolitan area, installation, setup, and power protection services are provided by ThirdStar System Services.


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How useful are your backups?

 

Even if you use a backup program...

Power failures, system glitches, defective or outdated software, and plain old user error constantly present a danger to your data, as well as to each of the thousands of files comprising your system software.

Even if you've incorporated a backup program into your normal routine (and most SOHO operators haven't), it may not be adequate to resume operations in the event of system failure.  Did you know that some of the most popular computers come with a "restore" disk that won't work if you've modified your hardware?  Did you know that some backup media is inherently unreliable?  Did you know that today's gigantic hard drives seriously complicate effective backup strategies, and that some popular backup practices simply do not work?

The most important element of any backup system is the restoration process.  What will it take to retrieve your backed up data?  Depending on how it's set up, you could spend hours, days, or even weeks just to reach the point where your backups are accessible.  If your backups rely on specific technologies and the developer's out of business, you may never be able to retrieve your backed up data.

Consider the unthinkable...

If your data is important, your main concern should be that it remains accessible no matter what.  The ultimate implementation involves multiple redundant backups, stored in standard formats on standard media, with copies physically stored outside your office.  That will protect you against almost anything.

On the other hand, software products that claim to make backups a thing of the past and "virtual" storage drives are worse than useless.  There is, quite simply, no viable substitute for real, physical backups on external media.

All backup programs (even the Windows backup applet) explain the basic strategies such as incremental versus differential backups, as well as media rotation issues.  How far you go with your backup system depends on how much you value your data, and whether you've ever had to restore a system.

Minimum requirements...

Any data which is not backed up is subject to loss.   All your data files must be duplicated and stored in multiple locations.  This must be done frequently on a regular basis.  The backups must be complete and durable.  They must be self-contained and readily accessible from multiple machines.  Moreover, since fire, theft, and other physical disasters are a threat, you should maintain copies of these backups outside your offices.

Here's what we do...

For complete protection, we partition the primary hard drive, rearranging it as needed to get the boot partition down to something more reasonable than 20, 40, or more gigabytes.  Insofar as possible, we keep the OS, utilities, and core software on the boot partition.  Other applications and data are stored on logical drives configured outside the boot partition.  Ideally, we create one for only data, and another to handle temporary files and the Windows virtual memory swap file.  For these manipulations, we like PowerQuest Partition Magic (
tell me more ). 

With all the hardware configured and the backup software installed, we create an "image" backup of the boot partition onto a removable hard drive (using PowerQuest Drive Image ).  We then transfer this image to a cd-rom.  This allows us to restore a fully configured boot partition in minutes using a specially prepared floppy disk and the image cd-rom.  Then we do the same for the others as appropriate.   This is the baseline backup, which we redo whenever the baseline system changes.

Working backups are done daily to a networked drive with weekly transfer to external, off-site media.  These include not only data files, but every file that's changed since the last baseline backup.  This modularized system allows us to restore single files, complete partitions, or rebuild the entire logical structure of the backed up computer.

This is, by the way, a great way to make good use of an old computer.  With a 100mbps network and a newer hard drive, that "obsolete" system can enable daily backups to be fast, complete, and hands-free automatic.  We highly recommend this to small offices. Networked computer storage is a key component of any complete data protection system.

more about networks...


A workable solution for you?

The right solution for your needs will depend on your specific setup- what equipment you have, your quantity of data, your tolerance for risk and your level of computer knowledge.  For a combination of convenience, economy, and safety, we recommend at minimum:

These will allow you to create your own "restore" disks like the ones that come with new computers.  Except yours will include all your applications, settings, and data- exactly as it was the day you made it.

Since these drives are now so inexpensive, compatibility is no longer the issue it used to be.  Use the "Direct CD" or similar packet writing CD software to create frequent data-only backups on CD as well, using the Windows backup applet or any of the popular backup programs.  At this writing, the PowerQuest package mentioned elsewhere on this page includes an auxiliary program expressly for this purpose.

For data only or for incremental/differential backups, we like the capabilities of the BUSlink USB and Fire Wire Hard Drives.  These components economically enable continuous backups to an external storage device, even automatic archives.  The main features are capacity, portability, compatibility, and speed...

more about the USB or FireWire  Hard Drive...

Advanced users...

If you're comfortable swapping components in your computer, the easiest, most economical solution is a separate hard drive and PowerQuest Drive Image.  Install the second drive, create an image backup, and remove the second drive.  Then do incrementals to a CD or other removable storage device.

Although we have mentioned PowerQuest products often (because we rely on them ourselves), many people backup their hard drives using Norton Ghost from Symantec.  See our review of the full line of Norton software here.

adding or replacing a hard drive...

 

Bottom line...

If you're serious about your data, you must have a backup system.  It must provide complete system restoration from the level of a floppy boot disk.  For real reliability, you should be able to restore your data files to a different computer should the need arise.  Without these capabilities, you easily could find your data gone, and your backups worse than useless.

 

Next time in this section: The Lap of Luxury...

In the Jacksonville, Florida metropolitan area, backup and data protection services are provided by ThirdStar System Services.

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