Horse Sense #85

Changing Your View, Part 1--Backup Isn't Important, Restore Is

Your data is very valuable, right?  So you need to be able to back up everything, right?  Wrong.  Data isn't valuable.  Information is.  You don't really care about backup.  What you care about is how fast and well something can be restored.  Let's look at how we might change some of your perceptions.

Much of what you do in the moment doesn't need to be retained.  Specific conversations, e mails, web site visits, and all sorts of other data are very useful in that moment, but don't really contain much information you need to have longer term.  As time goes on, less and less of the bits and bytes that you deal with are information, and more of it is just data that can be tossed.  Think of your house.  Much useful stuff than comes in goes out again soon as trash.

As long as you weren't backing up many bits and bytes, it made sense to back up everything and have it available for restoration.  As programs, operating systems, and files got larger and larger, that became impractical.  People have become more profligate with their storage.  They treat it as an "infinite" resource.  It isn't.  I deleted 300 megabytes of e mail graphic signatures off my laptop the other day.  That was 15 times larger than my first hard drive!  And there was really no useful information in it for me.  Think about this when automatically mailing someone a large graphic signature, a background, or a contact file with your message.  For quite some time, I've been protecting my e mail by backing it up, and that includes those 300 megabytes.  That is time consuming and expensive and it would slow my ability to restore what I wanted if something happened to my mail.

So, how should you deal with this data explosion?  First, you need to understand what your data is and where it resides.  With knowledge comes understanding.  There is literally no need to back up a browser cache.  In fact, I've found that I can save people a ton of time, effort, and money by doing something as simple as decreasing their browser cache from an insanely large default to a reasonably small number like 16 megabytes.  You also need to look at how information actually traverses your organization.  I often have people draw information flow diagrams showing how information moves in their organization.  You have to understand the value of your data and its life within your organization.  The corporate speak for this type of analysis is Information Lifecycle Management.  What comes in?  What do you do with it?  What goes out?  What needs to be saved?  Why?  For how long does it need to be saved?  How do we maintain this information securely and reliably?  Who deals with it?  Where is it and why is it there?  What form is it in?  Every organization has some unique answers to these questions, but many answers are going to be quite common.

One of the best things you can do to improve your security, productivity, reliability, and performance is to get rid of what you don't need.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?  Storing and managing data is expensive.  Let's think of your house again.  Over time, you get newspapers, magazines, bills, and other printed stuff.  Let's say you just couldn't part with any of it.  After a while, your house would become unlivable.  Getting around would be almost impossible.  You end up spending a lot of time, effort, and money protecting what is mostly trash in that valuable real estate.  Moving all these "valuable treasures" somewhere else to protect them would take a herculean effort.  Looking at everything being equally valuable means your will, birth certificate, and deed are worth no more than that article on a school closing in a town you never heard of 15 years ago.  The same thing happens in your digital house.

So, what do you do?  Start thinking about Information Lifecycle Management.  Everything you put on your computers should have some value.  Typically, the operating system and your applications have some value and you want to be able to get them back, but the really valuable stuff is going to be any content you create and the most valuable stuff will be the stuff you use most often.  You can already see where this is going.  Your operating system and applications are less valuable, so they need less protection than your content.  Evanescent data, like cached information or your system page file have no value at all and don't need to be protected.

Continued next time....  Until then, think about doing a spring cleaning of your digital life.  If you think you need a more thorough cleaning or professional help, contact us. <--obligatory plug for Iron Horse.

©2010 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse