It’s about ‘restore’

Everyone always worries about backup, backup, backup. Guess what? None of your users, or managers for that matter, care one bit about backup.

All they want is restore, and they want it immediately. So shift your focus from backup to restore.

True, this is a bit of a semantic trick, because you only have files to restore if you’ve done a backup. But the type of restoration you plan to do makes a big difference in the type of backup you choose. (Compare Data Backup and Replication products)

There are three types of data restoration, at least for our discussion today. First, you want to restore files to the same computer the files came from. This is the most common restoration, and applies to data files rather than operating system or application program files. Let’s call this personal file restoration.

Second, you may want the ability to restore files to any computer you have, such as your laptop while traveling or a friend’s computer if you’re on vacation. Sometimes companies organize common files on the local file server and in a common area on the backup system, so anyone can download the latest version of a work file while at home. Let’s call this group file restoration.

Finally, you may not care much about individual files, but rather about the entire hard disk for the fastest recovery after a disk failure. These are called system restores, and they work by saving an image of your hard disk, operating system and applications files, and the data files you’ve created.

People tend to be most concerned about using system restore for servers, since many users rely on a single server. But if you’ve ever had to reinstall Windows, you know that a PC takes between two days and two weeks to get back to normal after a disk crash, which is why many companies make full system backups of all computers. Let’s call this system restoration.

Let’s look at personal file restoration, where you want to be able to restore files from your computer back to your computer. A huge number of USB thumb drives and hard drives are sold for this purpose, and work well within their limits. This method provides restoration in the majority of cases, but not all.

Usually, files must be restored because of a minor mistake, not a major disaster. For minor mistakes, this method covers you and makes restoration of a file or group of files pretty simple. You delete the wrong file by accident, and three days later, after you empty your trash icon, you need the file back. These systems work great in that situation. Many of the larger thumb drives, and most all of the USB hard drives include backup software, as does every operating system.

But USB backup devices have limits If your computer gets stolen or damaged in some major way, the USB attached hard drive will suffer the same fate. Stolen? Thieves will grab both. Flood or fire? Both gone.

If you carry around your thumb drive from computer to computer, as many do, losing that tiny key-sized drive means whoever finds it also finds all your data. Not usually a good thing, especially in this age of online banking and storing your passwords for same on your disk.

Hence the second option for group file restoration, which makes restoration possible even if the USB attached device disappears. More and more, online backup services like and on the low end and on the high end (and the thousands of competitors spanning this market) offer group file restoration.

The online services for personal file restoration, like Carbonite and Mozy, focus on backing up files from one computer and restoring them to that computer. Workgroup and larger business versions of these and hundreds of other online options make it easy to back up a file from one computer and restore that same file to a different computer. Whatever your file sharing model, you can find a hundred services that will support that model. Prices run in the range of a $1 or $3 per gigabyte stored online per month. Services with extra management and control options will cost that much and more.

System restoration options focused on servers initially, but the pain of restoring individual Windows workstations presented an opportunity for the system restore vendors to fill, and they have. Unlike other restoration methods, system restore requires a bootable disk, usually CD but sometimes now DVD, to load enough of an operating system on the replaced or reformatted hard drive to start the restoration process.

Unlike file restoration tools, system restoration tends to rely on disk imaging rather than files. The backup sequence takes a “snapshot” of exactly what’s on the disk, and restores that exact snapshot when you need to rebuild the system. Unless you take a snapshot every day, this backup process isn’t really granular enough for most users who just need a file or two now and then. Hence the value of file based restoration options.

But improvements bring choices, and now some image-based restoration utilities offer ways to grab and restore individual files rather than entire disk images. Handier, yes, and reduces the types of backup utilities needed if you choose this method.

Remember, quit saying “backup” and start saying “restore” to clarify your thinking about data safety. Users hate backup, but they love restore. Give them what they love.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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