I'm fascinated by the stories of disasters and near disasters related to me by my IT peers, especially those involving backups – or the lack of backups, as is so often the case. I understand that no technology is 100 percent foolproof and that no human is 100 percent on the ball 100 percent of the time, but, seriously, with the availability of cloud-based backups, disk-to-disk backups, and technologies such as Microsoft's Distributed File System (DFS), there's just no excuse for all this backup angst. Yet, here we are in 2017, and the stories of lost data and angry users continually arrive in my Inbox.
Backups are an essential part of any well-run and well-maintained business. There's no excuse for not doing backups, not checking on backups, and not performing some sort of disaster recovery drill to ensure backup and restore integrity. The most often asked question in any so-called postmortem disaster discussion is, "What have we learned from this experience?" The response that most often pops up in my mind is, "We should have had good backups."
Unfortunately, my response is an oversimplification of the issue. I don't want you to think I'm standing myself up as the backup realm paragon of virtue or taking the moral high ground on this point. I'm not. I've had my share of backup and restore failures over the years. Any system administrator worth his or her salt will admit to the same. The problem is that we know better. We all know that once you have a new system in place, backups are the next task on the list. Second only to getting a new service online and available to users is setting up a backup schedule.
To me, dealing with backup and restore duties is much like watching earthworms commit suicide on summer sidewalks. The earthworm lives life in the cool soils beneath our feet, providing half of a mutually beneficial relationship that we've both enjoyed for eons. However, some earthworms must take a life-threatening chance and leave their cozy 68 degree, moist surroundings in search of better "digs." They begin their arduous journeys across summer's searing footpaths only to find that their ill-fated journeys will end unceremoniously between those cozy havens.
Wouldn't it have been better for everyone, including the earthworms, to have stayed safe underneath the sun-shielded sod of the lawn?
Wouldn't the oft-ignored-until-a-disaster-occurs system administrator be so much better off setting up a simple backup strategy to avoid data mishaps?
Of course, the obvious answer to both of these questions is "Yes."
The system administrator, like the daring earthworm, often takes chances with security and safety by being less than prudent about certain life-altering, or in the case of the earthworm, life-ending choices. Unlike the earthworm (I'm making an assumption here), the system administrator knows what the consequences of not setting up backups can mean to a career and to a life otherwise well lived. Knowing the consequences of one's actions, however, does not always lead to the correct decision. There are far too many "war stories" of what went wrong and how a backup could have prevented the telling of those tales of woe.
The poor earthworm can't learn from its mistake. Once the decision to take the first slither onto that journey of a thousand wriggles is made, its fate is sealed. System administrators can alter outcomes. System administrators can reasonably protect themselves from disaster. System administrators can recall those oft-heard stories of how a good backup would have provided the recovery required when disaster unexpectedly, but predictably, struck.
System administrators wouldn't allow themselves to perish on those sidewalks because they would think ahead to bring along a canteen of water. They would surely remember to carry some sort of temporary shelter in case of emergency. They would have some contingency or back-out plan for when something inevitably goes wrong. The system administrator might not think of every possible failure or error in judgment along the journey, but at the very least, he or she would have access to a well-charged cell phone so that a call for backup could be made.
Ken Hess * ADMIN Senior Editor