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Posts Tagged ‘data backup’


The Three Copies Rule: Why You Need Two Backups

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

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Anyone who has ever lost years of work due to computer failure will tell you that backing up your devices can save you considerable heartache and frustration. Reliable, redundant, and regular data backups are your business’s best strategy for disaster recovery—but two copies of your data may not be enough.

IT pros across the world have developed the “3-2-1” backup philosophy to maximize your restoration capacity following a data disaster.

The “3-2-1” Concept

The “3-2-1” approach is simple:

  1. Store three copies of your data.
  2. Utilize multiple storage formats.
  3. Keep one copy off-location.

TrendLabs says that having two backups of your data (meaning three copies total) is all about redundancy. IT professionals have nightmares about experiencing computer or server failure and preparing to restore the backup, only to find that the backup has failed as well. Your business can prevent this situation only by keeping two backup copies of all your important data.

We can’t stress often enough that three copies means three separate devices. Backing up data to a second hard drive in the same computer, or a connected SD card, does not count. This will only protect your data in the event that one of the hard drives breaks.

Some useful backup devices include:

  • External hard drives
  • NAS
  • Cloud storage
  • DVD/Blu-Ray discs
  • Flash drives
  • SD cards

Two Formats: Diversify Storage Media

Using different types of storage for backup improves reliability: It not only diversifies the factors that could cause the backup to fail, but also acts as an extra layer of protection. For example, if both backups are on external hard drives and exposed to a large magnet, both would be destroyed. However, a second copy stored on optical media or a flash drive would survive.

The two backup locations could include a backup external hard drive and cloud storage, or a DVD archive and an onsite NAS server. According to PC & Tech Authority, NAS servers are a great backup option for offices with several networked computers. We’ve discussed storage format longevity in previous blog posts if you need help deciding which one is right for you.

Keep at Least One Copy Offsite for “Catastrophe Recovery”

Catastrophe recovery is another way to describe a worst-case disaster recovery scenario: for instance, the hard drive didn’t fail, but a flood leveled your office, or someone stole both the computer and the backup in a burglary. In order to prevent an outright catastrophe, it’s not safe to keep every copy of your important data under the same roof.

This means, of course, that one of your backup copies should be stored in a secondary locationthe farther the better. The offsite backup could be, for example, a cloud backup, or an external hard drive stored in a bank deposit box. When working with a non-cloud, off-site solution, it helps to swap out two storage devices on a weekly basis.

If your company is looking to streamline its disaster recovery practices with IT Managed Services, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

The Benefits of Backups

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

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Even seasoned IT pros have made the mistake of not backing up a device—and panicked after losing countless important files because the device failed. We may know better, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect.

On the flip side, we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief when a recent backup of our computer or smartphone rescued valuable files after a crash. With employees at businesses large and small using more devices than ever, vulnerability is just as high as the stakes.

It’s never too late (or too early) to implement a reliable backup system—so what are you waiting for?

How Often?

This is a question we hear a lot when it comes to backups. The answer, as ambiguous as it sounds, is “right now.” In an ideal world, your business would configure its employee devices to back up on a daily or weekly basis; but, of course, the more often your business can back up data, the better. And while it’s common for smartphones to Cloud-sync whenever they’re connected to Wi-Fi, it’s worth checking your settings right away.

Minimize Data Loss

Regular data backups are an excellent tool for disaster recovery. In the event that a computer’s hard drive is not recoverable, the ability to restore the machine based on a recent backup significantly decreases the amount of data lost in the process. For example, if the hard drive fails on Tuesday morning and the last backup was on Friday afternoon, the employee will lose at most a day’s worth of work from the incident.

Decrease Recovery Downtime

Backups get your employees back to work faster after a disaster. For obvious reasons, it’s easier to recover a computer to a backup point than to start from scratch, and for some problems, restoration can be even more efficient than repairs.

Removing an infection, decrypting data, and recovering a computer that’s been infected with ransomware, for instance, can take days. But if the computer has undergone a recent backup, restoration may take mere hours.

