What Is The Difference Between Backups And Redundancy?

Chris Myers is a field service technician for Tech Experts.

Modern businesses can generate massive amounts of data in a short period of time. As such, a vital topic of research are ways to project that data.

There are two main categories of data protection: redundancy and backups. These two types of data protection are both very important, but they are not interchangeable.

Both must be understood so that you are not caught unprepared when catastrophe strikes.

What Is Redundancy?
On a single hard drive, data is saved just one time. If that hard drive fails, then that data is lost. In order to prevent this from happening, multiple hard drives are used to store multiple copies of each piece of data.

This setup is called a “RAID,” which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

When a single hard drive fails in a properly set up RAID, the other drives change how they operate and continue saving files with very little interruption and no loss of data. In a business such as a doctor’s office where appointments are booked out three months in advance, redundancy can be the difference between a service call with less than thirty minutes of downtime and a multiple day outage affecting hundreds of patients and staff.

What Are Backups?
There are many other ways in which data can be lost, including file corruption, accidental deletion, fire, theft, malware, and more.

Redundancy can protect against hard drive failure, but in cases such as these, it is of no help. For example, if the user accidentally deletes a file, all redundant copies of that file will be deleted.

This is where backups come in. Backups copy your data onto a completely separate storage device.

The most secure backup systems are called offsite backups, because the data is copied to another geographic location entirely. If a user accidentally deletes a file that is backed up, that file can be restored using the backup copy.

However, restoring files from an offsite backup can take quite a long time depending on the amount of data and available network bandwidth. Due to this, many businesses keep another backup on a different device in the same building.

This is referred to as a local backup. Since restoring from a local backups only involve sending the data over the internal network, or even directly copying onto another drive, they can greatly reduce downtime.

So, Which Solution Should You Have?
None of these data protection methods are mutually exclusive and each of these methods has strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, most businesses will get the most benefit by having all of them in place because each one fills a gap in coverage left by another.

Redundancy will save data if a single drive is lost to mechanical failure, with very little downtime. However, it can’t protect against almost all other types of data loss.

A local backup will protect against all types of data loss except when both the default and backup locations are lost at the same time. Restoring takes longer than a redundant drive, but is still quite fast.

An offsite backup takes the longest to restore from, but protects against almost all scenarios.

So, the next time you want to impress your coworkers and possibly save the company, ask whether your server or network-attached storage has both backups and redundancy in place.

Data Redundancy And Why You Should Have It

Ron Cochran is a senior help desk technician for Tech Experts.

Data redundancy is the making of an exact copy of the data that you are currently working with, in the event of a hardware failure, theft, or those pesky mistakes where you delete something that you really wanted.

What happens is you will have 1 or more hard-drives used for backups, housing those files that are kept nearly current. You will go through the steps to rebuild or restore the files or programs that were removed, then you will be back at the point you were at before the files were lost.

The above is extremely important when you are working with money or medical records. Let’s say you were working with a customer on their tax returns and your office experienced a power outage, which turns your computer off in the middle of saving data. A short while later, the power is restored and you turn your computer on and open the data to resume where you left off — and you find out that there is no record on your computer of your client and you start to panic.

If you had a redundant data solution, then you could restore the data, but if you didn’t, then you will need to call that customer and explain that they will need to bring all of that data back in so you can enter it into your system again. Now, consider how this customer could begin to think of you and your business.

If you have a safety net, you would follow the steps from your program and, in a short while, all of that data that you lost will be restored and you’ll be back at the point when the power went out, with all of your data intact. There are several different ways you can set up a system backup. One of the ways is to have more than one storage solutions to send data to.

With this solution, you will have more than one drive that is saving that information, which will do a couple of things. It will speed up the read/write times and you take less of a chance of losing more data. It’s always wise to have more than one solution for data recovery. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late and find out that in order to recover the data on your drive it’s going to be thousands of dollars.

You can have an image copy of your hard-drive made one time a day (or once a week or maybe twice a month) with a scheduled back up. You could have an application running in the background of your computer that would take up very few resources as it copies your data to a drive or an offsite storage facility.

We offer quite a few different data redundancy solutions to our clients. Those options range from on-site RAID drives to a cloud-based solution that is off-site. With either option, you can have a data backup or an image of your operating system — or even a direct mirror copy of your hard-drive in real time.

