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Small Business Backup Lesson: DO IT NOW!

What disaster recovery steps did I take to make sure this disaster doesn't happen again?

January 23rd, 2008 • Business Lessons •
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Backup image.

I recently had a business client of mine call me and tell me that their hard drive on their server crashed and their business was currently losing money. Fortunately, it was just the operating system that went South, so a reinstall of Windows Small Business Server 2003 was in order.

After recovering their OS, all of their data was retrieved and everything was back to normal. They felt relieved that their critical data was backed up, but they asked me two questions:

  1. What are our backup options in regards to the server and our critical data?
  2. How can we recover quickly from a server meltdown?

Based on the experiences of when a company loses their data because of a faulty hard drive or server meltdown, users go into a panic mode and become reactive instead of proactive. Immediately, they start to implement disaster recovery plans, purchase the necessary hardware and software, and start to document their server settings.

It's amazing that all it takes is one time to become a creature of habit. Since they didn't like their existing backup plan, they asked if I could recommend a solid alternative plan for backing up their server and critical data.

A while ago before the hard drive crash, I recommended the setup of two physically separate drives: one being an OS drive and the other for their important data. This was definitely a smart move, because as I look back, they were properly backing up their critical data to an external drive on a daily basis, which was awesome. The operating system wasn't backed up at all. You can always reload an OS, but you can't re-key all of your data.

With that said, an OS drive that dies off still slows down, if not completely shuts down, a business for a day or two. So where to start?

First, the data...

No one likes losing their vital data whether its home photos and videos, accounting records, or even source code (gasp!).

My first recommendation in the backup plan was to order a USB External Enclosure and a hard drive for their critical data. The USB External Enclosures are around $20-$40 and the hard drive would be an appropriate size that would be able to hold all of their data.

The backup software I recommended was Cobian Backup. I've been using Cobian Backup 8 for a long time and I'm very impressed with it's reliability.

There are five reasons I love this software:

  • Cobian Backup doesn't have any malware, adware, or spyware.
  • It installs itself as a windows service, so if the power goes out and your server reboots, you don't have to login to the server for the service to start the backup process.
  • It allows you to set a schedule of when to backup the files (you pick the directory and files to backup).
  • There is an awesome feature of downloading files from an FTP site, archive them, and then send them somewhere else, possibly offsite.
  • This quality piece of software is FREE.

After installing the software and the USB external hard drive, their data was on a backup schedule of every day for six days, create an incremental backup of their critical data.

...then, the OS

I recommended two options for the OS backup:

  1. With the hardware available today, you can easily create a RAID setup with an additional hard drive.
  2. After the server is completely finalized and running for business to start up again, create an image of that server and archive it for later.

Instead of going with one solution, they decided to run with both.

If you aren't familiar with RAID, a RAID system has one primary drive that holds your data and one or more hard drives are connected to a RAID controller that creates a mirror of that primary hard drive. When a primary hard drive fails, the other hard drive picks up the slack and notifies the user that a hard drive was corrupted and needs replaced. The secondary (or additional drive) continues with daily operations until the primary hard drive is replaced.

After purchasing the hardware for the RAID system and installing the two hard drives and RAID controller, it was time to install the imaging software.

Lifehacker reported on a software package called DriveImage XML and I definitely recommend this software for home office/small businesses.

This excellent imaging software accomplishes the following tasks (feature excerpt taken from their website):

  • Backup logical drives and partitions to image files
  • Browse these images, view and extract files
  • Restore these images to the same or a different drive
  • Copy directly from drive to drive
  • Schedule automatic backups with your Task Scheduler

Oh, and the software is FREE as well.

Another option which wasn't used here, but I may be using at home is CloneZilla. According to the SourceForge site,

Clonezilla, based on DRBL, Partition Image, ntfsclone, and udpcast, allows you can massively clone many (40 plus!) computers simultaneously. Clonezilla saves and restores only used blocks in the harddisk. This increases the clone effiency. At the NCHC's Classroom C, Clonezilla was used to clone 41 computers simultaneously. It took about 50 minutes to clone a 5.6 GBytes system image to all 41 computers via unicasting and only about 10 minutes via multicasting!

After reading this description, I will definitely be looking into this for later. Having experience with this, I feel that I have a feeling a training class or company may have a desperate need for this type of utility.


These methods in backing up the server and critical data may seem excessive, but determining your disaster recovery plan should be in place now when your server crashes. Be proactive, not reactive.

It's your business and your data should be protected. Determine how to recover from a disaster so your business can continue without falter.

Do you think this is the best plan for a home office/small business? No? Write a comment below.

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Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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