DATA - a most precious commodity.


More than occasionally we are asked to recover data that has either been corrupted or lost. When the client has a robust system in place to regularly backup and archive data this is normally very straightforward. However, some users a more relaxed about these issues and it is then that the recovery of a lost file or folder becomes a problem.


First though let us clear up a little matter of definitions. What is the difference between a backup and an archive?


Is there even a difference? Well the answer is yes, a big difference.




Simply put you create a copy of your files and normally store it on a removable storage device such as tape, DVD/CD, removable hard disk. A key factor in doing backups properly is that the copy is kept separate from the computer it was taken from. However it should also be accessible so that any lost or corrupt files can be recovered.


Backups can be done in a variety of different ways. It would be great if you could backup a complete computer every time but this is both time consuming and expensive. For this reason backups can be selective in what is copied and when. It is normal to do a backup of your system every day and this would probably be an incremental backup where only files that are changed would be copied.


For this system to work you also need to do full backups every so often, typically every week.


There is a third option, and that is an image backup and these are used to restore a complete hard disk to a predetermined state. You cannot extract individual files from this type of backup.

Backups are normally carried out on data that is currently being used on a regular basis.


Archive data.


The longer you have a computer the more information you will collect. Over the weeks, months and years it is possible to amass a considerable amount of data, some of which you may be legally required to keep. If this data does not change then it is not necessary to back it up on a regular basis.


This is especially true of email where you may have attachments that are very large. This class of data falls into the area of archiving. By copying this type of data onto removable media and storing it securely it will reduce the amount of time taken to back your system up.

The key issues with archiving is to make sure you know what you have archived and where it is kept. It should also be regularly checked to ensure you can retrieve it successfully. DVD’s and CD’s are great for short term storage but if the media is not stored correctly then it will soon become unreadable and you will have lost the data. Whatever system you use for creating a copy of your essential data it does need to work when you want to restore the data you are searching for.


There are a number of solutions that claim to be “backups” but fail to protect you sufficiently. If you cannot go back and restore a file that was created on a certain date then you are vulnerable. It is not sufficient for a backup system to simply keep the latest copy of your data. Proper planning, implementation and regular testing of your backup regime is important if you want it to work. The time spent reconstituting lost data can be prohibitive and sometimes it is not always possible to do.


Lastly, if you are working on some data, albeit a spreadsheet or a presentation to the board, it is a wise precaution to make regular copies of your work. Some programs will have an automatic facility to save as you work on a file, others will rely on you the user to save as you go along.


Get into the habit of making copies of your work. When you get to a point where you are about to change the content of your file, make a copy.

If your alterations don’t work out you can always go back to your last saved file and start again!


Backing up data is a pain. We all forget to do it at some time and pay the price. If you get away without having to go back to a saved file then you are very lucky.