If you are worried that you might lose valuable information, then some sort of data redundancy is probably something you should be actively seeking. If you’re overwhelmed by the options and aren’t exactly sure which method would suit your business best, contact us and we can help you narrow it down, as well as provide a solution.

Why Is A Server Important For Your Business?

Anthony Glover is Tech Expert’s network engineer.

A server is a very important asset to any small business as it provides many features that can help your business run safely and efficiently.

For instance, when lending out a new or existing computer to employees, you can prevent unnecessary access, change passwords, or unlock accounts in one location. This allows management of the computers, enabling full control at all times.

It also allows you to have a centralized location for many of your functions: the server. You can share files and applications and reduce redundancy for all files. Since servers primarily run in a RAID configuration of some sort, you will have extra protection for your most important files.

Another great thing about a server is you can set up a domain for your business, enabling automation features like backups in one place.

This also allows for profiles, including files and applications, to be accessible from any workstation connected to the server. Not to mention, a server will keep you organized and running more efficiently in general by keeping your email, contacts, calendars, and files safe.

Data transferring to and from a server is much faster than transferring from a computer due the overall design of a server. Servers are built for speed, reliability, and security purposes.

This means you are going to get through the day with your time and resources spent more wisely, allowing you to continue with what matters in your business.

This efficiency and organization will increase customer relationships and help build retention with new and potential customers.

Best of all, you can set up a server to curve toward your needs. You can use a server for hosting your own websites, as a backup server, fileserver, or even run your database. You can also upgrade (to an extent) if your needs grow.

Keep in mind, these are only some of the many server configurations available for your server.

File or Backup Server
This server is for file-sharing, active directory, and domain services. It’s primarily used for backups and storage of user files.

This is the best option if you are going to need safe storage services for your business since a server is going to have redundancy storage to keep data safe.

Database Server
This server configuration is for database storage and management of SQL, Oracle, etc. This is a necessary option if you are utilizing a database for your business.

Again, utilizing a server is going to allow safe keeping of your files – this includes your critical files such as your database files.

Web Server
This configuration is for webhosting services and will allow hosting and management of a website from your office.

This is a great option for running web-based applications through your server. This option can also be done off-site by a website host if you prefer to go that route for faster access or security.

Utilizing a server is important for your business and choosing a server can be tough, let alone installing one yourself. Let Tech Experts help you decide and make sure you get the best option possible for your small business.

Backups: Don’t Wait Until It Breaks

Accidents happen. Eventually, something will go wrong and when it does, you are going to want to be protected. Having a backup means more than just having an extra file on hand. It means being able to rest easy knowing that, if the worst should happen, it would not be the end of your business. It means that in the event of a total collapse of your systems, you have a fallback plan. It means knowing that you have already taken care of the largest problem in the event of a crash: recovering files and getting back up to date.

The most common way data is lost is due to a workstation failing due to user error or the occasional spilled drink. If the workstation is not backed up, the files may all be lost. A growing way to lose data is due to viruses and infections that spread throughout the computer and delete, steal, or corrupt the data.

The question people begin to become puzzled with is, “What can/should I backup?” The easy answer is everything. With technology being what it is today, space is cheap. You can sometimes back up an entire business for a few hundred dollars. On the other hand, you can wait for everything to go wrong, replace a dozen devices then try to start recovering all the data lost in the tragedy.

If space does become tight, start to look at things your business cannot function without, such as client information (phone numbers, email addresses, notes about the client), sales and product receipts, Internet bookmarks, anything that cannot be replaced, and anything that takes time to replace.

Backing up the data can be as simple as storing a copy of your important files on an external hard drive that you bring up to date every week. If the worst should happen after a backup is kept, you need only to plug in the backup drive to the repaired or replacement computer, copy the contents over, and continue on with your work. Instead of losing years of data, you only lose a few days.

What should you use to back up your data? In the example above, using a small flash drive or external hard drive, they can usually be damaged or lost quite easily. If the memory device is lost, it poses a problem in that it is unsecured data and can be accessed by anyone that plugs it into their computer. While these devices can be a cheap solution to backing up data, they are far from perfect.

One of the most popular solutions for any business – smaller businesses especially – is online backup. The perk of online backup is there is no hardware or software on site that can be damaged, lost, or stolen. A monthly fee based on how much storage you require is all it takes. Choose the data you want to backup and it will be securely sent to a data center where it is stored. Generally, this can be done automatically which can remove accidental user error from the equation.

