Got data?

The Education Office of Information Technology would like to urge everyone in the College of Education to formulate a personal or office strategy for backing up your mission/career critical data and documents.

If you have created intellectual property that is stored electronically, we recommend that you create your own strategic backup plan!  Please do not rely on "server backups" as your sole personal or office document backup plan.  Even servers crash and believe it or not, sometimes server backups fail!  You should personally initiate your own backup plan.  Be proactive about it because no one else understands the value of your intellectual property as much as you do.  If a file server or email server contains the only copy of your intellectual property, your data is at risk.  Server backups are generally short term backup solutions.  If you have produced intellectual property over a period of years, you should implement a life-long backup and security strategy.  You never know when "life will happen" and you'll no longer have access to data on XYZ server or account.  Make sure you have a backup in your personal possesion at all times.  Responsibility for backing up data and documents rests with the owner of the data.

What needs to be backed up?

You (or your office) may own data that resides in several places.  So it is important to initially locate all your important data when formulating a backup strategy.  A backup should include data and documents located on: office computers, home computers, departmental file servers, web servers, Purdue career accounts, TaskStream accounts, flash drives, email accounts, etc.  There are many kinds of data & documents.  At minimum, you probably have lots of Word and Excel documents.  You may also have: SPSS or SAS data; digital audio / video / photo data; PowerPoint projects, programming projects, web sites + associated files; web browser bookmarks / favorites; Outlook email files used to store email on a local PC; etc.

How do you do it?

Most College of Education computers already have a built-in CD-RW drive for burning data to CDROM discs.  This is the most basic way to begin backing up data.  Many computers in the College have a DVD+RW drive which can store significantly more data than a CD-RW drive.  We recommend that all users become familiar with CD-RW or DVD+RW technology and associated burning software.  It is very easy to burn CDs and DVDs once you get the hang of using software like Easy CD Creator, Nero Burning ROM, or Windows XP built-in burning software.  In addition to CDs and DVDs, portable USB hard drives are useful for backing up large amounts of data (combined with free software such as SyncToy or RoboCopy). If you currently don't have hardware capable of performing a backup, please consult with the Education IT team.  We can give you specs and advice for backup hardware/software.  We can also come to your office and demo the process of burning documents to CD or DVD.

If your data is sensitive or restricted, you should use an encryption program such as TrueCrypt in combination with an external USB hard drive.

What kind of user are you?

Not all backup needs are alike and the type of backup strategy you need depends on how much data you own.  It is very important to know how much data you own, how much you are likely to accumulate, and how much you need to backup.  It is a good practice to view the properties of your folders from time to time and understand how large they are.  This will give you a feel for how much backup storage capacity you need -- and how quickly your data is growing.  In Windows, you can right-click a folder and select properties to see how large a folder is.

Small Amounts of Data

Some users have small amounts of data, mainly Word or Excel documents that total 1 gigabyte or less.  We recommend that these users burn their data to multiple CDROM or DVD discs.  Organize documents and folders within a single folder such as the "My Documents" folder so data can be easily and quickly backed up to CD by backing up only one folder.  Be careful when saving new documents and place them in your "My Documents" folder so will be backed up when you burn them to CD/DVD.  Users should make multiple CD/DVD backups of their important data and take backups out of the building.  All discs and hard drives eventually fail, so be sure to have multiple copies. 

Moderate to Large Amounts

Some users have moderate to large amounts of data, up to several gigabytes.  In most cases, we would recommend that these users backup data to multiple DVD discs.  Portable USB hard drives are good backup solutions as long as you have multiple drives where your data is mirrored.  All discs and hard drives eventually fail, so be sure to have multiple copies.  Data should be carefully organized into "project" folders and folder sizes monitored to ensure project folders can fit on a 4.7 GB DVD+R disc.  Once project folders are organized into manageable sizes, project folders can be systematically backed up to DVD disc.  Users should make multiple backups of their important data and take backups out of the building.

Very Large Amounts of Data

Some users have very large amounts of data, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of gigabytes of data.  These users have a special challenge.  Our recommendation is here is to CAREFULLY ORGANIZE documents and data, separating general office productivity documents from very large project data collections. 

For very large data collections and mission critical documents, we recommend that you purchase multiple USB hard drives and use Microsoft SyncToy to synchronize data that resides on a server / workstation to multiple USB hard drives.  SyncToy is a free utility that will automatically synchronize folders on two drives (Drive A <<<<>>>> Drive B).  We recommend using SyncToy  to synchronize data to USB hard drives and locating some of those hard drives off-site, rotating them on and off site as needed.  It is important to keep multiple backups in separate locations in case of fire or theft.  All discs and hard drives eventually fail, so be sure to have multiple copies. 

