How to Win the Data Game

Your customer has been using the access control system you installed more than a year ago. It took several months to enter in the data for the hundreds of employees. Configuring the security levels matrix was a particular challenge. But once everything was set up and working, the customer was very happy with the system’s performance. Then one day you get a call from that contented customer. There has been a problem with the security system. A disgruntled employee has decided to take off, and has stolen some property, including the access control computer. The customer wants to know what you can do about this situation. So you ask them the big question: Do you have a backup of that data?

Depending how well the system was planned, the customer’s reply might be “What’s a backup?” or “I thought this was done automatically”, or “I thought you set it up when you sold me the system”, or “We make backups to another hard drive but it was on the same computer.” You might then say, “It is your responsibility to make data backups.” Anyway, you get the picture; the customer is shut down and will have to start from scratch. How could this scenario have been avoided?

The important point is today’s security dealer needs to have a good understanding of backup procedures. This should be part of the package when selling systems, such as access control, video and alarm monitoring, which includes important data. With that in mind, let’s look at methods to safeguard customer data. 


Several Ways to Ward Off Disaster
Backing up data is a regular process where important information from, say an access control computer, is transferred to another system, preferably in another geographic location. These important files may be transferred over the Internet or a local area network (LAN), or physically transported by a manager. The critical point is it needs to be done on a regular, accountable basis.

Some of the different methods that can be used as a disaster plan for backing up data include:

Full backup — This is a backup of all selected files in the system. This may include the operating system and other important executable programs if another method, such as disk imaging, is not used.

Differential backup — This is a cumulative backup of all changes made since the last full backup. While this allows for a quicker recovery time, it would only include the last full backup and latest differential backup. The downside is that each day past the full backup makes for some very large differential backups.

Incremental backup — This type of backup only contains the files that have changed since either a full or incremental backup. The advantage is faster backup time; however, you will need to restore all incremental backups with the last full backup.

Disk imaging — Sometimes called “mirroring,” this is when a complete image of everything on the hard drive, including boot area, systems files and registries, is saved to another drive.

Archiving — An organized, accessible, long-term storage system.

Disk rotation — Using multiple disks to back up your data and system. It enables you to save a history of your data on multiple disks and gives the option of storing disks off-site for greater data security.


Sensible Schedules, Data Handling
A common question that comes up is, “How much and when should I backup?” A rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “If I crash, how much data am I willing to lose and how can it be replaced?” Setting up a schedule is important. One of the more popular backup schedules includes making daily database backups on separate disks or tape cartridges, with each day being a numbered backup. Then at the end of the week, make a full system backup off-site and hold it until the end of the month. The end-of-the-month full system backup is then archived in long-term storage.

Another requirement is properly handling and storing your backup media. Today, the low cost of CDs and DVDs makes for an attractive backup storage media.

Some of you may have heard that marking CDs and DVDs with a Sharpie type marker can damage the disk over time. It appears there is some merit to this since the solvents in the marker can possibly damage the disk. Therefore, it is recommended you use water-based markers. Also, do not use a fine-point marker as pressure from such a point can physically damage the disk. For more information, visit the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Web site at


Be Prepared, Software Can Help
Restoring data is another very important part of the emergency backup process. I have seen instances where a person is very diligent about backing up their data only to find out something was not properly configured, and the data does not restore properly. Don’t forget that a complete restoral includes the operating system and drivers, and will often need a boot disk as well.

The bottom line is to make sure you do a restoral drill early on in your backup program to make sure all is working properly.

Good backup software need not be expensive. One versatile backup program that comes highly recommended by PC industry experts is Handy Backup (www.handyback This program organizes the files in tasks. You can set a number of parameters for a task: an operation type (backup, restore or synchronize), the source and destination locations of the files and folders, special options (compression, encryption), scheduling, etc.

Hard drive failure is a key area of data loss. Hence, another preventative area that can be addressed is monitoring the health of the computer’s hard drive. Many of today’s SATA drives come with built-in SMART (self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology), which is an interface between a computer’s BIOS (basic input/output system) and hard disk.

For the complete version of this story, see the August issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

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