Old File Version Recovery

Every so often an office has to deal with an employee accidentally making a change to a shared file that can’t be fixed. Regular backups are like freezing a moment in time for your business where you can always go back and recover what was lost.

Embrace the Cloud

Take advantage of Cloud storage solutions for a range of benefits—especially business continuity. With the Cloud, employees can, in many cases, share and access their work from any device. If an employee is on a business trip and needs to update or reference a file stored on their office desktop computer, they can access the information through the Cloud platform.

If your business is looking to improve its data backup practices for a more reliable digital ecosystem, contact the experts at MPA Networks today. MPA’s IT Managed Services offerings can help your company implement a backup system that minimizes downtime and protects your data for both peace of mind and pace of business.

Looking at Data Storage Longevity

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

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Not all storage devices were built to stand the test of time, so it’s important for every business to ensure its data is backed up on a reliable platform.

If you’ve ever needed to reference financial records or court cases from a decade ago, you’ll know how much easy, reliable access to data can boost productivity.

All the work that goes into your storage solution could turn out to be a waste if that 17-year-old CD-R no longer works. But don’t worry—we’re here to help you decide which storage medium is right for you.

USB Flash Drives

Flash drives can last for decades. Their lifespan is determined in read/write cycles instead of in years since manufacturing. If someone backs up data to the USB drive once, stores the device in a safe location, and uses the drive ten years later, the data will still be there. However, it is important to note that flash drives are not a viable storage option when exposed to extreme temperatures, humidity, dust, contaminants, frequent re-writing, and/or improper disconnection.

Optical Discs (CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray)

Optical disc-based storage can be a mixed bag because manufacturing quality varies wildly. Cheaper, off-brand discs are notorious for degrading over just a few years—so, in big picture terms, you’re looking at a lifespan range of between 2 and 50 years. (Not very helpful, to say the least.)

Higher-quality discs made with gold or silver instead of aluminum are much more resistant to corrosion, and can last as long as 300 years. If your business has important data stored on aging, lower-quality optical discs, it’s a worthwhile investment to move that information to a more reliable medium. According to NPR, leaving discs in climate-hostile environments (like in a car over the summer) can contribute to significant wear and tear, so it’s important to keep the discs stored in a cool, dry room away from intense light exposure.

Hard Disk Drives and Solid State Drives

HDD and SSD lifespans are measured in usage versus time since manufacturing, so the devices work well indefinitely for long-term storage as long as they are not used too frequently. According to a widely referenced BlackBlaze study, around 26 percent of HDDs fail within a four-year high-use testing period. Using a server or NAS-based drive to perform constant backups can wear down the device, but both formats work well for periodic backups. One option is to save backup data to an external HDD until it’s full, then put that device into storage until you need to access the data.

No matter which platform you use to back up data, multi-site redundancy remains important. Many businesses opt to use both a Cloud backup and a local, physical backup. Reliable long-term data backups are an important part of the disaster recovery process—and the experts at MPA Networks can help your business devise a long-term data backup strategy that caters to your unique needs.

Is It Time to Switch to Flash Storage?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

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More and more businesses are switching their storage solutions from hard disk drives (HDDs) to solid state drives (SSDs) for one simple reason: the appeal of faster loading times and increased productivity. However, HDDs can still be the better choice in cases where maximum capacity is more important than performance. Your local managed service provider can help your company determine whether making the switch is worth your while.

Changes in the Market

All the performance boosts in the world won’t matter if the device is prohibitively expensive.

However, SSD prices are quickly falling while HDD prices remain stagnant, making flash storage an increasingly attractive option.

In 2012, SSD storage cost about ten times as much as HDD storage for the same capacity. According to a PC World, the price difference has decreased to four times the cost in 2016, with projections narrowing the gap to three times by 2017. Price-parity could occur between 2017 and 2019.

