Q: How do I know my backup is working?

Tech Q & A
– Submitted by Dr. Renata Regalado, Smile Center Orthodontics

A: This is an excellent question. First, to ask this question at all means that you at least have a backup system which puts you in a much better position than most people and businesses. Secondly, of those that do have a backup system, too many simply assume their backup is working. There is no worse feeling than finding out your backup system had a problem and you can not recover the data you expected to. Ultimately, there is only one way to know 100% for sure that your backup is working. But for most situations, the answer depends on the type of data you are backing up and also your trust of the backup system you currently have.

The only 100% way to know for sure that your data backup is working properly is to test restoring the data. For word processing, spreadsheet, or other data types that are stored as simple files, this can be a very straightforward process, assuming the user has a good grasp of how to use their backup software and file management procedures. For other more complex data types or for businesses that have networked systems, this may not be such a simple process. Test restorations in these cases usually require the help of their technology consultant.

Regardless of the complexity of performing a test restore, it is usually not feasible to perform one every single day. Every situation is different, but usually doing a test restore every 3 to 6 months is good practice. However, if your business is still using tape drives to do a backup, more frequent test restores are a good idea. Tape cartridges can wear out over time. Unfortunately, while not too common, it is possible that a tape will not show any signs of failure until a restore is attempted. It is much better to weed out bad tapes during testing than during an actual loss of data. Hard drive-based backups are more reliable overall and therefore test restores can be done on the 3 to 6 month interval.

In between those times, the best that can be done is to review the log files that your backup software generates. For critical data, these logs should be reviewed daily, especially if using tape drives. For less critical data, logs can be reviewed at a minimum weekly. Of course, busy business owners shouldn’t be expected to do this. Oftentimes, log files can contain information that can be confusing to non-technology professionals. Fortunately, many backup softwares can e-mail log files to your technology professional so they can keep an eye on your backup.

So to sum up, the only way to know 100% for sure is to do test restores of your data. But more practically, by keeping an eye on your backup software’s log files in between testing your backup, you can be reasonably sure your backup is working. And of course, if you run a business, your technology professional should be actively involved in monitoring your backups.

As usual, please submit any technology questions you may have and your question may be featured in this newsletter!