INSPECT YOUR GADGETS

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We have all become accustomed to mobile gadgets like iPads, iPhones, iPod-touches, and the list goes on.  They have been integrated seemingly seamlessly into our lives.

But there are some gadgets that don’t slot into your lives quite so easily that maybe you haven’t thought of yet.  It is up to you to decide whether you could imagine living without these gadgets after learning about them.

Here are few:

The Magic Wand Remote

If you’re bored using your old television remote, why not replace it with the long, thin, tubular, magic wand remote?  Change the channel with flicks of your wrist, and with big sweeping moves of your arm you can record your favourite TV show.  Fantastic.

Video Recording Spy Watch

Concealed inside this watch is 1GB of flash memory attached to a microphone. The microphone is well placed so that you can clearly record while the watch is still on your wrist. This makes it very easy to sneakily record conversations without raising suspicion.

It comes with a set of head phones allowing you to listen to your recording immediately afterwards, and the watch will also act as an MP3 player. This allows you to take your favourite tunes with you and keep you entertained while you’re on the move or in a boring lecture.  Who needs to tell the time?

Meade MySky Star and Planet Identifier

If you’re clueless about the night sky, don’t let it bother you any longer.  This gadget looks like a science-fiction ray gun, but the only thing it fires is knowledge.  It helps you to identify and learn about the stars and planets and can take you on a guided audio and visual tour where it can highlight the best bits based on the current time and your location.  It has full-color LCD that won’t obstruct your view of the night sky.  Wonderful.

Self-Stirring Lazy Mug

This mug holds your tea, coffee, hot chocolate or other mixed drink, and all you need to do is push a special button on the handle and it starts to stir your drink.  Who needs a spoon?  Think of all the time you’ll save.

Thanks to the very innovative people with plenty of time on their hands to invent gadgets like these, there are loads of them to choose from.

Before you have decided which ones you need in your life, there will already be another five hundred new ones available.  Isn’t it nice to be spoilt for choice?

DATA PROTECTION IS JUST AS IMPORTANT OFFLINE AS ON

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How much of yourself do you share with the world? Do you take pains to keep your really personal information offline because you never know who’s watching? What if that’s not enough?

You can invent convoluted passwords to stymie hackers, you can install the latest firewalls and antivirus software, you can keep your email address and phone numbers off social networks. But, you can’t do anything about banks whose systems are hacked or about your friends who accidentally reveal a personal identifier online.

That doesn’t mean you should give it all up and give the world you PIN number and the password to your cheque account.

 

Protect your data

These days, people are very concerned about protecting their data online. They worry about hackers and viruses, and about search engines and marketers collecting, using and selling information about their search patterns.

And they are right to worry (although there is a line between appropriate concern and paranoia). But they shouldn’t forget about all the data that is available offline.

Ask yourself, what do you do with old bank statements – the really old ones? Do you run them through the shredder, cut them up into itty bitty pieces or just chuck them in the recycling bin? Your bank statements contain a wealth of personal information that cunning criminals can use to unravel all the details of your life and steal your entire identity, let alone all you money.

What you do with old utility bills? What do you do with those annoying letters that tell you’ve been pre-approved for store card at a store you’ve never been in?

If a department store can get your details, you can bet that a recreational hacker can do it quicker.

 

What else should you consider?

Where do you store your hard copies? Do you stuff them in a drawer, do you have a concertina file in the back of a cupboard, do you have an unlocked filing cabinet, or do you have a safe?

A thief with a particular goal in mind won’t find it too difficult to find your details if you keep documents in all the usual places. The least you can do is make it as difficult as possible to get hold of the information. Put locks on your filing cabinet. Buy a safe. Don’t keep documents in your sock drawer.

How much of your data is stored on your mobile phone? Is it secure enough that it won’t pose any risk if the phone is stolen? Mobile phones get stolen all the time. Sometimes they’re scrubbed clean before they find new owners. Sometimes curious thieves dig around before discarding unimportant information, but they might keep some stuff – like the pictures of your kids at the easily identifiable park that you frequent.

All your contacts, your texts and all your pictures, even your apps are data gold mines for someone of a certain bent.

