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Dec 2, 2010

Cover your assets!

The last two days have demonstrated the importance of disaster recovery planning once again. The fun started when I was rousted early after working until about 4 am and greeted with the news that someone's computer "wouldn't boot". This same computer had experienced various "issues" for nearly a year, giving more than fair warning of its impending catastrophic failure. The trouble had started about the same time as the same person had lost about 6 months worth of invoicing information on a hard drive that was not backed up. Live and learn. Really?

This time there was a bit of a silver lining. Most of the critical business data - project archives and billing - was online with LSP.net's Online Translation Manager. But that didn't offer much comfort in dealing with a current urgent project for which no reliable equipment was available. Upgrading and reconfiguring other equipment for emergency use has taken up most of the last two days. I had other plans, but I was volunteered for the job. Oh well.

In the course of messing with mail configurations in Outlook (to get the other person up and working on one of my old computers) I managed to wipe out all records of the last two week's mail. This was a bit of a surprise, but apparently this was possible, because my new Outlook 2010 configuration had left the mail on the server and the old equipment (with other settings) deleted it. I was a little annoyed at losing a few good e-mail jokes, but everything relevant to ongoing projects for clients is archived in OTM. So my bases were mostly covered. Then I thought to contact my hosting provider and learned that nearly all the data could be restored from a backup (good to know!). So in the end little harm was done by the mail misadventure.

The clearest lesson here for me is that it really is time to return to my old "paranoid" practice of having as much redundancy in equipment and software as I can afford. The five or six working computers I used to maintain may be more than is called for, but at least one backup machine with all my critical applications configured is clearly mandatory. I was actually almost there with my netbook, but I hadn't bothered to install my second MS Office license on it, so the I/O functions of memoQ and other important tools were limited. I'll be fixing that tonight.

How many of you can keep working smoothly if your main workstation suddenly experiences smoking death? (I had this once - my Macintosh 512K caught fire while I was down the hall chatting with my secretary. We smelled burning plastic....) Are all your important tools configured exactly as you need them on a backup computer? Backing up your data is not enough! The processes are just as important.

It's easy to come up with other priorities, especially easy if you have the misfortune to work subprime translation markets and money is therefore tight. But disaster planning and preparation for your business is not an option. It's a necessity.

5 comments:

  1. Have you looked into online backup solutions? Currently I'm using Carbonite and Mozy (for added security) with unlimited storage plans. Initial backups took a while but afterwards you can be certain all your relevant work and personal documents are safely tucked in the cloud. The backups are encrypted so privacy shouldn't be an issue. With Carbonite, you can even browse your files from within a... well, browser. (Mozy has a similar feature but it's harder to use).

    In addition, I back up to an external hard drive and off site (my collegue's PC, actually) using Crashplan. Some of the files I need access to from other PCs are also backed up to Dropbox. While this setup sounds complicated, it's relatively cheap and easy to configure.

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  2. Hi, Kevin,

    Have you thought of using virtual computers?

    If you work on virtual PC and keep a daily backup of it, you can be up and running from another PC with the added advantage of having everything already setup.

    Daniel

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  3. Virtual solutions are good for many things, Daniel, and I've been using them in my work since the 1990s. I learned Windows NT on a virtual environment on a Mac in 1999 to get up to speed quickly on some server technologies for a job that eventually got me to Germany when my better qualifications wouldn't. And Win 95, 98 and 2000 under VMWare is how I access certain ancient electronic dictionaries that never got updated by the publishers.

    Sometimes as I recall, however, virtual environments do have problems with licensing schemes, and an awful lot of my critical applications involve these. It used to be that dongle drivers wouldn't work from the virtual image or other problems occurred. However, I haven't looked at this for a while (5+ years), so it may be worth revisiting. If I dump Wintel hardware and go back to Macs I won't have much of a choice.

    A couple of the vulnerabilities I dealt with this time around aren't handled all that well with a virtual solution on a local computer and do work better with network-based solutions. As any reader of this blog probably knows, that's OTM for my business processes (project e-mail, file archives, receipt and delivery of work, invoicing, bookkeeping, etc.). After very positive experiences working with memoQ on remote servers, I am extremely tempted to find a hosted solution to keep my ongoing work safe and keep very little on my local machines, but at present nobody offers me the SaaS CAT package I want. (No LIOX crap for me; Wordfast Anywhere is intriguing but not usable for the range of my work and other options I've seen don't cut it. I'm hoping Kilgray will see the light and start providing hosted options to the masses.)

    @barbudo: I'm thinking in very much the same direction for archiving some of my resources. Now that my translation workflows run online and all the files and correspondence are stored and backed up in safe data centers the pressure to do so isn't that big, but I have other stuff like personal photo archives, writing projects, research corpora, etc. where my OTM is clearly not relevant and a cloud backup might very well be.

    When I do find what I consider to be the right balance to minimize risks I'll try to share it tactfully with certain friends as a prescription for preventing their recurrent disasters.

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  4. @Daniel: When I consider this a bit more, I think you're right - it's time to revisit the licensing issues for virtual setups and if it works, use a cloud backup scheme to secure the image perhaps. (Though perhaps not - when I think of the time to download 500 MB on the fastest DSL connection available to me, I shudder to think of a 15 GB restoration of my applications & system. Local storage is cheap - a few redundant external drives, one stored in my fire-proof ammunition safe, might work better.) Working off a virtual image with my applications will also do away with compatibility fears if I switch to a hardware system with another main OS on it.

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  5. Good stuff, Kevin. Sounds like your scenario could have been a lot worse. BTW -- you've mentioned OTM before, and sounds intriguing; we will have to check it out. Although sounds like it would duplicate some things that TO3000 does, which we like, in spite of its interface that needs some work and TLC by usability folks.

    We also use Dropbox, external hard drives, and then a backup of the backup (yes, we have a techie in the family). The back-up computers have most of the processes set up as well, but now that you mention it: not all of them. In general, the IT sun has been shining on us and we've had no burning computers and crashed systems -- but that's because our very talented IT guru does a lot of work behind the scenes that we don't know about. We are advanced software girls, and can do some coding, but we leave all the systems, hardware, networking, security, and other hard-core techie stuff to the professionals. That would be our recommendation: if you are not 100% comfortable with some of these tasks, your money and time will be well spent hiring someone who is good at it. That said, you do need to know how to do your nightly backup. :)

    With that, one of us is separating from both computers for an entire weekend. Scary thought...

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