Law firms and other businesses increasingly create and store their business documents electronically. Up to 90% of documents created and received by businesses are “born digital,” created digitally on a computer or some other electronic device, as opposed to having been created by analog means (pencil, pen, typewriter, etc).( 1
) Documents that are not born or received digitally are often converted into electronic format through scanning in order to fulfill space saving and document organizing/document management purposes (such as in the creation of “paperless offices).”( 2
Lawyers and Electronic Data
Lawyers increasingly depend upon the integrity of their computer systems and document management systems for access to their vital practice-related information such as correspondence, memos, and financial records.
Vital electronic data can be threatened in several ways—computer hard drives can fail, laptops can be lost or stolen, data can be overwritten or erased due to computer or human error or due to malicious attacks. Office equipment may be destroyed by natural disasters such as earthquakes or fire.
To guard against data loss, it is important to set up a data backup system through which your data is periodically copied from your computers and servers to some other storage devices in order to facilitate future access to your data.
Backup Media and Software
Your data can be backed up to several different types of media. Backups are often made to an external hard drive or network-attached storage device, to DVDs, CDs, USB/flash drives, tapes, or to remote servers over the internet—people often use a combination of media to store their backups both onsite and offsite (see following section). Several different software packages are available to help with the process of making file backups and disk images, which will be described in the “Software” section below. RAID systems for hard drives can help preserve your data in the case of a hard disk failure in your computer--RAID systems should be paried with periodic backup systems which include an offsite component.
Regardless of the backup media you use, it is important to occasionally test your backups, including performing test restores, to see if your backups are working correctly. You may be left unable to restore your data if it turns out that your backup media or backup processes weren’t working correctly.
If you use devices like USB/flash drives or other devices for temporary storage, and use laptops for travel, don’t forget to sync these devices or otherwise copy the files to a primary computer that is being backed up.
Backups of your data can be kept onsite for easy access, but it is recommended to keep backups of your data offsite as well. Offsite backup storage is important to protect copies of your data from whatever forces might threaten the data on your primary onsite computer--a natural disaster or burglar may threaten your onsite backups, and storing copies of your data offsite increases the chances that you will be able to restore your data even if your main computer and onsite backups are destroyed or stolen.
Offsite backups can be in the form of CDs, DVDs, USB/flash drives, external hard drives, tapes, or other media which you then store in an offsite location, or in the form of backup data uploaded over the internet and stored on a remote server.
File Backups vs. Disk imaging
When you perform a file backup you manually or automatically (using backup software) copy your computer data such as word processing documents, music, photographs, and other computer files to some form of electronic storage. File backups are limited in that they do not result in working copies of your operating system and installed software programs.
With file backups, you can generally perform complete file backups, where every file on your computer is copied; incremental backups, where backup software detects and copies only new and modified files over your entire computer or specific folders you specify; and partial backups of specified files, where only certain specified files are copied.
Distinguished from file backups are programs that can create “disk images.” A disk image is a copy not only of your files but also your entire file system, resulting in a copy of your operating system, applications, and drivers as currently set up on your computer-- you can use the disk image to recreate your entire computing environment in the future.( 3
) After restoring from a disk image, all of your programs would all work exactly how they worked at the moment your disk image was created, without having to reinstall your operating system, individual applications, and drivers. Instead of having to install all of your programs again one-by-one, which might require inputting countless serial numbers and activation codes, you could use a disk image to restore your entire computing environment automatically.
In general disk images can take more time and more memory to create than file backups, as everything on your computer is copied when creating a disk image, including the file system (exceptions include the program Acronis True Image--once you have made an initial disk image, with True Image you can perform incremental and differential backups to the disk image, in which only new and modified files are added to the disk image.)( 4
) Because of the amount of time and memory generally required to make disk images, and to install a disk image to a computer, disk images may not be suitable for routine backup--some people use a strategy of making disk images periodically, such as once a week, to capture their entire computing environment, and also perform incremental file backups more often, such as daily, to backup their important business files and documents. (Once again, Acronis True Image may be an exception, with its incremental disk imaging and individual file restoration features.)