That’s why there are data protection apps available, and why you should always have a password to access your phone. It’s also why you need to encrypt all the data you can, especially on your desktop and laptop.

You’re never going to make your data 100% safe. But many people are deterred if they have to work too hard to get what they want. So make criminals jump through fiery hoops, so that at least they have to earn your data – before your tracking system nails them, that is.

PROS AND CONS OF EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES

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The rising demand for hard drive space

In 1980, the first gigabyte hard drive arrived. It was almost as big as a fridge, but it so many megabytes; more megabytes then anyone could ever need, right?

As time went by, people realized that there is no such thing as enough megabytes. Then they realized that you could never have enough gigabytes. And finally, it got to the point where the mythical terabyte became the standard unit of storage.

That’s the way it is with hard drive space. What’s considered too much now will be the standard in every computer in a few years, and scoffed at a few years later.

Multimedia and social media, all the video and image files people store on their computers and upload to social media sites, all contributing to the rising demand for data storage. Facebook alone processes about 500 Terabytes worth of data per day, while 72 hours’ worth of video footage is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

 

External hard drives: More portability for less reliability?

The space requirements of data are higher and so is its value, whether it is photos of a fondly remembered trip or important business data. The prevalence of viruses and hacking means people not only need additional storage space, but a means to backup all this information and protect it from threats. This is why external hard drives have become one of the fastest-growing data storage mediums.

They provide additional storage space that can be installed without having to open the computer case. It’s just a simple matter of plugging it in, usually via USB cable, and hundreds of additional gigabytes are yours to deploy. When it comes to protecting that data from online threats, it’s just a simple matter of unplugging the same cable, unlike internal hard drives which are accessible for as long as the computer is on.

Furthermore, external hard drives provide extra storage that is also portable. You may not be able to carry them around in your pocket as easily as USBs, but the far superior storage capacity more than makes up for the inferior portability.

For all their benefits, external hard drives are not the most reliable of devices. Internal hard drives are quite prone to failure as is, and external drives don’t even have the benefit of being close to the computer fans, which means that there is no cooling mechanism to protect them from excess heat.

What’s more, being positioned outside the case means they’re more exposed to the elements, and to the threat of physical trauma, especially when cables are unwisely left to trail in places where they can easily be caught on someone’s foot.

Data should only be considered “backed up” if it’s contained on an internal drive as well as an external drive. On the plus side, the portability of external hard drives makes it easier to transport them to a data recovery center should they fail.

THE DANGER THAT LURKS IN YOUR PRINTER

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Are you aware of the danger that lurks in your business’s copier? These days, copiers and printers come with internal hard drives, and these are often forgotten when it comes to ensuring data security. Basically, every document copied and printed is stored on the hard drive, which is a major problem for businesses which regularly print and copy highly sensitive data.

Think about a bank; every time you pop in to do a transaction, like a cash transfer, or pick up a new card, your ID is photocopied. Every document you have to sign is photocopied. Your account details and personal information are stored, along with those of every other client, and they are easy pickings for identity thieves.

Think about police stations, which copy and print highly sensitive data regarding criminal cases. Think of the damage that data can do if it ends up in the wrong hands, or even in the public domain.

What can you do to protect yourself?

There’s not a lot you can do about the data stored in your bank’s copier (beyond asking them about their security measures and suggesting that they look into solutions), but you can protect your business’s data.

  • You can purchase data security kits, which encrypt data stored on the hard drive, as well as data stored on dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Data is cleared and overwritten regularly.
  • Degaussing is recommended if you have no intention of using the drive again, or of selling it (VSSP). This entails running data through a magnetic field, which is supposed to completely remove all traces of data.
  • You can use overwrite software, which doesn’t render the drive inoperable. Look for software that provides a report on the erasure process (whether it was successfully completed or whether errors occurred).
  • Physically destroying the drive by disintegration, incineration, melting, and chemical treatment. However, this is not always entirely successful as skilled data recovery experts can often recover data from severely physically damaged drives.
  • Don’t forget that multifunction devices are plugged into your network, which makes them vulnerable to viruses, worms and malware. So, you need to include them in your network security measures (Larry Kovnat (Forbes.com).

