Volume 17, Number 8
December 2000

Data Backup

A Quick Survey Reveals Whether Your Firm Is Prepared

By Patricia Yevics

We are going to take a little survey. Because this is being done in the privacy of your own office and no one will know the truth (except you), you can be completely honest.

  • Are backups of your data and files stored offsite so that you would be able to recreate most of your work within a day, in the event that your office was destroyed by fire or your computers were stolen over the weekend?
  • How often do you back up your data? Is it a full system backup or just the changes made that day?
  • Who in your office is responsible for doing the backup?
  • Is there anyone else in your office besides that person who knows how to do the backup?
  • Are the backup procedures for your office written down?
  • Have you ever had to restore data?
  • If yes, were you able to get the information that you needed?
  • If no, have you tested whether you could retrieve the data?

If you have broken out in a cold sweat after considering all of these questions, then hopefully this article will be able to help you prepare for what is likely if not inevitable-the crash of or damage to your computer system. If you could honestly answer these questions without a hint of anxiety, stick around anyway-you may find out something new about the latest hardware for backing up files.

An Unscientific Survey

In an effort to find out what solo and small firm practitioners actually do to back up their data, I submitted this little survey to two listservs for solo and small firm practitioners hosted by the Maryland State Bar Association. I was surprised by a number of the responses I received.

About 30 percent of the people on the list responded-a decent percentage, although our lists are fairly small. There was nothing scientific about the survey, but here are some of the findings.

Not surprisingly, all of those who responded do back up consistently. I am not certain if those who did not respond do not back up or simply did not care to respond. My guess is that it's a little of both.

Most of those responsible for the backup are the lawyers themselves, although in some firms the support staff are responsible. Only one of the respondents reported the existence of written procedures for doing a backup.

The most surprising result was that all of the people who responded have had to restore some or all of their data at least once. However, of these, only three actually tested their tapes or disks and their ability to restore the data with any consistency. My guess is that all those who have successfully restored data promised the Data Gods they would test their tapes regularly in the future, and that most have not fulfilled that promise. They may not be so lucky next time.

What Does This Mean?

There are many reasons to back up your data, and they are all based on the theory that "Disasters Happen." While the biggest fear is a hard-drive crash, there are other sources of trouble, such as corrupted data from data-entry errors, power failures, and software bugs. There also can be hardware failures from a hard-drive crash or faulty cabling. It is possible to pick up a virus from sharing disks or e-mail attachments. Then there are fires, natural disasters, and plagues of locusts. The information contained on your computer is so valuable that it cannot be left up to the Data Gods. Despite knowing this, many practitioners:

  • Do not back up with any consistency.
  • Do not have written rules or directions for performing a backup.
  • Do not test their ability to restore the data to see if it can be easily recovered.
  • Use a variety of methods for backing up.

Lawyers need to look at how they handle data backup from both a procedural and a technical perspective. Most of the problems with backup have nothing to do with technology. The problems are with people. Most practitioners have the technology to back up their data but do not have the management procedures in place to make certain it is done.

The Three Ps: People, Policies, Procedures

It is amazing that most technology-related problems have more to do with people, policies, and procedures than with technology. Most people think that if you have the right technology-hardware and software-then your problems will be solved. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. The technology stuff is the easy part of the equation.

You should know what programs you have on your computer and whether you have the original software disks or CD-ROMs, which should be stored offsite. This is especially important if you open e-mail attachments. It is very easy to pick up a virus, and you may have to reinstall all of your programs. Next, write a simple set of directions for performing the backup. If someone else in your office knows how to do it or has the responsibility for it, have him or her write down the procedures. The procedures should include:

What needs to be backed up and when it should it be done? Be as specific as possible. If you currently do not do backups on a regular schedule, you need to establish a realistic schedule now. It should be one that you can perform without fail. There is no point in saying you will do a full backup each day (not a good idea anyway) if you will not do it. You could have a different schedule for the different programs that you use. Those that you work with daily, such as word processing, case management, or calendar, should be done more often than database or accounting backups. Only you and those in your office will be able to determine what the backup schedule should be. Once it is established, it must be followed.

In addition to backups, you should save your work regularly. Most networks can be configured to save at regular intervals, so if the network goes down you lose only what was done from the time of the last save.

This does not help if you are doing work at home or on your laptop. You should get into the habit of naming your file immediately when you start a document and hitting save regularly. Always hit save when you have been working for a long time or when you get up from your desk.

Responsibility. Who is responsible for performing the backup? Is there an alternate if the primary person is sick or on vacation? Are the backup files taken offsite? Where is the storage facility located? Can the data be retrieved at any time?

What you use. List what software and hardware you use and all the necessary information about the hardware.

Restoring data. Who is responsible for restoring data if that becomes necessary? Has the person responsible been adequately trained? Is there an alternate if the primary person is sick or on vacation?

You should test the integrity of your data regularly to make certain that you can recover your data if it is lost. If possible you should have your computer maintenance company test your entire system.

