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April 2002
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Second Opinions

Your Firm's Not Backing Up? Call Your Malpractice Carrier!

What is the best option for small firms (5 lawyers or less) for backup and storage, and why?

ALBERT BARSOCCHINI San Rafael, Calif.

Your Firm's Not Backing Up? Call Your Malpractice Carrier! I ALWAYS recommend Second Copy 2000, from Centered Systems of Falls Church, Va. It makes a backup of your data files to another directory, disk or computer across the network. It then monitors the source files and keeps the backup updated with new or changed files.

It runs in the background with no user interaction. So, once it is setup you always have a backup of your data somewhere else.

DANIEL COOLIDGE Manchester, N.H.

BACKUP, for the small to the large office, has at least two components: backing up the data so it doesn't get lost, and having some way to get quickly back in operation after a disaster (fire, flood, theft etc.)

The second concern requires some serious advanced planning and periodic verification.

As to data backup, tape is cheap for a small office, and adequate to back up entire systems. It is vital that someone in the office knows how to run the machine (even if it is fully automatic!) and verify that in fact the backups are happening, and the data can be restored from them.

I like a dual approach: a raid (redundant array of inexpensive drives) that keeps a complete duplicate of every file, and a tape backup that is taken off-site every night. I like to keep two weeks worth of tapes, and replace them every two years. Tapes have a limited lifetime, and I'm not prepared to run on the ragged edge of reliability.

If it doesn't take up too much time, do a complete backup every night, and not just incremental (i.e. saving only the files that have changed since the last backup). Restoring an incremental backup can be a chore, and increases the chances that a faulty tape may mess something up.

Once your files get too large to be backed up every night in their entirety, consider a second backup device and maybe splitting your file server. They're cheaper than the consequence of not having backed up.

JAMES EIDELMAN Ann Arbor, Mich.

THE MOST important thing is to remember the various risks you need to protect against, and to use a "layered" approach, with different backup and storage methods for different purposes. The backups should be as easy and automatic as possible, or they won't be done!

Your Firm's Not Backing Up? Call Your Malpractice Carrier! Hard disks are cheap. Good 40 GB hard drives go for $110 on the Internet. Good news: You can store huge amounts of data and mirror it. Bad news: Hard disk capacity exceeds that of backup tapes.

1. Use a RAID array and removable hard drives. The ideal configuration for a server, even a small one, is to use a (RAID 5) hard disk configuration (multiple hard disks with the data "striped" across multiple disks, but functioning like just one disk), and a tape backup unit. Make regular backups, some incremental, rotate the tapes, and rotate them home with a staff member or an off-site location. Backups should be part of a staff person's regular job. Be diligent: Keep a log book or clip board for logging each backup with time and initials.

A great idea for a desktop or server is to use two mirrored hard drives (RAID 1) to automatically clone data. It provides a "hot online spare," always loaded and ready. If one crashes, the other kicks in and takes over, and when it is replaced, it is automatically rebuilt with the good drive's data.

A great backup trick is to use removable drive trays, so that "hot swappable" disks can be replaced without opening the computer or even powering down. Use an extra and rotate the spares for an extra ready-to-go system backup. (Note that if a directory or other system data become corrupt, that corruption will also be duplicated, so this isn't a total answer. You still need tape backups.)

2.Use extra storage space on local network PCs, or on the Internet. Each new PC arrives with a 40 GB drive for each person. Use the extra space for backup! A peer-to-peer network can back up one PC's data to another's hard drive. Computer A's data is copied to Computer B, B to C, and C to A. Batch files or data cloning programs to spread the data around the LAN provide very effective protection against hardware, software, and human error (but not fire or malicious destruction, so don't forget your off-site backups). Similarly, you can use cheap local PC hard drives to backup data from more expensive servers. Also, there are also many Internet-based off-site backup opportunities.

3.Use a laptop computer, and duplicate your data on the server and locally. If your case management system allows you to sync a local and network database, use that feature. Set up your e-mail so that the folders are both local and on the server. If the network goes down, you can keep working. If disaster hits, you can even rebuild the network data from your local copy, or vice versa. You can even keep working for a couple of hours if the power goes out, and access the Internet with a modem!

4. Use your word processor to back up documents. Don't forget to turn on backup options in your software. For example, Microsoft Word can be set to automatically create a .wbk backup file when you save a .doc. Use that option.

ERIC HEMATI Houston, Texas

THE QUESTION is, are you backing up or are you archiving? Backups have a life of their own and are far more mission critical than archiving -- although both should be done on a regular basis.

Your Firm's Not Backing Up? Call Your Malpractice Carrier! Two backup options available to a small firm are ARCServ 2000, from Computer Associates, of Islandia, New York, and Backup Exec, from Vertitas Software, of Mountain View, Calif. Either one of these products will take care of 90 percent of law firms ­ except the adventurous who want to explore emerging CD-ROM or DVD systems.

One problem with backing up is multiple vendors. It's typical to have three different vendors if your server, backup drive and the backup software are made by three different companies -- all of which handle compression and decompression in different ways.

Let's take a typical scenario: You have a Compaq server, a tape drive made by a different manufacturer, and backup software from yet a third party. You have 1 GB of data on your server that you want to backup. Now, the software has a software compression module on it, and the tape drive does hardware compression. To make it more complex, let's say you are running Novell on your server, which does its own compression on the hard drive. When the backup is run, the software decompresses the data from Novell, recompresses the data in its own proprietary format, then writes to the drive which compresses even further in its own format. It begins to become apparent why there are so many challenges in the backup process. So where at all possible, stick with a single vendor, or two.

ROSS KODNER Milwaukee, Wisc.

YOU CANNOT over-do data backup. Multiple protections are the best practice. Realtime software synchronization prevents downtime, off-site media storage, frequent test restores, and alternating media make up a complete backup approach. For small firm data backup there are several practical options:

1. Consider the Onstream ADR2 60 IDE Internal drive, from OnStream Data B.V., The Netherlands. It offers 30 uncompressed GB per backup tape. This low-cost tape drive runs about $440 with one tape and software ($199 for the network version. Add three tapes: $175).

Conversely, avoid Travan-technology tape backup drives. (Travan is a format standard for entry level tape backup devices, the latest iteration of the QIC [quarter-inch-cartridge] standard. In my experience, they do not work well and may leave you unprotected. The problem is that the Travan standard yields drives that compromise reliability in favor of low-cost construction. This results in units with backup/restore failure rates as high as 75 percent, tapes literally wound off their reels, and more.

Your Firm's Not Backing Up? Call Your Malpractice Carrier! 2. Removeable hard drives are an interesting backup choice. With low-cost, high quality, high capacity IDE hard drives, this is practical. Mount the drives in removeable carriers. DirtCheapDrives.com, of Dickinson, Texas, offers a Dataport V metal frame/cartridge kit. Get two more cartridge frames for a three drive rotation. Use quality, fast drives such as the 40 GB ATA/100 models from Seagate Technology L.L.C, of Scotts Valley, Calif. Total hardware cost is about $475 plus $20 for a padded carrying case. Add $140 for Retrospect Desktop 5.1 from Dantz Development Corp., of Orinda, Calif.

The advantages? Faster than tape systems and higher capacity per cartridge. Disadvantages? These drives are fragile -- they were never meant to be transported so pack them carefully in padded carrying cases.

3. DAT and DLT tape systems are still the best options. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. offers the SureStore series, which is representative. A typical internal 40/80 GB DLT model runs around $1300, plus another $100 for a SCSI adapter and about $80 each for tapes. Rock solid, fast and rugged.

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