Data, Data, Where is My Data?

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WelchTC
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Data, Data, Where is My Data?

Postby WelchTC » Wed Oct 31, 2007 12:29 pm

I remember as a child playing the button game. For those unfamiliar with the game, here is how it is played: Line up all of the players in a straight line. Select one person to be the tailor and pull him from the line. The tailor hands a button to the very first player in the line. This player cups the button in his hands and then holds his hands over the next player's cupped hands. He can either drop the button into the player's hands or may keep the button and conceal it in his own hands. The second player goes through the same procedure with the third player. He may either keep the button or pass it along. If a player does not receive the button, he will still pretend to pass a button along to the next player. The tailor is to watch each player very closely as each turn is taken. When the last player in the line has been reached, the tailor is asked, “Button, button, who has the button?” If the tailor answers correctly, he receives a prize and moves to the end of the line, and the player at the beginning of the line becomes the tailor.

In today's evolving Web 2.0 environment, it can be a challenge to know where your data resides. Like the button game, your data may pass through various hands until it stops somewhere. Figuring out where the data can be—and understanding how to protect that data—can be a challenge, especially in a corporate environment.

Take, for example, your personal data. Most people have their data spread out across various systems. Some keep all of their data on their computer hard drive. Others use USB keys, while some will use various online data storage services. Still others will keep all of their data on network file shares. Each of these mediums has drawbacks that will often result in documents that are duplicated across various systems.

Expand the example to a corporation. Each program in use within the business may keep data in a different location or format. Large businesses have been built around trying to solve the data backup and storage problem. Yet at the end of the day it seems that the best solution for IT staff is to try and back up all servers and their associated data. This does not solve the problem of data that is leaking out through USB keys, online storage systems outside of the corporation's control, and through personal laptops that are not connected to the network all of the time.

At the Church we have extensive backup policies and procedures that we follow to ensure that all data is kept secure and backed up. However, it is a struggle to keep up on all of the disparate and diverse systems that must be backed up. I am curious as to what policies and procedures people have found successful in safeguarding corporate and personal data. Leave feedback in our forums by sharing your ideas.


Tom

russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Wed Oct 31, 2007 2:40 pm

Add in Sarbanes-Oxley requiring some data to be retained and new laws requiring public disclosure of security breaches of personal information (Identity Theft issue) and you've got the modern IT nightmare.

The old way of allowing everyone to simply store things in folders doesn't work well for organizations of any size. The drive is to Document Management systems. While there are many successful programs out there, I'm not aware of any that are real easy, reasonably priced and can tackle both the unstructured documents and the high volume structured documents that business have.

A successful system has to be integrated into the applications in such a way that it's seamless and seems to be a part of the OS. It will be interesting times ahead.

BlackRG
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Postby BlackRG » Wed Oct 31, 2007 9:17 pm

I've found that one of the key problems to unifying backup solutions is not the users, but the applications. It seems any corporation of any size these days always has a collection of servers of various sizes (often under utilized) that breed like rabbits. The driving force behind these servers are the applications (often niche market in nature) that run on them - all from vendors with a variety of fairly inflexible and rigid polices that need to be followed to keep support contracts and what not in place. These policies follow the pattern of requiring dedicated hardware for their application, and requiring specific supporting software of specific brands and versions (OS, backup, remote connectivity, etc.). Virtualization can help to eliminate some of the inefficiencies here and unify some of the solutions, but it can also help to void those rigid requirements as well. Despite the user factor, I've always found this "application sprawl" if you would to tend to do the most to play havoc with trying to unify a solution. Often this application sprawl has a tendency to make it's way out to the desktop as well in the form of clients (or sometimes server!) applications that for whatever reason can't be run on a server (often a.k.a. poorly written software) and end up residing on a desktop PC. I tend to view this mess as the greatest threat to unification/simplification/reliability. In terms of users and their data, a two prong approach has worked well for me in the past:

1. Provide _EVERY_ user, (despite whether it's believed it's needed) some form of easily accessible/usable storage that has some sort of online redundancy and has the added protection of at least nightly backups. Make sure those users understand this is SAFE storage, and nothing else they use is guaranteed and will most likely let them down at some point. Along with this, users need to know how to easily get in touch with someone in support who can quickly restore point in time versions of their individual files should it be needed. After a few data losses (someone didn't use the protected storage) or data saves (someone did and is saved by the point in time backups when something got wiped that shouldn't have, or their local hard drive is toast but their data is saved), word gets around. People start to gain some "religion" in regards to the safe storage and are only too happy to preach it to their coworkers, team members, etc.

2. Risk management. #1 will solve the bulk of the user issue, but there is always someone who either ignores it or proceeds onward with something they shouldn't have. Risk management needs to identify every critical, important, somewhat important (and maybe even no so important) IT function/service and it's related data. Then that data needs to be tracked from birth to death/archive both in theory and in reality to identify and deal with (or accept possibility of loss) any points where it resides on unprotected media . Done properly, this will root out most of your users who haven't yet caught the "religion" mentioned in #1, or who are dealing with the constraints of one of the above mentioned rigid applications which for some reason is preventing them from "practicing the religion". There's always the oddball that somehow slips through, but if #1 and #2 are done properly (and #2 periodically repeated on an appropriate schedule), losses should be minimal when they occur and often fairly localized to the user involved.

Security is a whole different animal and needs vary very widely there depending on the organization. Security though is subject to much of the same as above and often dealt with with good (notice I didn't say tight) policies and good risk management. The most blatant security problems I've seen are almost always the fault of some vendor who's trying to make it either difficult or impossible to properly secure their mess due to a desire to make things easy for their support staff. I even know of a decent size class 5 telephone switch vendor (they offer TDM and VoIP products) who almost insists (unless you force their hand like I did) on weak, easily guessable passwords for remote connectivity (and many other important things as well) over unencrypted connections with very lax firewall rules - then to add insult to injury, they use the same passwords for all of their customers. Can you say wire tapping and toll fraud?

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Postby russellhltn » Thu Nov 01, 2007 2:37 am

gblack wrote:1. Provide _EVERY_ user, (despite whether it's believed it's needed) some form of easily accessible/usable storage that has some sort of online redundancy and has the added protection of at least nightly backups.


Something that can make life easier here is to re-point "My Documents" to their "home" on the server. Since quite a few apps (like Office) default to "My Documents" it becomes real easy to get people to comply.

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Postby thedqs » Thu Nov 01, 2007 4:02 am

RussellHltn wrote:Something that can make life easier here is to re-point "My Documents" to their "home" on the server. Since quite a few apps (like Office) default to "My Documents" it becomes real easy to get people to comply.


This has been a great solution for at least my home network. The problem lies with other programs that will store information by default in their own folders (Legacy is an example).

One solution on the programs side is to have an auto-back-up feature that you point to a shared resource. For example, when Microsoft Money closes it always creates a back-up of my money file which I have set to save on another media besides my primary hard disk. So if you have access to the source code of the programs in question you could implement that feature.

Finally there are back-up programs that you can have running regularly. Windows Vista provides a backup feature which runs in the background while you work and creates the system wide backup where ever you specify.
- David

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Postby fraserredmond » Thu Nov 01, 2007 9:00 pm

On the personal side I highly recommend Mozy backup. You sign up for an account (free for 2gb), install their program, specify what folders/files you want backed up and it monitors them for changes and encrypts and uploads the files to their server.

Another similar service is offered by Carbonite, the comments on this page cover the differences pretty well, as well as some other good backup tips:
http://lifehacker.com/software/lifehacker-faceoff/online-backup-final-round-mozy-vs-carbonite-302597.php

Theres a newer option which uses Amazon S3 which sounds good if you've got a lot of data:
http://www.jungledisk.com/

And heres a good list of other options:
http://davie.wordpress.com/2006/06/30/couchsurfingcom-goes-down-but-a-lesson-learned/

And don't forget, its not enough to just backup data - you also want to make sure you can recover files easily!


Disclosure: One other nice thing about Mozy is you get some bonus space if you refer someone, so feel free to use my code: https://mozy.com/?code=PPMPRB ...But I'd be recommending this without that - earlier this year, 2 weeks after my son was born, my laptop which had the baby photos on it had HDD problems, mozy made that time a lot less worrying!

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Data Backup/Location

Postby wadeburt » Wed Dec 05, 2007 8:28 am

At home and at most of my client offices, I always redirect my documents to a fileshare either on a server or, on peer-to-peer networks, on a newer desktop machine, usually with an attached external storage device. Then I advise users that the ONLY place they may expect to be safe is inside their my document folder. In the case of MAC users, access via Termianl Server seems to help, with instructions on how to copy their MAC files to their fileshare space on the server.

I despise tape solutions, opting for direct disk to disk backup. In the case of external attached storage, I always buy 2. Then I swap them out daily or weekly after doing a file copy. In some cases, I run Ghost to do a file copy to the second disk and have a third disk to swap out. In many cases, I am backing up systems over secure ftp to a server in my home office on a weekly basis.

In the case of rogue usb keys and external drives, I try to limit a user's ability to use them where I can. Then I comunicate with all users the device is totally their "problem" should data get lost.

Finally, in the case where users have checked with me first, synchronization of the device using Windows synch is the preferred method. When it works properly, this actually may be seen as a tertiary backup system, with one copy on the server, another copy on the redirect, and a third copy in synchronized folders.

Sometimes a little hard to follow, but I have never lost data for an end user who stored data where I told them to. :D

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Postby evocomps-p40 » Thu Feb 14, 2008 12:18 pm

As far as how I do backups, my IT team manages somewhere in between 150-200 Mac's (running Tiger) that all operate solely from a central server. All files get synced automatically upon login, logout, and in 60 minute increments.

At home, I sync 4 computers manually using a little application I wrote called SyncIt. It's free to all OS X 10.4+ users. It wraps a couple really good command line tools in a nice GUI.

It's worked wonders mirroring all 4 of my media hard drives from day-to-day.

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WelchTC
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Postby WelchTC » Fri Feb 15, 2008 6:57 am

evocomps wrote:As far as how I do backups, my IT team manages somewhere in between 150-200 Mac's (running Tiger) that all operate solely from a central server. All files get synced automatically upon login, logout, and in 60 minute increments.

At home, I sync 4 computers manually using a little application I wrote called SyncIt. It's free to all OS X 10.4+ users. It wraps a couple really good command line tools in a nice GUI.

It's worked wonders mirroring all 4 of my media hard drives from day-to-day.

Thanks for sharing the app!

Tom

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Postby evocomps-p40 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 10:24 pm

tomw wrote:Thanks for sharing the app!

Tom


No problem. I hope it works out for you.

Chris


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