Contact information. Who should be contacted if there is a problem with the backup procedure, the hardware, or the software? Is there a service agreement in place for the hardware and software? What is the promised response time?

Worst-case scenario. Are there manual procedures in place that will tide you over until the system is back in operation? How long can you actually continue if you have a complete system crash?

Tekkie Stuff

Even though most of the stumbling blocks to successful backup systems have nothing to do with hardware or software, most lawyers are looking for information about what software and hardware is available and what others are using. The remainder of this article will list some of the hardware and software that solos and small firm practitioners are use.

Hardware. There are a variety of ways to back up your data. You need to consider several questions before deciding which method to use.

  • Do you want a convenient, inexpensive way to save large files, or are you looking for a way to back up all of your data?
  • Do you have a single machine or a network?
  • When will you run the backup? If you are going to run it overnight, all of your data must fit on one tape or disk.
  • Is speed an issue?
  • Is price an issue?
  • Do you need to share the drive with another PC?

Now comes the easy part-which type of storage device should you choose? For most solo and small firms, there are many choices. The most practical and cost-effective at this time are the Iomega Zip and Jaz drives. They are easy to install and use, and they hold a huge amount of data. The 100MB Zip drive retails for less than $100, and the 100MB disks cost about $10 each. The 250MB Zip drive costs about $179, and the 250MB disks cost about $17. The external Zip drive can be connected to a SCSI, parallel port, or USB port.


az drives, while more expensive, store more data, and the Jaz 2GB is faster than a Zip drive. On the Iomega website (www.iomega.com), you can buy an external Jaz 2GB drive for $350. An internal Jaz 2GB drive is less than $300. The 2GB disks retail for about $129 or three for $300. One GB disks are being sold for $89. The Jaz drives can be connected to a SCSI port or a USB port. Iomega makes a USB adapter, which is available with some of the products on its site.

Both drives come with their own software for formatting their disks. If you are doing this yourself, you should know that the Zip drive software is the easier of the two to install, although that should not deter you from purchasing the more powerful Jaz drive.

Tape drives are another popular method for data backup, but if you are considering a new method, I would go with the Zip or Jaz drives. Tape drives have large capacities, and many power users are recommending digital audiotapes (DAT). An Internet search showed that 4mm DAT drives range in price from $500 to $1,000, and 8mm DAT drives go as high as $2,000. Most 8mm DAT drives would be used to back up servers.

Another method that may become more popular is writeable CD-ROM. Re-writeable CD-ROMs are useful not only to burn music CDs but also for burning data CDs or for data backups. CDRW drives can be quite portable-small and lightweight. They are fairly easy to set up as well. (See page 23 for more information.)

It is now possible to use web-based storage. This method allows solos and small firms to have access to secure virtual hard drives. The cost is relatively low and there is a high level of security. It is could be an interesting solution for lawyers with one machine who are not interested in running the backup procedures themselves. Although many solutions are becoming available, two sites that you might consider are:

  • @ Backup (www.@backup.com). This site offers a 30-day free trial period and a variety of options that range in price from $99 per year for 100 MB of storage space to $299 per year for 500 MB.
  • Driveway (www.driveway.com). This site used to be called Internet FileZone, but that site was discontinued. Internet FileZone was an online data backup service that requires software. Driveway is a stand-alone, web-based service that allows users to store, access, and share files. The website states that Driveway service is free. Users can use up to 100 MB of free storage space. If they want more than the free space provided, they can purchase additional 100 MB increments. According to the website, 100 MB for three months costs $29.95; 100 MB for one year costs $107.95.

In considering the use of web-based online storage, cover these issues:

  • Security. Much of your data will consist of confidential client communications.
  • Reliability. You are turning the storage of your backup data over to a third party that you do not control and that may not always be available. What happens if they go bankrupt?
  • Speed. How much time do you save/does it take to upload the backup information, compared to recording it on an in-house storage device.
  • Software. Does the service provider use proprietary software? Who controls the software? What happens to your ability to recover and use your information if the software becomes unavailable for any reason?
  • Availability. Information stored on an Internet-accessible website can be retrieved by you from virtually anywhere in the world.

Software. In addition to hardware, you need to have the correct software tools. At a minimum, make sure your software offers virus protection, recovery of damaged disks and files, diagnosis and repair of Windows problems, and prevention and recovery from crashes.

A detailed exploration of this type of software is beyond the scope of this article, but some of the most popular are:

  • McAffee Office 2000.
  • Norton SystemWorks 2000 by Symantec.
  • OnTrack System Suite 2000.

Many backup programs are available on the market. One of the least expensive (around $20) and easiest to use is Iomega's QuickSynch2 (www.iomega.com). You will find this piece of software particularly useful if you elect to use the Zip or the Jaz drive options as a part of your backup solution.

Patricia Yevics is law office management administrator with the Maryland State Bar Association. She can be reached at 410/685-7878, ext. 243.

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