But I Thought I Was Backing Up My Stuff!

Author: Steve McEvoy, Technology Consultant

For 3 years Michelle had worried about the office backup.  Each day she would bring in the oldest off-site tape from home in a special case.  She would swap it for the one that backed up last night, and then carefully label it with the date and place it back in the case and carry home that night. She slept well knowing her backup was done.

I was hired to take over the network maintenance, and the first thing I did was ask about the backup.  She explained her process to me and I was impressed.  Standing at the server I asked “What software do you use?”  A quizzical look appeared on her face, and I knew there was trouble. Two minutes of checking revealed that there was NO backup software, and EVERY tape she ever changed, labeled and took home were completely blank.  She turned grey.

I have seen this story repeat many times in all sorts of variations.  The result is still the same, a Practice without a backup of their precious data.
If you stop and think about it, do you have a nagging feeling about your backup?   Are you 100% certain it’s working?   Are you certain it contains ALL your Practices data?
Let me jump to my recommendation now:  Proceed on the assumption you have NO backup until proven otherwise.
Be sure All your Data is on the Backup
You probably have most of your data in one place – usually the ‘Server’.  Backup the Server and you have everything right?  Not usually.  Often your Practice Management database has special backup needs.  Users have terrible habits of saving documents to their Desktops or My Documents folders.  2D and 3D CBCT X-ray system save their data to the PC you use to run the machine unless you adjusted it otherwise.    Applications like Invisalign, OrthoCAD and Geodigm save their downloaded data to the local PC by default.
How are you supposed to know where the data is?  You aren’t expected to, but you should press your IT person to find out and know for sure.   Your job it to tell your person what programs you use, and ask them to specifically determine what needs to be backed up for each and how.  It might take them an hour or two to figure it all out, but that will be time well spent.  Push your IT person to really, really think about your data and make sure it’s all backed up.
Verify your Backup is working by doing a Routine Restore
So once you think you have it all backed up, you can’t trust the backups are working reliably.  Too many times I have gone to use a backup only to find it’s corrupt or incomplete.  The cure to this is to periodically test your backup by going through the process of actually restoring a few critical pieces of data each month.  This tests the software, backup media, and that someone knows the steps for recovery.   I’m not talking about using the ‘Verify’ function most backup software has built in, I am suggesting doing an actual restore of your data to an alternate location.  I don’t usually restore all the data, but a few of the most important pieces (maybe your Practice Management database and Quickbooks data file).
Ask your IT person to do this on a routine schedule, and then show you the restored data to prove to you the system is working.  It won’t take long and is well worth the trouble to know it’s working.
Monitor the Backup on a Daily Basis
Even with doing a test restore Monthly, what if the backup malfunctions the day after?  You could be surprised with losing 29 days of data should a disaster strike.
Most modern backup software programs have the ability to email you a status update each day.  They will tell you if they worked, were incomplete or failed.  Regardless of what they tell you, it’s good information to have.
I recommend that you assign the duty of checking this email to one of your responsible staff members and make it clear that it is a VERY important job responsibility and must be reviewed each day.  It will take 15 seconds on most days when things are working, and on days when it doesn’t they should be given the authority to contact the IT person to remedy the situation.   Usually this is the person also tasked with carrying out the off-site backup (you have an off-site backup right?).
You should be worried about your backup.  Without one, your Practice is at risk.  Imagine what it would be like to lose all your data.  Could you ever completely recover?
Assume you don’t have one and call your IT person now.  I bet they find something that needs improved.

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