The danger of hard drives in copiers and printers was first reported by CBS in 2010. Since then, not a lot more people have become aware of the risk. The result is that a lot of confidential data still finds ends up where it shouldn’t when old devices are sold or recycled. It’s not just up to manufacturers to ensure that their customers are aware of the danger that lurks in their machines (although they have a very important role to play). Consumers should also properly research equipment before they sign any cheques, so that they know exactly what they are getting.

THE BEST DATA RECOVERY TIP IN THE WORLD

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The best data recovery tip in the world is to have backup and backups of your backups and backups of those backups – and to back up your backups every day.

But, we’re human and sometimes we forget. And, it’s technology so sometimes things go wrong. Besides, how many people, not businesses, have backups of all their data? They might have an external hard drive or redundant drives backing up their PCs, but how much of their smartphone data is backed up? How often do they dump all their smartphone pictures and video files onto their PCs, so that they can be backed up?

Their data loss might not be as financially or critically devastating as it is for businesses, but you can’t put a value on your kid’s first steps or the perfectly timed picture of your dog jumping through the sprinkler.

So, what are you to do?

Your absolute best bet is to make an appointment with a hard drive data recovery specialist. Tinkering around with your system when you’re not entirely sure you know what you’re doing is a recipe for disaster. Chances are you will make things worse. In fact, you could render your data irrecoverable, when it could have been perfectly recoverable in the first place.

Here’s what you need to do when things start going pear-shaped.

1)     Don’t think that funny noises are normal.

If your computer starts making noises that it doesn’t ordinarily make, try and do a quick back up and then switch it off. The turning off part is especially important if the noises are quite disturbing, like grinding.

If you hope that the noises will somehow stop on their own and don’t turn it off, you risk further damage to the hard drive. You also risk your valuable data being overwritten by new data, like automatic temporary files by desktop applications.

2)     You can give software a go if you really want to.

You can get data recovery software – before the problem occurs. You can get free software and you can buy software. Buy it. Free software often doesn’t do what it says it does and it can also complicate a problem that may not have been complicated to begin with. Even bought software isn’t always as good as the manufacturers like to think.

Do some research and buy the best that you can afford. And keep a specialist’s number on speed dial.

3)     Don’t mess with it.

Don’t uninstall and reinstall any programmes. If you do this you could overwrite all of your old data and even the best recovery specialists will have to work extra hard to try reach your data that is buried beneath layers of problems.

If you are familiar with a computer’s innards then you can unplug it and remove the hard drive, so that all you have to do is take it with you to the data recovery guys. Don’t try this if you don’t have a clue. Just take in your whole machine and leave it to the professionals.

4)     Get in your car and drive.

Some data recovery companies will pick up and drop off the drive, which is great because you don’t need to worry about handling the damaged drive or about packing it correctly.

If you do have to take in the drive yourself, ask for packing instructions. The last thing you want is to have your unprotected drive rolling around your boot or sliding from the seat to the foot well when you take a corner or get too vigorous with the brakes.

The bottom line is that it’s always best to have your data restored by a professional. You might be prepared to risk your personal data with some self-recovery attempts, but businesses should certainly not do this.

So, what are the take-ways from this?

1)     Back up everything all the time.

2)     Find the most reputable data recovery company in your city and keep their contact details handy.

THE EVOLUTION OF WINDOWS THROUGH THE AGES

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Let there be graphics

Though Xerox implemented a mouse-based Graphical User Interface on its Alto Computer as early as 1973, it took about a decade for Microsoft and Apple, in direct competition with each other, to sell this system to the world.

Windows 1 first arrived in 1985, introducing graphical matter into the black void that was MSDOS. Twenty-eight years later, Windows is estimated to be the operating system of choice on around 90% of all personal computers. Over time, each new stage in the advancement of digital technology has been incorporated into the functionality of the Windows operating system. The advent of more powerful CPUs, the internet, social media and the rise of mobile devices; all of these have played their part in its evolution.

Twenty-seven years and eight versions later

Learning to use a computer can be a frightening thing, with the inexperienced being under the false impression that a click in the wrong place will initiate a self-destruction sequence.

Imagine those same people using the MSDOS interface and its system of commands that preceded Windows 1. Well, in truth that might actually have seemed less threatening to them, in the sense it would be hard for them to believe that typing commands like “DIR” on a black screen could do anything whatsoever, let alone cause something to blow up.