SSD: Performance, Durability, and Physical Space

Most of the excitement around SSD storage comes from its ability to access data at speeds of up to 100 times faster than HDDs. In addition to faster access, SSDs do not need to move a read/write head around while reading and writing data, so seek times become negligible. This is helpful when working with a massive amount of smaller files, as well as with larger, fragmented files. SSDs are a more durable solution, ideal for devices that move around because they have no moving parts.

HDD: Affordable Capacity and Rewriting

HDDs currently offer the most possible storage space for the lowest possible cost. While HDDs have longer load times than SSDs, comparative performance losses can be minimal, especially in workflows where the storage device is rarely accessed. Flash SSDs aren’t built to handle constant re-writes over the same space thousands of times like HDDs. So HDDs will last longer if your business works with large amounts of data that is constantly overwritten.

Recommendations

Ultimately, your IT consulting firm will make different recommendations depending on the types of devices in use and how those devices are used. When it comes to laptops, the extra investment in an SSD is almost always worth it, especially if the employees are unlikely to use the extra storage space afforded by an HDD of similar cost. Thirty percent of shipped laptops come equipped with an SSD.

With desktop computers, it comes down to the need for a performance boost. If employees aren’t working with a lot of locally stored data on their desktop systems, SSDs afford an impressive performance boost, and the lost storage capacity will go unnoticed. However, HDDs may still win out when it comes to server-based storage. While servers running high-demand applications will see substantial performance boosts when switching to SSDs, the cost difference can still be a hurdle. HDDs still dominate in cases where performance isn’t an issue, as with cold storage.

MSPs are a great asset for determining your company’s optimal data storage solutions. HDDs still have a place in the business environment—but given the current trends, they could be obsolete within a decade.

The Death (and Second Life) of a Replaced Business Smartphone

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

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When it’s time to upgrade employee smartphones, your business needs to worry about backing up data, clearing the memory, and figuring out the best way to get rid of the old devices. According to Business Insider, the average smartphone upgrade cycle reached 22 months in 2012. This time frame could continue to increase as carriers drop subsidized plans.

With such a brief window of use, it’s likely your business will end up with a stockpile of functional but unused devices.

Those old phones may still have some life in them—and you may want to consider repurposing them instead of dumping them in an electronics recycling bin.

Backing It Up and Clearing Your Data

Regardless of what’s going to happen to the smartphone, your first task is wiping the data off of it. This usually means backing up all the information on the device and performing a factory reset to erase any confidential information. Android phones can back up data a few ways: via Google’s Cloud, backup applications, and connecting to a computer to manually copy data. iPhones, on the other hand, can rely on the iCloud backup process.

Once you’re backed up, remove any SIM and microSD cards the phone supports, and then run a factory reset to clear any and all data. CNET recommends connecting the wiped phone to a dummy account and wiping the device a second time to further protect your information.

Repurposing Old Smartphones

Your business can extract some extra value by giving old devices a second life. Keeping an older device or two around the office in a shared area as a social media access point is a great way to provide content for your company’s social media accounts. If your company is doing something newsworthy that your audience would be interested, snap a photo of it on the phone and post it to Facebook and Twitter. Employees can also use the device to respond to questions posed on those social media accounts.

Smartphones can break fairly easily. A new device can easily run $400 to $700, while replacement plans on devices can get pretty expensive. Be your own device replacement insurance policy, and consider keeping a few of the two-year-old phones around to replace lost or damaged devices to hold employees over until the smartphone can be properly replaced. While using a two-year-old phone lacks the “new and shiny” feeling, it’s more manageable than a shattered screen. The software and hardware on the slightly older device may not be cutting-edge, but it’s probably far from obsolete.

Alternatively, there’s a second-hand market for smartphones to replace broken devices and avoid paying a premium on new devices.

With a little effort, a smaller business can resell the unused devices on sites like eBay to recoup some of the value to put towards replacements. If your business doesn’t want to repurpose the phone internally, Mashable recommends donating the device to the troops, domestic violence victims, or another charity like the One Fund for Boston Marathon tragedy victims.

Questions? Get in touch with your local MSP.

