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Personal disaster recovery software: an essential part of business disaster recovery plans.

Traditional and obvious methods of protecting business PCs and the digital content they contain do not provide a complete and foolproof solution for content protection or successful recovery in the event of a PC disaster. If a disaster strikes, the requirements to recover the PC to its prior working state can be costly for the business owner. Losing vital data files can be devastating, resulting in extra man hours, extra money spent and decreased employee productivity. American businesses lose billions of dollars per year due to data loss. As more vital business data is being stored in smaller spaces due to an increase in a mobile and widely dispersed workforce (one that is equipped with laptops), disaster prevention and recovery plans are often overlooked or outdated and do not protect against many of the newer types of loss scenarios.



While many businesses have a documented disaster recovery plan, many do not take into account the possibility that existing methods of backup may not result in 100 percent data and system recovery. According to a recent survey, 34 percent of companies fail to test their backups, and of those that do, 77 percent have found back-up failures.

Many disaster recovery plans also rely on the central office or company headquarters to perform backups on a routine, predefined schedule (typically once a day). They fail to account for how to protect business data on employee laptops, which are not located at the corporate office. With all the potential problems that can affect a PC, simply saving data files to external media (i.e. a floppy disk or CD) on an intermittent basis is no longer an adequate solution to recover from data loss, nor is strictly relying on occasional scheduled off-site, tape or server data storage methods.

As with any backup plan, the goal is to recover all of the data, and the success rate largely depends on how current the most recent backup date-time stamp is. Most computer users rely on backups as their safety net in the event of data loss. Ontrack Research indicates that 80 percent of its data loss customers regularly back up their data, only to find that the data is less than adequate at the critical moment they need to restore it. Backups assume that hardware and storage media are in working order, that the data is not corrupted and that your backup is recent enough to provide full recovery. In reality, hardware and software do fail and backups don't always contain the most current data.

For example, let's say a business user, which we will call our mobile "road warrior," is using a laptop that isn't under the full protection of the automated backup system at the corporate office. However, he does backup his system on a regular basis to external media (floppy, CD, USB external drive, etc.). Maybe he even subscribes to an online backup service as a measure of redundancy. While these are recommended practices and may even be sufficient under many circumstances, they do not ensure 100 percent data recovery in all situations. What if our road warrior is traveling and his operating system crashes while at the airport terminal? Since his operating system cannot load, he cannot access their external media (assuming they brought it with them) nor can he obtain Internet access to recover his data from the online service they subscribe to. So now what?

A more complete solution that accounts for both a greater number of data loss scenarios and offers the ability to recover a system to a more current date-time stamp would include the installation of personal disaster recovery software.

What Is Personal Disaster Recovery Software?

Personal disaster recovery software stores incremental and compressed backup points (snapshots) on the PC in a hidden protected partition, which is not dependent on the operating system to function. Incremental backups store updates as the changes occur on the system. More specifically, incremental backup points track the changes of the index file and the changes at the sector-level. Often when a Windows file gets updated, only a few sectors will be modified; and only these modified sectors are recorded in an incremental backup. This method helps to minimize the size required for tracking the changes on the system. As the size of these backup points is very small, users can restore their systems very quickly. In addition, the small size of the incremental backups provide small recent snapshots which are stored more frequently than other backup methods which backup data on a set and less frequent schedule. The data recovery success rate is significantly better when recovering from a recent incremental backup point rather than relying on a complete static image that has an older date-time stamp associated with it.

Personal disaster recovery software not only protects data files, but also backs up all system files. Everything is done automatically in the background without manual scheduling or prompting. When needed, users restore their system to a selected, saved incremental backup point that is more recent than any external backup, and which recovers everything on the system. This process ensures a higher success rate in recovering the system and saves time because two previous functions, recovering the OS and recovering the data are now combined into one recovery operation. Under the road warrior's data loss scenario above, it is the utilization and access of a recently saved snapshot that gives them the freedom to quickly recover their system to its most recent status without needing outside assistance.

In addition, personal disaster recovery software should offer businesses other types of recovery mechanisms such as complete backup recovery from an existing static system image either stored on the same PC or on external media such as a USB-based external hard drive or stored across multiple CDs / DVDs which are self booting. This option complements other existing backup methods and minimizes the effect of data loss in the event the user experiences hardware failure (i.e. hard drive crashes).

How Does Personal Disaster Recovery Work?

Upon installation of the software, the existing partition is resized and a proprietary partition is created. Hidden from Windows OS, an entry into the Master Boot Record (MBR) ensures that this software always loads prior to loading the OS. In case of a corrupted OS, the software will then be able to launch in a "pre-OS" console and restore the entire hard drive to a healthy state.

Once installed, the user can create a complete (static) backup image similar to the factory image that ships with most PCs and then choose where to store this image (i.e. on the hard drive or on external media). Once created, the user has the ability to configure the frequency of storing the incremental backup points which best suits their needs. There are several methods of storing the incremental backups, but the preferred method restores the entire system on the sector-level and not the file-level. By restoring on the sector-level, the software is not bounded by any limitations of the Windows File System.

PC users need a complete security protection and disaster recovery plan to ensure their digital content is always safe. Just like large enterprises, small businesses and businesses with a large distributed workforce should think of their recovery solution in strategic terms. All of the protection methods in place today and as mentioned above are recommended, but to round out the protection and offer redundancy with a simple-to-implement recovery plan, it is best to choose software that offers incremental backup data protection and provides instant recovery.

Don Lewis is marketing manager at FarStone Technology (Irvine, CA).

RELATED ARTICLE: Common Computer Disasters

* Operating system failure

* Spyware, virus, and hacker attacks

* Corruption due to failed software installation or updates

* Inadvertently deleted files

* Downloads that compromise system performance

* Hard drive failure
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Special Section
Author:Lewis, Don
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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