Backing Up and Recovering From Disaster! 

Recently Iíve spent a significant amount of time recovering a few clients from data loss due to different problems. Two of the data losses were due to viruses and another from a hard drive failure. One of the virus-infected clients and the client with the hardware failure experienced total data loss. Since this monthís issue covers viruses, I thought it would be appropriate to remind everyone to make sure they have been making good backups and that they are prepared for disaster. The physical hardware costs for disaster recovery isnít near as expensive as the labor costs involved in restoring the system and recovering the data. Even having good backups of your data doesnít preclude the reinstallation of your operating system software and some software applications. Even reinstalling your software from CD or disks doesnít include having to download all of the latest and greatest patches to those applications and installing them as well. 

A boot sector virus infected the clientís main hard drive that was infected with a virus. The virus corrupted the File Allocation Table (FAT) and rendered the PC unusable. The virus was installed on the machine by an infected floppy disk brought home from school and left in the machineís floppy drive when the system was booted. The virus on the infected floppy installed itself onto the hard driveís boot sector and began wreaking havoc on the machine on the next boot up. The client didnít have a very recent backup and it was extremely important to recover some of the documents that were lost if possible.

The final solution to recovering the documents was to send the hard drive to Symantecís data recovery service since the basic Norton Utilities software could not recover the data. The cost was approximately $800 or so for a rush recovery service. This data recovery wasnít nearly as expensive as the client that had the hard drive failure. Typically hard drives fail due to a stepper motor, drive motor or circuit board component failure. The clientís tape backup hadnít been working for a few months and was planning on getting new tapes and cleaning the drive to get their backups working again. However, this hadnít been done yet and so the tape backups they did have were fairly old. Therefore the hard drive was sent in for evaluation for data recovery to OnTrack Data Recovery Services. The cost to analyze the hard drive was $200, and the cost to recover the data ranged between $1000 - $3500 depending on how much data was recovered and the difficulty in recovering that data. Unfortunately, analysis of the hard drive showed a physical failure of the media and rendered the drive unrecoverable. Therefore, the best next option was to recover their data from the latest tape backup. This was not an ideal recovery situation, but recovering thousands of older documents was much better than recovering nothing. On the positive side though, the client had been told how to make backups of their accounting data to local hard drives on their network and so this data was only one day old.

Prior to restoring data on a system, a new drive has to be installed to replace the failed drive, the server software has to be reinstalled and all of the user accounts and privileges need to be recreated depending on the capabilities of your backup software. It also includes reinstalling additional server based applications that were previously running on the system as well.

Some preventive measures can be put in place to help reduce down times such as mirrored or duplexed hard drives. This is where a second hard drive is installed into the system and is used to mirror or copy the primary hard drive. In the case when one of the two hard drives in the system fails, the remaining hard drive keeps running until the system is shutdown and the bad hard drive replaced. Several years ago this was a costly option for smaller budget operations but has become much more affordable due to the drop in hard drive prices. Therefore, even if you have a server up and running at this time but it doesnít have any of the drives mirrored it might be a good time to consider the cost of having this done. The reduced cost of recovery using mirrored drives can greatly offset the time it takes to reinstall and recover the operating system on a server using a tape backup.

Suggestions for checking your latest backups is to open your latest backup in whatever backup tool you use and look for date/time stamps on files that you know are updated daily and see what is stamped on your backups. If the dates donít look to be the most recent dates start making a backup and make sure it is working. Itís always a good idea to use a different set of tapes or media that can be overwritten without destroying your latest backups as well.

My final comments of this article are to immediately go check your latest backups and make sure that they are working properly. Always think about what might happen if that, worst case data loss scenario happened to you or your company. Recovering your system and getting back up and running can be a costly and time-consuming affair even if you do have good backups. You can never be too prepared for disaster. 

Rich Simpson is president of Mindís Eye, Inc., a software development and IT consulting firm. He has a degree in aerospace engineering and has been designing and developing custom and commercial database applications since 1986. For more information or to download software demos visit their web site at or send e-mail to or call 636-282-2102.



Copyright © 1999-2008 Mind's Eye Inc.
Last modified: March 02, 2009