Windows 1 arrived in 1985 with its GUI (Graphical User Interface), allowing users to execute commands by clicking on them with a mouse. It was the beginning of a philosophy that would become the fundamental tenet of User Interface Design: Make things simpler and more intuitive, which usually implies making it more visual.

In 1987, Windows 2.0 replaced the commands with desktop icons, and supported keyboard shortcuts; in 1990, Windows 3.0 introduced multitasking and improved multimedia support. It also incorporated the 16 color graphics made possible by the introduction of VGA cards.

Windows 95 was the next major step. Whereas previous versions of Windows were basically MSDOS dressed up in a Graphical User Interface, Windows 95 was the first to do away with the underlying MSDOS core, and introduce an entirely new GUI that would be the basis for the versions that followed.

It was the first 32-bit operating system, allowing specifically designed applications designed to run much faster than before, and it was the first to implement plug-and-play compatibility, meaning that new hardware devices added to the computer would be detected by the operating system  and assigned the necessary resources.

Versions that followed included Windows 98, with its FAT32 system allowing for file partitions larger than 2 GB; Windows 2000 and Windows XP in 2001, each of them enhancing the Windows 95 interface and introducing new features.

In 2006, Windows Vista introduced the “Aero” visual interface, with new features that included the ability to preview windows before opening them. In 2009, Windows 7 sought to implement an enhanced version of the Aero interface without the clunkiness of its predecessor.

Windows 8 was released in 2012, with a completely redesigned interface that reflected all the trends we’ve seen in User Interface design over the past few years. Touchscreen usability, for example, and a menu system geared towards both desktops and mobile devices.

DotTech created a visual representation showing the evolution of the Windows interface over the decades. It perfectly emphasizes how far the operating system has come. Some will swear by Linux, others by Mac, but few can deny the impact of Windows.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE

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We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to external data devices; USB flash drives are a dime a dozen and external hard drives are as common as muck. USB drives are fantastic because they’re uber portable. They’re getting bigger data storage-wise (Data Traveler HyperX Predator will shortly release a 1TB USB 3.0), with sizes hovering around 64GB. But they’re small enough for you to slip in your pocket. You can take thousands of holiday photos with you when you visit a friend, and you can swop massive files at the drop of a hat.

External hard drives are not as conveniently small, but they’re not exactly physical cumbersome either. They’ve shrunk right down to something that can fit in a handbag, and their storage capabilities are also going through the roof (1TB is almost the norm).

Drowning in choice

As more manufacturers enter the market and as more devices are released, it becomes more difficult to decide which one to buy.

Here are four tips to help make the decision easier:

  • Decide if you want your external hard drive to operate with or without a power adapter. You’ll find that 2.5 inch drives are more common and highly recommended because they don’t require a power adapter and they provide more than enough storage space than an average user will need – 250 – 750GB (Joel Santo Domingo – PC Mag).
  • Decide if you want a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). HDDs are more common and easily affordable. SSDs are relatively rare, mostly because they’re still quite expensive. SSDs are, however, much faster than HDDs and are more resilient because they don’t have any moving parts.
  • Natalia Real (Digital Trends) says that you need to consider your security needs. Will you use your device to store sensitive information? The definition of sensitive depends on you. For example, a businessman might carry critical, confidential business data; while a doting dad might store a photographic record of his kids’ lives, from the womb to marriage. Whatever your definition, you should consider drives that have built-in encryption.
  • Take note of the warranty. PC World says that two-year warranties are increasingly common, but that many manufacturers are now starting to offer five-year warranties. If you’re only looking at a one-year warranty, maybe it’s time to expand your search.

External data storage devices are increasingly common, not only as personal data storage devices, but also as backup devices for business data. Given the range of external hard drives available, it’s important that you do some research into which one will meet your specific needs. And, then shop around for the best deals.

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Size Does Matter With 20 Terabyte Hard Drives on the Horizon

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The highlight of the year for most techies is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held at the beginning of every year in Las Vegas. It’s where big brands showcase their upcoming products and their latest technology. It’s also where up-and-coming brands show that they have what it takes to compete with the big boys. Japan’s Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC), which is held in the first week of October, is fast proving to be a worthy complement to CES, giving techies two major events to look forward to.