In a perfect world, we would all have a backup for our data and a backup for our backup, but even having one backup can sometimes be enough to keep a problematic crash or error from becoming a monumental crisis. If you do not already have a backup in place, you have to ask yourself one thing: if all your systems crashed tomorrow, would you recover?

Is It Ever A Good Idea To Share Your Password?

Luke Gruden is a help desk technician for Tech Experts.

There are times when it can be tempting to share account information or give a coworker access to files and programs to streamline processes. Other times, you might be away from the office and someone may need something on your Windows.

There are many reasons why workers would want to share accounts and passwords that would be in good faith and, on the surface, best for business. Should this be allowed and acceptable in a work setting? The short answer is no, and for several good reasons.

As much as it would seem that sharing passwords and credential information could help workers, this can lead to poor habits and huge security vulnerabilities. All it takes is for one person to write a password down for another person to read it.

It is common for someone using social engineering to go into company buildings and look for sticky notes, note pads, or files on desktops with passwords and account information on them. This way, they have the means to steal company information.
Even worse, it will look like the user account that was used to steal information was the one stealing information instead of the thief.

Another common event at some work places is that some workers will use their coworkers account to do something risky, so if anything happens, the account holder is the one in trouble and not the person borrowing their account.

backupWhen it comes down to the pressures of keeping a job or to work towards promotions, it can be surprising what some people might resort to in achieving their goals.

Sometimes, a person sharing an account might make a mistake and mean no harm, like deleting some important files on accident or click something they didn’t know about in an area of the computer they normally do not have access to.
This would also look like the account holder made the mistakes and not the actual person. There is a reason why certain people have access to certain drives, websites, and programs. Permissions and restrictions should be respected.

Your Windows account and email are your unique fingerprints and they should be protected. Everything you do on a computer is recorded in event logs and possibly on other monitoring systems on the network. Your account information should serve you as well as prove the work you have done.

It may be tempting to share account information, but there are alternatives. If a coworker needs access to a program or website, let IT know.

If the coworker really needs access for their job, then your manager and IT will change permissions to allow them access and they’ll no longer have to ask for your password.

What about if they need to work on files that you are working on? Your IT can setup a network drive and enable access for both you and your coworker so that files can be edited and changed freely without ever logging into each other’s accounts.

There may be many other reasons as to why people may want to share their account information, but chances are, there are alternatives that your IT can implement so that no one’s personal credentials are given out. Keep your account your own and there will be no unnecessary risk or possible security threat out in the open. If you have security or user concerns or would like to develop a permissions plan, we would be happy to help. Give us a call at (734) 457-5000.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Is Your System’s Backup Plan Working?

Luke Gruden is a help desk technician for Tech Experts.

At any moment, anything can happen that can cause your computer to fail and lose months – if not, years – of company data. This is why it’s important to have some sort of system backup in place so that files can be retrieved in case anything ever does happen to your computer or network.

Without a backup, recovery often isn’t possible and when it is, it’s often more expensive than having a long-term backup solution in place.

Some believe that just because they have a backup solution, they’ve covered their bases. If a computer goes down, they’re still safe.

Well, what about a fire in the company building? What if both your backup device and your computer are gone? What if the cloud server goes down and your computer goes out around the same time? Seems unlikely, but it can happen.

Natural disasters like flooding or lightning storms, accidents such as fires or the destruction of physical property, human influence like a tampering ex-employee or a ransomware infection… these things typically don’t give you enough warning to move your files somewhere safe. No matter what single backup solution you might use, there is a situation where it can fail.

This is why redundancy of backups is important, such as the cloud or another device. With different backup plans utilizing different locations, you can make sure that no one natural disaster or ransomware infection can stop your business for long. If anything should happen, your data will be untouched somewhere.

It’s recommended that you have at least two different backup plans in different locations. However, the more, the better. Having three different backup plans in different locations like the cloud, an offsite backup, and onsite is optimal in making sure your data is safe.

If your company data is important (which it is), there should not be a second thought in backing it up.
Remember that the more redundancy you have with your backups, the chances of losing your data drop significantly. Also, check to make sure your backup services are working and up to date as often as possible.

That way, you will not have any surprises when you least expect it and when you most need your data. At Tech Experts, we offer backup solutions that include status notifications for every backup.

It seems like we talk about this issue a lot and it’s true. We bring it up so often because disasters do happen and there have been companies that have been crushed by not having a good backup plan. Don’t let your workplace be one of them.