Ransomware Is Getting Even Worse… and The Feds Can’t Stop It

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

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As chaos reigns across much of the Middle East, our government steadfastly insists that “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists—because it will only encourage them in the future.” Meanwhile, visitors to our National Parks are warned never to feed bears and other wildlife—because those hungry bears may come to demand their next meal from campers!

Yet if cyber-gangsters in Eastern Europe hijack an American company’s data with an encryption virus before charging a hefty ransom to remove it, our same government recommends to “go ahead and pay them.” What’s going on here?

“Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You…”

Over two years ago, we first talked about CryptoLocker and other ransomware—probably the most dangerous cyber-threat to businesses today.

This isn’t just another “nuisance” cooked up by a hacker in his dorm room. International organized crime syndicates have used sophisticated ransomware schemes to extort removal fees—typically between $200 and $10,000, paid in untraceable Bitcoin—from companies in the U.S. and around the world.

The newest strain of ransomware to be spotted “in the wild” is CryptoWall 4. Spread via email attachments and malicious websites, CryptoWall 4 is a “double-whammy”—not only encrypting vital hard drive data, but also scrambling filenames, making it impossible to tell which files have actually been infected.

It’s been determined that CryptoWall’s source is inside Russia—the malware is cleverly designed to ignore computers using Cyrillic-Russian keyboard language (Russian authorities are quick to prosecute Russian-on-Russian cybercrime, while the rest of the world is apparently “fair game”). Previous versions of CryptoWall alone have already robbed victims of an estimated $325 million—in Bitcoin ransom payments as well as lost productivity and residual costs (including legal fees).

Uncle Sam to Victims: Sorry We Can’t Help

What can our government do to bring justice to the victims of ransomware? As we’ve discussed, not much. Given our frosty relations with Vladimir Putin’s regime, Russian law enforcement is in no hurry to cooperate. At October’s Cyber Security Summit in Boston, Joseph Bonavolonta, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s CYBER and Counterintelligence Program, confessed: “The ransomware is that good… to be honest, we often advise people to just pay the ransom.”

In other words, imagine being robbed at gunpoint on a busy street corner in broad daylight—while the cops watch and shrug. Yes, it’s that scary.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

  • Bitdefender is offering a free downloadable CryptoWall 4 “vaccine” to prevent infection.
  • Ensure all your PCs are always fully updated (Windows, anti-virus, firewalls, browsers) with the latest security patches.
  • Enable pop-up blockers on all browsers, and disable plugins from running automatically.
  • Backup all your data, all the time. Consider backing up the backups.

For more ideas on how to protect your company from ransomware and other emerging threats, contact us.

Disaster Recovery: Smart Ways to Work Around a Broken System

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

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Computers have a knack for breaking at the most inconvenient time. Murphy’s Law is alive and well. But you don’t need to wait for IT repairs in order to get an employee back to work: smart techniques and planning can minimize your downtime so you can maintain productivity and take back otherwise lost hours.

Small businesses endure around 14 hours of IT downtime every year per employee, costing them around $55,000 on average—and that number can increase depending on the extent of the outage and when it hits.

Don’t Quit Before You Get Started

You might assume you’re out of luck if you are working on a project stored only on a laptop or desktop computer, and that system goes down. However, there are smart techniques you can use to avoid downtime or work around a failure when it happens.

Use Roaming Profiles and Synchronize Your Data Files with Your Server

If your office uses PCs and a Microsoft Server, have your IT service people proactively set up Roaming Profiles. This wonderful Microsoft system synchronizes files and settings between your computer and your server every time you log in or log out.  Make sure when Roaming Profiles are set up that everyone’s “My Documents” folder is set to synchronize. Then make sure your staff knows to store local files under “My Documents” and nowhere else. (Note: this applies only to files that must be stored on your workstation or laptop.)

With Roaming Profiles, there are always two copies of any one file—one on your computer and one on the server.

If your computer breaks and files are lost, no problem. Backup copies are safe on the server.

