Could data vaulting be the answer to daily back-up tedium?
When business computing depended on mainframes housed in air-conditioned rooms it was relatively easy to protect corporate data from disasters, such as fire, flood and fraud. Entry to computer rooms could be physically controlled and there were strict procedures for making back-ups. The trend towards distributed systems has changed all that.
Valuable data is nowadays quite often in the hands of departmental executives such as financial directors, or sales or payroll managers. 'These people are not computer experts and backing-up data is a secondary role for them,' points out Matthew Stilwell, marketing manager of M-R Group, a specialist in contingency planning and disaster recovery. Certainly, many departments have procedures that depend on someone sitting by the machine and taking a tape copy of the day's transactions. But it is easy to forget. 'It's an onerous task sitting by a machine while it backs up the day's work,' says Stilwell. 'Most people would rather go home.' Besides, organisations which do make copies often keep them near the originals, where they are probably just as vulnerable.
M-R is in favour of transmitting back-up data automatically down the phone to a remote storage centre, a process known as data vaulting. The remote site polls the system to request back-up data at pre-set intervals - daily or maybe even hourly. The remote computer may be at another location belonging to the organisation, or it may be on the premises of a third-party service provider.
Keith Hurst, computer services manager at the Alliance & Leicester Building Society's data centre near Leicester, is a firm believer in data vaulting. The Alliance & Leicester is currently implementing an automatic back-up system that will copy data on to tape silos belonging to its subsidiary Girobank in Bootle. A similar process will operate in reverse, so that Girobank's data is backed-up at the Alliance & Leicester.
Up to now the Alliance & Leicester has transported tapes manually to a data store - a very time-consuming and labour-intensive process. Each tape has to be individually numbered and bar-coded. 'Every day we generate hundreds of tapes which have to be manually sorted, put into boxes, sent off site and mounted on racks in the store,' explains Hurst. 'At the same time those that are finished with have to be called back and the whole process dealt with in reverse, with a van going backwards and forwards all day. It is a nightmare.' Data vaulting will enable Hurst's team to concentrate on ensuring that the files are where they are needed at all times. 'The management of the data is the real issue. One can easily get distracted by the physical problem of moving the tapes.' But not everybody shares this view. John Lobley, chief financial officer at Daewoo Securities, prefers to take a tape home in the evening. 'We looked at transmitting our data down the line, but we were worried about security and reliability,' he says. 'Data could be intercepted or the line might go down.' Daewoo, whose computer system was damaged by the IRA bomb in Bishopsgate, is keenly aware of the dangers of losing data. The company keeps at least one week's tapes off site, as well as microfiche copies of all transactions, so that the entire business could be recreated if the main system were lost. 'We prefer to rely on something tangible,' Lobley says. 'At least you can touch and hold a tape, and take it home in case anything goes wrong.' Hurst sympathises with such fears. On the other hand, he says, organisations can deceive themselves about the security of their existing sytems. 'People feel comfortable with procedures because they've been using them for a long time, but they may not be secure enough.' Data vaulting clearly makes sense if you have your own back-up site. But if it means going to a third-party, you might be forgiven for thinking the data safer in your own hands.