Take a moment and really consider how much effort you would have to put in to bring your business back up to speed after a data disaster. As always, work with your IT department and figure out what plan is best for your company before committing to anything. Interested in learning which backup solutions would best suit your business? Contact Tech Experts at (734) 457-5000.

Storm Season Is Just Around The Corner… Are You Protected?

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

We’ve just celebrated the first day of Spring, and before you know it, the weather will warm up and tulips will bloom. Of course, we’re also headed into Spring storm season.

If you haven’t already, it is time to prepare for those pop-up storms that occur randomly at this time of year. These unexpected storms often result in everything from ice damage to lightning fires.

During this time of year the threat of fire, flood, severe storms, water damage from office sprinklers, and even theft is very real.

One of the most valuable assets for any company is its data. Hardware and software can easily be replaced, but a company’s data cannot! As a reminder to all of our clients, here are some simple things you should do to make sure your company is ready for any natural disaster. [Read more…]

Does Your Backup Plan Stand Up To A Disaster?

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

Technology, while a great asset that can be leveraged for your benefit, can also frighten businesses due to how unpredictable it can be at times. The constant threat of data loss, identity theft, and hardware failure can cripple your business’s ability to retain operations.

Specifically, businesses can learn about risk management by analyzing the processes used by an industry where risk management is absolutely critical: nuclear power plants.

In the wake of two of the most destructive and violent nuclear disasters, nuclear power plants have begun to crack down on how they approach risk management. The Chernobyl incident of 1986, as well as the tsunami-induced disaster at Fukushima in 2011, are the only nuclear disasters to reach the peak of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) at a rating of 7.

This means that they had an immense impact on the immediate vicinity, as well as the environment on a worldwide scale.

The meltdown at Chernobyl was the result of an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, ending in an enormous explosion that resulted in fire raining from the sky and radioactive core material being ejected into the vicinity. A closer inspection of the incident revealed that the explosion could have been prevented, had the plant practiced better safety measures and risk management, like having a containment system put in place for the worst-case scenario.

In comparison, the Fukushima plant was prepared to deal with a failure of operations.

The problem that led to a disaster was one which couldn’t possibly have been prevented: the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the resulting tsunami. The Fukushima plant had a contingency plan to shut down the plant in the event of a disaster, but tsunami prevented this from happening properly by flooding damaged power lines and backup generators, leading to heat decay, meltdowns, and major reactor damage.

Disasters like these lead to professionals searching for ways to prevent emergency situations in the future. For example, the Fukushima incident kickstarted conversations on how to prevent problems caused by the unexpected issues.

In response to emergency power generators being flooded or destroyed, off-site power generation will be implemented as soon as November 2016.

One other way that nuclear plants have chosen to approach these new risks is by outsourcing this responsibility to third-party investigators, whose sole responsibility is to manage the reliability of backup solutions. In a way, these investigators function similar to a business’s outsourced IT management, limiting risk and ensuring that all operations are functioning as smoothly as possible.

What we want to emphasize to you is that businesses in industries of all kinds expect the worst to happen to them, and your business can’t afford to be any different.

Taking a proactive stance on your technology maintenance is of critical importance. While your server that suffers from hardware failure might not explode and rain impending doom from the sky or expel dangerous particulates into the atmosphere, it will lead to significant downtime and increased costs.

In order to ensure that your business continues to function in the future, Tech Experts suggests that you utilize a comprehensive backup and disaster recovery (BDR) solution that minimizes downtime and data loss risk.

BDR is capable of taking several backups a day of your business’s data, and sending the backups to both the cloud and a secure off-site data center for easy access.

In the event of a hardware failure or other disaster, the BDR device can act as a temporary replacement for your server. This lets your business continue to function while you implement a suitable replacement.

Replacement Equipment And Workstation Data Storage

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a huge project or in the height of your busy season, then suddenly, a key piece of equipment breaks? You have orders that need processed. Deadlines to meet. Stress starts to roll in. You start to wonder how long the downtime is going to last or what this is going to cost your business.

One way to reduce the stress levels and temporarily resolve the situation is to maintain a stock of replacement workstations and essential equipment.

Being able to switch out a workstation or any other critical piece of equipment and be back up and running sooner not only reduces stress levels, but also saves your business countless dollars in lost revenue.

Example: your company designs and prints graphics for billboards. An employee says their workstation has crashed while they were working on a project for your largest client that’s due in two days. What do you do?