Store Files on Your Server, not your Workstation or Laptop

If your office is like most, there is a system that backs up your server either to an on-premises system, to a Cloud system, or to both. If you have this sort of arrangement, avoid storing data files you can’t afford to lose on your computer or laptop. When your computer breaks, simply continue working by using another computer at your company. Your data files are accessible from any computer in your office by simply logging in to it.

A Spare System = Smart, Inexpensive Insurance

Computers today are really cheap. Your labor, and your staff’s labor, is really expensive. Always have at least one spare computer at your office all loaded with software and ready to go. When a computer breaks, simply unplug the broken one and plug in the spare. That way, when your computer breaks, you’ll be up and running again in five minutes. Make sure to follow either or both of the previous guidelines (Roaming Profiles or storing data on the server), and you won’t miss a beat. Then get the broken computer repaired in a less expensive, non-crisis way.

One spare system can save thousands of dollars of labor downtime per year.

A spare pays dividends in other ways as well: If your company is growing, a spare system allows you to get a new employee set up simply and quickly. Just plug in the spare for a new hire—and then purchase another spare to replace the one you just used.

Use a Backup System that Backs Up Automatically at Frequent Intervals

A backup system that backs up your firm’s data files on a frequent basis—once an hour or even once every 15 minutes—is a fantastic way to avoid the downtime that would otherwise result from someone’s computer failure. Automated backups may be configured by your IT service team to back up to an on-premises hard drive, a Cloud data center, or both. The best backup system is called a Hybrid Cloud Backup System. This type of system continuously copies files to an on-premises device and then replicates current and historical versions of the files to one or more Cloud data centers. That way, copies of your files are stored in multiple locations.

Use Your Resources and Your Wits

As long as your broken computer’s hard drive still works, you may be able to get back up and running with spare hardware and some quick thinking. Almost every modern production computer uses the SATA connection standard, making the hardware cross-system compatible. You can quickly recover data that was stored on the failed computer by extracting its hard drive and connecting it to a functioning computer. Anyone attempting this process should have a firm understanding of computer hardware and be prepared to consult an IT professional (or MSP) for guidance if they reach a point of confusion. While by no means a permanent solution, transplanting the hard drive works as a temporary fix until your service people can resolve the actual problem.

Desktop computers typically have support for multiple internal SATA drives, so you can use a second desktop system to recover the data without any additional hardware. You can use a laptop to perform the process by installing the broken computer’s hard drive in an external enclosure. External enclosures convert internal hard drives into external ones, and are useful to keep around for data recovery situations. Once you’ve connected the hard drive to the working computer, you can use the file browser program to locate and copy the files you need. Note: use of encryption software on the hard drive will prevent this method from working.

PC World has an excellent guide on installing hard drives.

When All Else Fails

If your hard drive has failed and it won’t work in another computer, if you have no Roaming Profiles, no backup, no stored files on your server, and if your lost files are valuable to you—then you have no choice but to hire a hard drive recovery facility to see if they can extract data from your damaged drive. Kroll OnTrack provides this service. You may pay a steep fee, and you may pay whether or not your files can be retrieved.

And if you lose data and your precious time forever, guess what? There’s a bright side. You will now wise up and implement some or all of the above recommendations so this never happens to you again. That’s peace of mind—even if you learned it the hard way.

Expect the Worst

Computer components suffer increasing failure rates as they age, meaning it’s likely that you’ll experience some sort of device failure before your hardware refresh cycle is up. A Square Trade study found that one in three laptops fails in the first three years. According to a Microsoft study, the CPU is the part most likely to fail, followed by the hard drive and RAM.

Prepare yourself for these eventualities with the right hardware and the right support to minimize your downtime and maximize your productivity.

Protect your Business from Cyber Threats with this 5 Point Checklist

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

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About half of all small business owners believe their business is too small to be a potential victim for virtual thieves and hacking.

The facts, however, say something quite different. The majority of cyber attacks are actually perpetrated against businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

Is your SMB prepared for these threats? Follow the checklist below to be cyber-safe!

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