ITGS Syllabus

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Topic 15

Responsible computer use (for example, regular back-ups, virus checking, security, storage, housekeeping) by Raymon Ohmori

Backups. They are almost required in this day and age if you have important, irreplaceable data or even just your normal, everyday data. Take this hypothetical scenario if, say, your data was on sheets of paper in real life; if the safe in the back room of your house is where you want your data to be, then most of your data is on the front porch, or, if you have a decent firewall (Windows Firewall does not count as decent), it might be on the floor in your entryway. Maybe, if you encrypt it, it will be on the desk in your room or under your pillow, but nothing will be in that safe. If your house gets robbed, if your house burns down, if your house gets toppled like a one-pole tent in an earthquake, or even if your house gets bombed by the Chinese, chances are you've lost that paper.

And how do you get stuff into that safe? Backups. Everything can fail these days. Your hard drive is the most likely, but your whole computer could fail, and if you're running a company with servers, your main server could fail. Say your college thesis was three words from being finished, and your hard drive fails. If you did not have a backup, then you might as well have handwritten the whole thesis and then tossed it in a campfire before handing it in.

We often do not make backups – it takes time, its a boring, repetitive task, and it feels like meteor strike insurance – never needed and totally useless. In fact, however, it's more like health insurance. It doesn't seem needed, but there comes a day when you're quite glad you got it. However, backups are still time-consuming. There are automatic backup systems available, but they cost an arm and a leg and them some. However, excellent and fairly wallet-friendly backup methods do exist.

Most likely the easiest way to do an automatic backup is to create a RAID1 or RAID0+1 hard drive array. RAID0 is data striping across two hard drives, which means blocks are placed on alternating hard drives, thus combining two hard drives into one big one with essentially double the speed. The problem with this is that if one hard drive fails, both fail. All is lost. RAID1, on the other hand, is data mirroring. This means that when ANYTHING is written to the master disk, the second disk writes the exact same thing. Thus, if one hard drive fails, you can pop the other one into the slot and you're home dry. However, is a virus comes and rips up the one hard drive and corrupts all your data, the second one will happily copy all that over and your backup is lost. Finally, RAID0+1, as the name suggests, is a combination of RAID0 and 1. You have four drives, two each striped and one set mirroring the other. This combines the wonderful speed and space of RAID0 with the safety of RAID1, but it fills up all your hard drive slots and viruses will mangle four drives worth of data.

If you are part of a large corporation, then you are better off with expensive backup software. This way, the copying of viruses can be avoided and backups are still non labor-intensive. However, the backups only stay current as long as you keep updating them; if you only perform a backup once a week on Friday and a hard drive fails on Friday morning, then you are set a week behind. The process of backing up large quantities of data is hard-drive usage intensive, so if you perform backups too often you will be in the middle of something and then your computer will slow down to a crawl. If your corporation uses servers or the like, you probably want to backup not just the data, but the entire server, so that when the server goes down another will fill its place while it's getting fixed. This is called redundancy – the replacement doesn't even have to be as powerful as the main server; it just has to keep things from grinding to a halt. Google never goes down because they probably have an insane amount of server redundancy spread out all over the world so they stay online even if a cataclysmic disaster wipes every datacenter west of Chicago off the map.

Finally, you instead of buying a safe, you could buy alarms, cameras, tripwires and maybe even motion detectors and laser tripwires to catch any robbers stupid and unlucky enough to choose your house as his (or her) next target. Just like this, you could install security systems on your computers and servers. In this way, you can protect yourself against any malware; viruses, trojan horses, spyware and keyloggers will not be a threat to the wellbeing of your data. Then again, there have been many cases of these things getting past security, so this method is not perfect. That's not all – just like how you have to step over or deactivate your tripwires when you want to go somewhere, security systems in your computer can be an inconvenience. Norton Antivirus™ , for instance, is infamous for slowing down your computer, and other programs block things that you don't want blocked. And on top of all these problems, security won't protect you against a hard drive failure.