20TB is exciting news for hoarders

One of the most exciting technology previews to emerge from CEATEC 2013 was the 20 terabyte (TB) hard disk drive (HDD) that Seagate and TDK are hoping to have on the market by 2016. This is a major leap from the 4TB hard drives that are currently available.

The technology can’t come soon enough, according to Stephen Lawson, from IDG News Service, because hard disk drives are about to reach their limit. The physical data limit for HDDs is 1TB per square inch per platter, and current drives are already on about 750GB of data per square inch. Current HDDs are limited by their physical cell size and data density. According to Iddo Genuth, data storage cells change polarity so that they can accommodate more data. But, they can only be made so small before they become unstable and start changing polarity on their own.

There’s nothing a HAMR can’t fix

Fortunately, as Seagate and TDK have proved, the problem is not insurmountable. All you need is heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR).

On current hard disk drives data is written to the platters at normal temperatures, which limits data density. According to Lawson, HAMR uses a laser to heat the area where data is being written, which allows for denser storage. Naturally, the denser the storage capacity, the more data can be stored.

The HAMR drive Seagate and TDK demonstrated at CEATEC is nowhere near its full potential yet. At the moment they’re still trying to break through what Lawson calls the 1TB ceiling. But, according to Seagate’s Chief Technology Officer Mark Re, they’re hoping to have a stable 20TB hard drive on the market by 2020. They’re hoping to have a smaller HAMR drive on the market much earlier than that, however, by 2016, at least.

Don’t get your hopes up too high just yet, though, as skeptics think that the technology is still too challenging with too many kinks for HAMR drives to be on the market before 2017, if manufacturers are lucky.

Patience is a virtue

Two years (give or take a few months) may sound like a long time to wait for uber-hard drives, but consider that the technology has been 10 years in the making. Consider also the growing importance of data in all sectors of business and you can understand why manufacturers want to get everything right before they unleash their storage monsters on the enterprise market.

That’s not to say that large-scale business enterprises are the only ones that will benefit from major data storage capacity. There are plenty of private individuals who could manage to fill 20TB, or thereabouts. Just think of all the people who collect every TV series since Mork and Mindy, and who have to have every music album ever made since Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”, and whose film collections are so vast they have to be spread across a handful of external hard drives.

What about cost?

Surely one can expect to pay a small fortune for a hard drive that allows one to store a whopping 20TB of data? Maybe not.

According to Mark Re, HAMR drives will cost more or less the same as the HDDs currently available. And that is good news indeed.

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Warning: Apple’s Mavericks Breaks Records, But It Isn’t Perfect

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When Apple announced that it would be releasing its latest operating system, OS X Mavericks, free of charge, fans must have felt it was a dream come true. They were so psyched that, according to Angela Moscaritolo from ITProPortal, 5.5% of Mac users downloaded it within 24 hours. Apple’s Mountain Lion OS took four days to reach that level of adoption. Not only were fans looking forward to a no-cost upgrade, but they were also looking forward to the improved memory, extended battery life, and host of new apps that Mavericks promised. Unfortunately for some, things didn’t go quite as planned.

Jamie Hinks, also from ITProPortal, reported that Mavericks has at least one significant flaw – it causes external hard drives to break down. The situation is such that Western Digital recommends that people don’t download the new operating system until it and Apple have figured out exactly what is causing the problem, and have come up with a solution to ensure the safety and integrity of external drives.

What’s happening?

According to Hinks, problems include hard drives not mounting and not even appearing after Mavericks has been downloaded and installed. According to Jonny Evans, from ComputerWorld, some users are losing all of the data on their external drives, although the likelihood of this is reportedly low.

The problems seem to be most commonly experienced with Western Digital (WD) My Book devices, and WD Drive Manager, WD Raid Manager, and WD SmartWare apps. As a result, Western Digital has actually taken down the apps and advised users to uninstall them before downloading Mavericks, or to hold out a little longer before getting Mavericks.

Western Digital is not the only had drive manufacturer experiencing the problems, however. Hinks says that Seagate and LaCie have also reported episodes of hard drive failure, and apparently any external storage device that uses an USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt connection is at risk.