You try to contact the manufacturer of the workstation, only to find out your warranty does not cover on-site service and the soonest they could be on location is in two to four days. That’s not the answer you wanted to hear.

If you had a replacement workstation on hand, you could reduce your downtime dramatically. But let’s say you do have one. So you switch out the workstations and your employees is back to work…

Until they realize all of their work is stored on the crashed workstation. Stress levels start to climb once again.

One easy way to avoid losing data would be to migrate the user’s data to a storage device located on your network. Network attached storage is much more reliable than the storage within your workstation. They can also be configured for redundancy.

This entire migration will be transparent to the user as the workstations libraries will still remain intact, just relocated to a different device. As far as the user is concerned, all of their data is saved to the workstation.

The general rule of thumb is to maintain a 10% replacement stock level of workstations or essential pieces of equipment (and always have at least 1). Replacement switches, as well as firewalls, should always be on hand or able to be purchased locally. Being able to replace a switch or firewall to bring your VOIP phone system back online or restore network connectivity to your entire business in minutes is critical.

If your business is unable to maintain replacement inventory, make sure you have (and fully understand) support contracts either from equipment manufacturers or from a local network support company.

Depending on the manufacturer or support company, support contracts can range from 24×7 to 8×5 to “whenever we can get there.” That’s why it’s very important to understand your support agreements. Never get taken by surprise.

Manufactures, depending on the piece of equipment, will offer warranties or support contracts. Be warned the contract may not include next day equipment replacement, data recovery, or installation of the equipment.

They may be able to offer remote assistance, but in most cases, you end up in a long call that does nothing to resolve your issue.

The best option, if available to your business, is to have a managed service plan with a local network support company. Most local support companies will offer same day service including weekends.

Local service companies can act as your business IT support department and/or work with your existing IT department to maintain your business equipment and resolve any issues that arise.

Most local service companies will have replacement equipment and repair parts on hand, thus reducing downtime.

A local service company will also be able to assist your business in less stressful times by offering remote support services and preventive maintenance visits to spot any potential issues before they become larger problems.

They will also work to ensure your business’ network is safe and secure and offer suggestions for upgrades to your infrastructure.

While no one can predict when a workstation may go down or a firewall will fail, the best thing you can do is be prepared.

Maintaining Workstation Data Protection

Making sure your workstation’s data is backed up and ready for deployment in the case of workstation failure is vital to any business. Once the workstation has been replaced or repaired, it’s key your employees are able to pick up right where they left off. This means restoring their data as soon as possible.

Three of the more common methods of maintaining data protection on a workstation can be deployed on business networks, as well as home user environments.

Roaming profiles are the method most commonly used in larger businesses. A roaming profile stores user data on a file server or storage device located on the network. This allows the user full access to their data no matter which workstation they log into, as long as it‘s connected to the business’ network.

The roaming profile allows the user to have a consistent desktop experience, such as appearance and preferences.

The downsides to using roaming profiles are that they can be difficult to set up and if the user has a large amount of data contained within their user account, there can be a delay when logging in. User profile folder migration is a method in which the local user data folders are moved to a file server or a secondary hard drive. To migrate your user profile folders, you first need to create new folders located on the storage device, keeping the names similar for ease of use (such as My Documents, My Pictures, etc).

Once the new folders are created, you can change the location of your user profile folders to save to the new folders. After that, all of your data files will be copied to the new location and the original folder will be removed from your local profile.

If the workstation ever needs replaced, you would repeat the process on the new workstation and all of the existing data will be available. However, if you migrate folders to a network attached device and lose network connectivity, you also lose connectivity to your folders and their data.

Simple file storage is the simplest and most common form of data protection on a workstation. This method is accomplished through either hardware or software means, such as connecting an external storage device to the workstation or using a web based file backup such as our Experts Total Backup service.

Simple file storage method is the least costly, which is why it’s often utilized by small businesses and home users. Attaching an external storage device such as a large USB flash drive or hard drive to the workstation allows the user to save the data to the device.

This method is also a way of increasing storage capacity of the workstation without having to install internal hard drives. The drives can be left connected to the workstation or removed for safe storage. Using a web based file backup is another commonly used way of backing up your data files.

Once the backup software is installed and configured, the backup process becomes fully automated. The downside to web based backup is that it’s web-based – so data restore time is based on your Internet connection speed. It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to restore your data depending on the amount of data that was backed up.

If you have any questions on workstation data protection or would like to implement a backup method, call us at (734) 457-5000.