All of this may seem like extra work, but it is actually easy and painless.  If your intellectual property has value, you will want to make backups. 

Here is an example, as of April 2006, of a USB hard drive:

A 250 GB USB Hard Drive:

Here is free software you can use for backing up and securing data:

Microsoft SyncToy Backup Software (free):

TrueCrypt Encryption Software (free):

Other solutions:  (1) Though we do not highly recommend it, if you do not need real-time access to large amounts of data, you could purchase a tape backup drive and rotate tapes on and off site.  (2) A Serial ATA RAID card and mirrored hard drives in your workstation can also add a measure of protection against hard drive failure (though this cannot protect against data corruption).  (3) If you believe no standard off-the-shelf backup options can adequately ensure the safety of your particular data, we recommend that you contact ITaP (itap@purdue.edu) to investigate services for hire.

A backup "foundation"

After an initial backup of data/documents takes place, you have a foundation on which to build.  You may not need to perform monthly backups of data that does not change.  Your initial backup of critical data should be set aside in safe places (multiple copies) where no single disaster, such as a fire or tornado, can wipe them out, and where no one can steal them.  Once a backup foundation is established, additional backups can be created and added to your backup collection of DVDs/CDs/Hard Drives as you work on new projects/data/documents.  If you're using DVDs, you can create an archive of DVD discs stored in a safe location.  Then each month you can add your most recent backups to your DVD storage case.  If most of your documents do not regularly change, rather than spending a lot of time backing up every document you own every month, you only need to backup new documents/data as you create them, adding these new discs to your off-site collections.

A well organized folder structure is very important to the safety of your data.  If your documents are haphazardly scattered around your hard drive, your data is at risk.  It is vital to understand how folders and files are organized, and how to measure the size of folders.  It is also important to know the difference between "shortcuts" and the actual data they point to.  Backing up a shortcut will not back up your data.  To make backups easy and painless, we recommend that data & documents be organized within in a single folder such as the "My Documents" folder (with lots of sub folders for your individual projects).  If all your data & documents are in one folder + sub-folders, you only need to backup a single folder to perform a comprehensive backup. It is generally not necessary to back up application programs since most programs are distributed on CDROM disks which serve as program backups.  Copying files to a server is not an adequate backup.  A backup needs to be in your personal possession and out of the building where computers and servers reside.  College of Education servers are limited in size and do not have capacity to store/backup everyone's data.  Please do not use Education servers as your sole backup foundation or strategy.

How often should I back up?

The answer to the "how often" question really depends on the importance and value of the data and what it would cost (in time and money) to re-create the data if it is lost - OR - what it would cost to NOT have immediate access to the data.  If you have a backup "foundation", then you at least have something to fall back on when all else fails.  If your foundation is very old, however, it may be of limited use after a data disaster.  For mission critical data that is (a) generated in large volumes, (b) cannot be recreated, or (c) must be immediately available 7 days a week, a nightly backup may be needed.  However, for general office data/documents, a weekly backup, or even a monthly backup, may be fine.  For low priority data/documents you may decide to back them up once a year, or just not back them up at all.  Scheduling backup reminders is a good use of recurring events in your Microsoft Outlook Calendar.

The central question is this: If your data/documents are lost this evening in a catastrophic event, what will happen in the morning? Will your business, your livelihood, your research, your lifetime of work be irrevocably destroyed?  Or will you be able to pick up and move on with a reasonably recent backup of your data?  N o one can really answer these questions but you.

How can data be lost?

While no one anticipates that a particular computer or hard drive will crash any time soon, we know from experience that all computers will eventually crash and all data will eventually, in one way or another, be at risk -- a sober fact of the darker side of life in the digital age. 

Data can be lost in several ways:

Therefore it is important to:

(1) have a personal lifetime backup strategy in place before data is lost, and

(2) make multiple copies of valuable data/documents, and

(3) remove backups from the building where your computer and primary data/documents exist.

Need to consult?

We're always happy to consult with faculty and staff in the College of Education to help you determine what kind of backup strategy you need to create, how much data you own, and/or what kind of hardware+software you needed to protect your data & documents. 

We can provide specs for purchasing backup equipment such as:

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Education IT at edit@purdue.edu.

See also: http://www.geeks.com/pix/techtips-110404.htm

Thank you and happy computing ! ! !

The Education Office of Information Technology (Education IT / EdIT)