There are several caveats to using disk images. You may need the same type of computer to restore your disk image, as the drivers may be specific to certain hardware such as specific motherboards. (5)
Also, a disk image is a single file—to access at any of the data contained in the disk image, with some programs you might have to install the entire disk image to a computer, which could take a long time due to the potentially large amount of data in a disk image—Acronis True Image however allows users to search through disk images and restore individual files without having to restore an entire disk image.( 6
If you choose not to use disk imaging software, it is very important to keep any software installation discs, software installation files downloaded from the internet, and license numbers and other relevant information handy. You may have to reinstall your operating system and application software—many drivers, updates, and patches may still need to be downloaded from the internet, especially if updated versions have been released.
For backing up data from multiple computers, networking the computers, if they are not already networked together, can make backing up the data less complicated. In a client-server network, users can save their files to the central server, and then back up software can be set to back up the entire server or certain folders from the server automatically at set times. If multiple computers are part of a peer-to-peer network, multiple users can store their files on a computer dedicated to storage or on a network attached storage device, either of which can be backed up automatically using backup software.
Network attached storage devices are basically external hard drives which connect to a router and are accessible on a local network. An external hard drive connected to a single computer can also be made accessible to all of the computers on a peer-to-peer local network; however, a difference is that the external hard drive will only be accessible to the local network when that specific computer is on, while access to a network attached storage device is not dependent upon any single computer being on.( 7
For more information on backing up e-mail messages, see our FYI: E-mail Backup ("You've Got Mail! - And Lots Of It")
Updates: 8/27/2008: One question with Mozilla Thunderbird is how to protect the contents of your e-mail from being accessed by others once you have downloaded the messages locally to your Thunderbird client. Some suggestions are listed in this MozillaZine Knowledge Base article
Disk Imaging and Backup Software
Here are links to some backup and disk imaging software programs:
Acronis True Image (Acronis True Image can be used to create disk images, perform incremental disk imaging, and features the ability to restore individual files from disk images without having to restore the entire disk image)
Norton Ghost 12 (Norton Ghost 12 can be used to perform file backups as well as to create disk images)
SyncBackSE (SyncBackSE performs file backups but does not produce disk images)
Review of SyncBack (scroll to the bottom of the article)
Here are several resource that discuss online backup:
FYI: The Ethics of Online Backup Systems
Monthly Listing of BackupReview’s Top 25 Online Backup Vendors (see the section “Top 25 Online Backup Rankings”)
Avert Disaster: Protect Your Practice with Online Backups
The Importance of Having Backups (see the “Online Backup” section)
Backing up in Cyberspace
Back Up Your Files Online Without Even Trying
Sample Questions to Ask Online Storage Vendors
Here are several other articles about various aspects of data backup:
The Importance of Having Backups (Includes information on backup media, backup software, and online backups, as well as other information)
Backup: Your Most Important Task (This introductory information is provided by a producer of backup software but includes information about backups that can apply regardless of what backup software you might use)
Backup Tips: Keep Your Data Backups Safe, Simple, and Fast
Backup method comparison chart (a chart on the pros and cons of various backup media)
Too Many Backups? No Such Thing (requires free registration)
Disaster Planning and Security Issues
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning (Online Course)
Backing up in Cyberspace
Network Attached Storage Devices - An Inclusive Review
Networking How-To Center (for Windows XP)
How to Set Up RAID on Your PC
Planning Your RAID Setup
Avoiding Rain in "the Cloud": Ensuring Access to Your Online Information
1. Data Archiving: What's Your Liability? E-Mail Retention: The High Cost of Digging Up Data” http://www.baselinemag.com/article2/0,1540,1998112,00.asp
2. Paperless Office: Hardware and Software
3. Backup Tips: Keep Your Data Backups Safe, Simple, and Fast
4. Features/Backup http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/features-backup.html
5. For example, Acronis True Image 10 Home requires that you install the image to the same hardware; Acronis True Image 9.1 Workstation with Acronis Universal Restore can be used to restore a disk image to different hardware. See http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/comparison.html and http://www.acronis.com/enterprise/pr/ltc_interviews/March_17_2007/
6. Features/Recovery http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/features-recovery.html
7. Add a Hard Drive to Your Network, http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-3243_7-5553677-1.html; Networked Storage Heads for Homes, http://news.com.com/Networked+storage+heads+for+homes/2100-1042_3-6051726.html