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Bits & Bytes: Computer Imaging & Backup: How It Can Help You

By Staff | Feb 2, 2011

Many people have experienced the effects of some type of computer system failure. Even if you happen to have replacement equipment readily available, restoring settings, files and programs is time consuming and these may never be restored to exactly the way they were before the failure. Keeping below the point of diminished return, there is no way to produce hardware that is incapable of failure, but there is a way to minimize, if not eliminate, the downtime, stress and frustration associated with these failures.

“Imaging” is the process of saving the current state of your entire computer system. The current state includes the operating system, programs, settings, and documents. Creating an image is a quick, easy way to eliminate the majority of downtime associated with catastrophic failure. Normally, without an image, such failures could require a complete reinstallation: a process involving installing the operating system, drivers, applications, restoring documents and configuring the entire system to work the way you like it. This process can easily take five to six hours and produce days of downtime.

If an image is available, however, this process is replaced with simple “re-imaging” which reduces days of downtime to a matter of minutes and brings the computer exactly to the state it was at the time the image was created. After the re-imaging, only files that were changed after the last image was created need to be restored.

Sometimes, there is not a catastrophic failure, but simple mistakes or minor errors that go unnoticed. The most common of these are accidental file deletions or file corruptions that go unnoticed because the files in question are not regularly accessed. In this instance, you may attempt to locate or open a file only to find that it is no longer available.

“Historical” backups offer the solution for this scenario. Historical backups are backups that are saved regularly to either tape or archival media (Magneto-Optical, DVD-RAM, or UDO) using a number of cartridges needed to create the desired history.

If, for example, you wished to retain a two week history of files that are changed every day, you would have fourteen cartridges that are changed every day. At the fifteenth day, the first tape or cartridge in the set is reused. This allows a fourteen day buffer for you to discover errors with your files from which you can recover easily and quickly. Avoid using CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW, or flash storage for historical backups as these media fail easily and are not designed to hold data reliably.

You may have files that you wish to keep, but are rarely, if ever, changed and, thus, do not need to bog down the historical backup. Examples can include tax files, letters, receipts, etc. For these, archival storage can be used. Archival storage consists of very reliable media that can last from 30-50 years without noticeable degradation, works without any special software on the computer, is rewritable and is easy to use.

Using archival storage is simply a matter of dragging files or folders over to the disk. Once items are stored on your archival cartridges, they can be saved in a safe deposit box or any other desirable storage location. Archival storage comes in three varieties: Magneto-Optical, DVD-RAM, and UDO. Magneto-Optical provides the most reliability, whereas DVD-RAM and UDO provide the most capacity per disk.

In addition, all archival disks are encased in cartridges that are inserted into the drives; the user never touches the disk, aiding their long life.

A thorough plan that includes imaging, historical backups, and archival backups will minimize, if not eliminate, the downtime associated with equipment failure, thus maximizing the availability of your data.

(Bits & Bytes is a computer troubleshooting advice column provided by Zebis, a single point of contact managed service provider located on Sanibel serving clients worldwide.)