Law Office Computing
Backing Up Is Hard To Do
Every computer user is aware of the importance of regular backups and daily flossing of teeth. Both are easy to do and easy to avoid. Every lawyer is sensitive to the critical importance of regular securing of client information and data. That is not so easy to do and it cannot be avoided without terrible risk. As we move toward a world in which almost all of the information in our law offices is contained only in electronic form, regular and careful electronic backup becomes both an ethical mandate and a potential malpractice concern.
At the outset, we need to distinguish between two basic backup goals. The first, which I will talk about in more detail later, deals with the preservation of data. The second deals with the preservation of your computer system and the ability to restore it to a functioning state in the event of disaster. Disaster may be a physical crash of your hard drive occasioned by uncontrolled power surge or simple component failure. However, disaster may also be caused by a virus or by hacker who has broken into your computer system for fun. Disaster occurs on a regular basis with all computers and unless you are prepared, it can be devastating. One thing is sure: if you use computers you will some day experience a hard drive crash. If you have a very simple computer system, it may be enough to simply plan to re-install Windows and your basic applications that are necessary to access your data files. Few of us have such a simple system however. Even if you have all of your original software disks easily available, it may take hours or even days to rebuild your system from a big time crash. A much simple solution is to create what is called an image of your system using a product such as Symantec's Ghost imaging software or PowerQuest’s DriveCopy program. Both of these imaging programs will create an exact duplicate of each of your hard drives that can be transferred to a new hard drive with ease. Both of these products are relatively inexpensive and easy to use and they are the first critical line of defense against computer disaster. An image of your drive or drives, however, simply freezes your system at a particular point in time. If you take the image every Monday you'll be up-to-date as of the last Monday. If your office was acting during the preceding week relying on a weekly image as your only backup solution means that you will lose a week's worth of work. That is an intolerable risk for most of us and therefore you must supplement the drive image process with what is called incremental data backups.
The first concern is one up software. Over the last year or so, I have tried a number of different backup programs. Veritas BackupExec is probably the most widely used backup software. Versions are contained within the Windows system accessories folder and it can be purchased from your local or Internet software dealer for around $50 for a single machine. A more expensive version for backing up servers is available for under $800. The Veritas web site [www.veritas.com/us/products] will provide you with detailed information about the various versions of the program. I recommend the Veritas product line because it is so widely used and compatible with the Windows operating system. If you are moving to Windows 2000, the built in backup tool is very powerful of the old product. The Windows 2000 Backup utility contains many new options, allowing users to back up selected volumes or folders to tape or to hard drive. Scheduling is built directly into Windows Backup, so there is no need to use a separate scheduler. You can add an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for power protection by following a wizard. In future years, Windows 2000 backup software will provide a straightforward way of backing up your entire system as a part of your regular backup process. Many of us, however, are waiting a while before we leap into Windows 2000. That is wise for reasons I will write about soon.
The next matter of concern is the hardware side of the backup process. Small backups of individual computers can be done on ZIP disks or even CDROM. If you have larger amounts of information to back up you can choose a variety of solutions based upon recording tape. Tape is cheap and has the advantage of being able to be easily taken off-site every night so that there is no possibility of backup destruction by way of fire or theft. It is easy to establish a routine that provides for daily tape exchange and off-site storage. There are even companies that will come every day and pickup your tape and take it away to a secure spot. The other alternative is to backup to a removable hard drive which is also taken off-site every night. Very large hard drives are now available at less than the cost of a high-quality tape backup system. Installing a removable hard drive is not complicated and because of its speed, I think it is an ideal solution for local backup.
Recently I have started to explore online backup utilizing the Internet. If you have a high-speed connection to the Internet, this is the safest and probably the cheapest solution. There are a number of programs which will provide free relatively small amounts of backup on a remote computer. PC Magazine has a great review of the process in its April 14, 1999 issue. You can go to PC Mag at www.zdnet.com/pcmag to find that review. Most of the online backup services charge by the megabyte and the cost can get pretty excessive if you have a lot of data to back up. PC Mag recommends Connected Network Backup at www.connected.com which provides unlimited backup for $14.95 per month for a single user and $19.95 a month for your whole firm. Connected is partner with US West who sells the identical service under the name E-Backup. The US West Service costs $19.95 a month with a $5 discount for existing US West Internet customers. You can backup your entire system and implement a disaster recovery system directly from the Internet or you can have your backups sent to you on CD. US West charges $49.95 per disc for this service and Connected charges $24.95. I have a scheduled backup every day at midnight and it has worked easily. The only problem that I have encountered is that I am backing up 15 gigabytes of data and that takes many, many hours to get on the backup server originally. Once it is there, however, the backup process is incremental, backing up only those files that have changed during the day. I suggest that you do your initial backups in steps so you do not tie up your computer for days! Once done, however, your backups will occur automatically during the night with a notification when you wake up the computer in the morning. This is about as safe as it gets! Moreover, backing up on the Internet is not hard to do at all. That is one more reason to get a high-speed connection to the Net.