Data loss is not the only risk Mac OS X poses to Western Digital drives, as some users have also reported sound loss when their Macs go into sleep mode. Fortunately, the problem seems to be temporary (albeit annoying), as it can be fixed by restarting the computer.

It’s not all doom and gloom

Evans says that the lost data can be recovered fairly easily – provided users stop using the device immediately after the upgrade and invest in some third party recovery software. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal solution, but it does give some hope to those who may be panicking because vital business documents or treasured family photos have gone missing.

The other good news, according to Western Digital, is that the problems seem to arise only when a “specific set of conditions and timing sequences between the OS and WD software utilities occur”. Even with the low rate of occurrence, however, Western Digital says that users should still take the recommended precautions. If problems do occur, then it’s recommended that you contact WD customer service before you try anything else, like recovery software.

Mavericks still has plenty of benefits

Glitches with external drives aside, OS X Mavericks still offers users plenty of new benefits, some of which are not entirely well known. Macworld’s Keir Thomas has written an article listing his top five ‘unknown’ built in apps, three of which include:

  1. Keychain Access, which allows you to store login details, and which will remind you of any details that you may have forgotten. You’ll find it in the Utilities folder under Applications.
  2. Stickies, which are effectively Post-it notes for your desktop. You’ll find it under Applications.
  3. Migration Assistant, which allows you to transfer data from a variety of Mac and PCs on a shared network. You’ll find it in the Utilities folder under Applications.

By and large, Apple fans have no reason to be disappointed in OS X Mavericks, nor do they have any reason to fear it. However, they should exercise care when downloading the operating system to external drives.

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Do You Have a Data Backup and Recovery Plan?

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We live in the information age; nothing is more important than data. This is something that businesses have known since time began, but that doesn’t mean they have plans in place to protect critical information. Most businesses know enough to create backups of their data, but that’s as far as the plan goes. Ideally, all businesses (no matter how big or small) should have a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan. This includes all the proper precautionary measures that need to be taken to protect data, as well as a plan to ensure business continuity while data is being professionally recovered from damaged hardware and software.

How do you go about creating a data backup and recovery plan?

Start by assessing your data.

  • How much do you have?
  • Where is it stored?
  • How is it stored?
  • How much of it is used on a regular basis?
  • How much is out of date?
  • How much is duplicated or redundant?
  • What data is actually used?
  • How often does it change?

After your assessment, you can prioritise your data and determine your data backup needs.

There are several different types of backups:

  • Full backups
  • Copy backups
  • Differential backups
  • Incremental backups
  • Daily backups

You should use a combination of backups; for example, full backups once a week with daily incremental backups. Your exact combination will depend on the nature of your business, the amount of data to be saved, the regularity with which it changes, and its importance.

According to Network World’s Matt Lafferty, your backup plan should include:

  • Backup software, which can protect file servers and databases, and which should help businesses continue operating even if some systems have to be taken in for professional hard drive recovery or repair.
  • Backup systems, which can be tape-based or disk-based. It’s quicker to recover data from disks, but tapes are still cheaper and can be more reliable.
  • Data deduplication, which compresses or reduces the space required to save data across multiple devices and environments.
  • A data archiving plan, which saves and backs up data according to its priority level and its demand.
  • A disaster recovery plan, which includes storing data offsite, outsourcing backups, and using virtual servers or cloud-based backup systems.

Test your plan

It does your business no good at all if you have what you think is a comprehensive backup and recovery plan only to find that it bombs at the first hint of disaster. Justin James says that one of the biggest mistakes that companies make is not testing their plan.

There are several reasons to test your plan. For starters, you need to see if the various software, hardware, and cloud systems work as promised. You also need to see if it works practically for your business. You may find that the lag is too long between disaster and uptime, or you may find that your important data is not as accessible as it should be after a disaster. You then want to retest the plan on a semi-regular basis to ensure that no bugs have crept into the system.

Have you given serious thought to a data backup and recovery plan for your business? If not then perhaps you should clear your schedule for the next few days to ensure that your critical data is safe. After all, data recovery companies can only help you after a disaster has occurred; it’s up to you to proactively protect your data.

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