It's better to shell out $3,000 for a good, fireproof safe than losing 50 grand worth of money and important documents in a fire or a thief. In the same way, all these problems and expenses with backups are still better than losing all your data and getting fired if that data was your employer's. A wise man once said, “You can fix the idiot in the computer, but you can't fix the idiot at the computer.” You can keep the computer from crashing and screwing up, but you can't keep the user from screwing up and that includes the user not backing up things that are important. I admit that even I do not perform regular backups; in fact, if my computer exploded right at this very instant, I think I would lose half of all the torrents I've downloaded and most of the recent additions to my website. And yet, even as I admit this, I don't think I will perform a backup tonight as it is late and I have more interesting things to do; my hard drive hasn't made any alarming noises yet.

14 Comments -Show Original Post Collapse comments

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November 21, 2006 9:34 PM

chirag said...

good essay... You have described everything from stating the issues with the computer use as well as the solutions to those... But i think you described too much about Backups...

December 01, 2006 4:51 PM

Tommy Chuang said...

I've never backed up my data in my life. Your article has made me consider doing it in future.

December 05, 2006 7:23 PM

akirajackson21 said...

backing up data is very important. it would be pretty shocking if the work you have done gets lost or deleted without a back up.

December 05, 2006 7:43 PM

harsh said...

i totally agree, backing up data is a very important thing especially if u use windows! but there has to be an easier way. perhaps mention one or two programs that make backing up data easy because it's really hard to sync it. portable hard drives can be expensive too so backing up can be expensive. but i guess its worth it in the end.

December 06, 2006 7:23 PM

taro kondo11 said...

i've had painful experiences for not backing up my data.. TOT i like how you shifted from the general to specifics;solutions such as creating RAID0+1 hardrive array might help me in the future thanks. putting a quote at the end was a good way to conclude.

December 09, 2006 12:53 AM

ronniewonnie said...

I liked your essay topic and how you wrote it.
Backups are very usefull and so are virus checkers. Without them, our computers would be in total chaos. Thanks Microsoft!
Ronald Chu

December 11, 2006 7:24 AM

Sujit George said...

haha, im the man

December 11, 2006 6:41 PM

HeeJun Son said...

Your essay gave me a idea that back-up is an important thing to do. I have never done back up. Indeed, I will be really sad and mad if the data just get deleted without any back-ups. So I had better doing backups before I lose all the important data.

December 11, 2006 9:51 PM

HeeJun Son said...

Your essay gave me a idea that back-up is an important thing to do. I have never done back up. Indeed, I will be really sad and mad if the data just get deleted without any back-ups. So I had better doing backups before I lose all the important data.

December 11, 2006 9:51 PM

Chun said...

Great essay and interestingly written. My method of saving the data was to put it in a flash memory stick. But after this essay I realized the importance of back up.

December 14, 2006 4:51 AM

aditya kumar said...

Amazingly well written and detailed. You elaborated heavily on how important and necessary backing up data. Well conveyed about how vulnerable our hard drives actually are against viruses.(Although Microsoft actually does hire hackers to test its software's vulnerability to viruses) - Aditya Kumar

December 15, 2006 5:19 AM

matwilder said...

Good essay, you seem to know a lot about this computer stuff-extremely technical talk in the essay. I've really never backed up my data...maybe i should from now on, although ive never lost data or anything.

Aditya, you've said this (Although Microsoft actually does hire hackers to test its software's vulnerability to viruses) in like twelve other essay comments.

December 18, 2006 3:28 AM

Vaibhav said...

Simply outstanding, you have really deep knowledge about this topic which is why you have successfully realted such issues with practical explanations.

December 19, 2006 5:08 AM


Blogger Juju said...

A very well explained essay. But i must say "bombed by the Chinese," i find that kinda racist...first off the chinese havent bombed anyone in a while...of all people why the chinese? should be more like the sohuld just say someone not pick out a race. what did the chinese ever do to you?

January 07, 2007 6:41 PM  

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