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Basic necessities for an effective IT department - Part 1

Introduction I want to introduce myself and my new column called "The IT Department". "The IT Department" will consist of information that I have learned over the past 20 years working in the ...

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I want to introduce myself and my new column called "The IT Department". "The IT Department" will consist of information that I have learned over the past 20 years working in the ever evolving world of Information Technology. When I started, IT was referred to as IS or MIS - Management of Information Systems. (I'm giving away my age a little bit...) I began in application development, programming (that's what they called creating software) mainly COBOL software. But as the personal computer started to become popular, I saw a great opportunity to become a consultant developing software for small to medium sized businesses targeting the personal computer platform. This also included building IT infrastructures from the ground-up, i.e. everything from wiring a building to setting up firewalls, servers, phone systems, security systems, communications infrastructure and the list goes on... I have helped businesses go from 1 server to dozens of servers in global configurations. Needless to say, I really enjoy IT and am looking forward to sharing some of my knowledge and experience here within this column. This article represents the first in a series of articles on what I feel are essential elements that make up a well defined IT Department. For more information visit my web site at...


So let's start...

As I had mentioned before, I thought a good area to begin would be to describe some of the basic components and best practices found in any well defined IT department. This article is the first in a series where I will provide an overview or general roadmap to follow.

Basic necessities for an effective IT department - Backups (Part 1)


I am not sure everyone does them or even does them right, especially if you are a small business, so I wanted to start my first contribution in this area. Starting with the most common method, tape backups should be done so that data can be stored safely offsite. There are some great products to help set up a backup process from vendors like Symantec or Computer Associates and even the windows based backup software can be used effectively. Along with making sure you perform the backup, make sure to test that the backups work so you know how to retrieve the data in case you need it. Believe me, this can save you a big headache if one day you lose data, especially if the data was part of a large database file.

Various methods of backing up...

As I mentioned above, backing up to tape requires tapes and a tape drive. There are many options to choose from and it depends on the amount of data you have to store but typically for a small to medium sized business with say less than 100GB of data to backup,


- (Digital Audio Technology - CD quality magnetic tapes) technology will work fine. As requirements start to exceed the 100GB range it may make sense to look into 2 other types of technologies in tape backup i.e.


- (Digital Linear Tape - increased capacity thru higher density) and


- (Linear Tape Open - faster data inquiry and retrieval times) for larger capacities and faster retrieval rates.

Secondly, there are other backup device options you can consider given your situation. An example might involve the use of external disk drives from a vendor like Maxtor. Maxtor sells some great products to allow quick backups of user desktops machines. This can be ideal for the executive on the move just in case they lose their laptop or the laptop crashes or breaks. These easy to use devices provide "one-touch" technology so that they can backup predefined file sets with a touch of a button. Maxtor also sells other higher end devices that can be used to store data from servers. This potentially can help eliminate the use of tapes and provide data in a more readily available format. This should be thought about carefully since you probably would need a few of these devices in order to satisfy the offsite storage of data.

A third option involves an online service such as "LiveVault". This vendor provides a mechanism for encrypting and sending the data to them in a scheduled manner over the internet and your data is stored on their systems. The advantage is that the data is stored in a more readily available format and there is no investment in tape technologies. Data also is ready to download from anywhere if needed. Another big advantage is that there is no tape to change and reload. Please also check out the latest reviews from

PC Magazine - Online backup services.

A fourth option involves what is referred to as CDP or continuous data protection and in effect replicates data real-time from a server to another server providing a redundant copy of data on another computer. This is more costly obviously since it requires more hardware (does not require the same hardware for replicating so it can be of lesser grade than the production server) but can offer very high availability of data.

Other notes regarding backups...

While on the topic of backups I want to mention the option of taking a backup or what is referred to as an image of a hard drive. A very good practice is creating images of various critical servers and/or desktops. So, in the event there are ever any issues you can restore an image back from a particular moment in time. I typically image before any kind of major upgrade to a computer this way I can always return to its prior state if I had to. Symantec's Ghost product has worked well for me in this regard.

Backup Schedules

A typical backup schedule for tapes involves a four week rotation. Each week is designated as either A, B, C or D on a calendar. Each tape is labeled with the day of the week and its corresponding letter to the calendar. At the end of each week that days tape will go offsite. At the end of the month the tapes from the prior weeks of the month are brought back and the month-end tape can be stored offsite for as long as required.

As you can see there are many ways to make sure that your businesses data assets are properly secured. In the event of minor or catastrophic disaster, with the proper planning, you can ensure you can get your data back from the dead.

Next article...

Please contact me thru my website for any more information and I will be glad to explain further. For the next article I am planning on discussing Security, however, I have a forum on my web site that can be used for ideas on upcoming articles that you would like me to write about.