Saturday, 6 November 2004

Categorizing & Organizing Electronic Data for Maximum Backup Efficiency

Most companies today, whether large or small, are experiencing data overload.  According to industry studies, many organizations are finding that they have to double their storage capacities every six to 12 months.  With recent regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and others requiring businesses to accurately record and report and thus generate more data, this explosion of data will not subside anytime soon.  In fact, as additional regulations are being anticipated for banking and other industries it is likely to continue it's rapid increase.  
To protect your mission-critical data and keep your company up and running, certainly having an efficient backup and recovery solution is key.  However, in order to achieve and maintain backup efficiency, categorizing and organizing your data is also important, not only to ensure that necessary files are backed up but to minimize costs.  Today, this is an especially complex task given remote offices and more and more mobile devices in use.  
First and foremost, administration of data protection procedures must be centralized in order to maintain consistency and control.  This will ensure that branch office data is also adequately protected.  It is then incumbent upon the administrator to encourage the branch offices to save any and all data to the server, rather than on local hard drives, so that it can be backed up in accordance with the set backup schedule.  
Categorizing your files into different groups with different backup schedules can help reduce your costs considerably. MP3 files for example, might only need to be backed up once a week otherwise, they might unnecessarily expand your backup window and depending upon what type of backup solution you use, your costs.  You can begin by grouping your file data by type and access. The data type identifies data by purpose, while data access identifies data by usage and rate of change. Data type involves categorizing the data by Operating System, Operating System (OS) Data, Applications and User Data. Data access identifies the data's usage and change rate. For some data, there might not be any modification because the data is archive data. For other data, there might be low, medium or high change. This process will help you determine how often your data should be backed up and how long it should be stored. 
The following questions should be asked: 

Does the data support a critical business function?

Does the data support a legal or auditing concern?

Is the data sensitive?

Is the data difficult or expensive to reproduce?

This will help determine how often to backup and how long to store the data in question. For example, data that supports a critical business function should be copied off-site on a regular basis and should have a brief retention period because of its high rate of change. Data that supports a legal or auditing concern should also be copied off-site on a somewhat regular basis; however, it should have a long or permanent retention period because of its nature. Sensitive data, such as patents or trade secrets, should be copied off-site on a regular basis and should be permanently archived. Data, such as historical information, that is difficult or expensive to reproduce, should be copied off-site once and should be permanently archived. 
How you organize your data is also important. Structuring your system so the data files discussed above are organized in one area facilitates pointing the backup program to one area rather than having to gather files from widespread locations. Having personnel save their documents to a designated folder on the server is the ideal option.  For example, each employee can have their own named folder where they can save their files.  Typically, through the Preferences option, programs can be redirected to do this by default.  Through this set-up, you can easily see which files need to be backed up and plan accordingly. 
As the amount of business data grows, achieving the most efficient backup is all the more important.   Whatever backup method you use, by simply categorizing and organizing your data you can ensure that you are backing up the right files and can minimize your costs at the same time.  It just makes good business sense.
Bud Stoddard has over 20 years of experience in the data