Protecting your firm’s information from loss

Not to scare you but…

You have probably given some thought to backing up the files, practice management system databases and accounting data for your practice. However, have you thought all the way through the process? Have you made sure you are backing up everything you need to back up, in a consistent and reliable way that can be monitored. Have you fully considered the procedures for using that backup data under common scenarios? In a disaster? What would happen to your practice if your office had a fire, flooding or was hit by a tornado and you lost your computers? Your backup files? After all, if your backup files are stored in the same building as the computers what good will they do you if they are lost in the same catastrophe?

Recent events make it clear any of these scenarios are more than a remote possibility in our area. In addition there is the very real possibility of malicious destruction by unhappy people in the firm, thieves, vandals, hackers and computer viruses as well as plain old hardware failure. At LegalIT we like to take a ‘systems approach’ to designing a set of procedures to deal effectively with these and other scenarios. In designing a robust system we take an approach someone has called ‘belt and suspenders’ — meaning multiple, redundant systems to keep us from being caught with our metaphorical pants down!

Two Types of Information to Save

At the heart of your firm’s computer infrastructure sits your file server. Your server provides a number of functions, which vary some from one firm to the next. At a minimum your server provides control of passwords and file security and provides a common repository for all your documents. In law offices servers almost always host a database of your case or practice management system such as Time Matters. Hosting a database means storing a complex data file and running a network program that enables access individual data records from your practice management programs on individual computers. Many law office also host email on their servers as well and again that has components of data storage and a network program that handles inbound and outbound email.

It should be obvious how necessary it is to save the documents, files and records having to do with your client’s cases. What might not be as obvious is the investment in time represented by the configuration of your server and the programs running on the server that provide database, email and security services. For instance, the information contained in your practice management system is not accessible from a backup file without a suitable server to read it. When a server fails (or is destroyed), the time required to restore the configuration is crucial.

For purposes of backing up your server configuration, we use special software that takes a complete ‘snapshot’ or image of your server in a way that enables us to completely restore the system. This software captures the contents of all the system files and settings that make your server do the things it is uniquely configured to do in your firm.

While the image backup also captures all your files, we have good reason to want additional means of backup. Remember, Belt and Suspenders. Image backup software is very technical and it deals in a holistic way with the entire contents of your server’s hard drives — that is its great value. However, it is not the easiest way to restore individual files that have been deleted or overwritten. Reading the contents of the image backup files requires installation of special software and requires plenty of empty disk space to manipulate the contents. For this reason, we do a second kind of backup, one that is oriented towards the protection and accessibility of individual files. The goal here is to have immediate access to that critical pleading, from any PC even if the server is down or the building is in ashes.

Onsite and Offsite

Our approach uses a ‘bucket brigade’ method of handling backups to serve two important needs. An ‘onsite’ backup stays attached to your server at all times. On a scheduled, nightly basis both image and file-oriented backups are performed to copy information from your server to your onsite backup system. The need served here is to have backup data available for immediate access in the common scenario of a file or folder being overwritten or a server hard drive failing. The onsite drive has backup data that is, at most, one day old since the backup procedures run every night.

The second need we want to serve is the need to protect your information in the event of catastrophe at the office. A second backup drive ‘lives’ offsite. This second backup drive is brought in for weekly or semi-weekly ‘conjugal visits’ — during which it gets a complete copy of the onsite backup system — and is taken offsite again. The offsite drive *never* stays in the office overnight and lives in the office manager or managing partner’s house or a safety deposit box. The offsite backup serves as a disaster coping mechanism. All your files, as of the last conjugal visit, are accessible by attaching the offsite drive to any PC or laptop. The practice management system data is available with a little extra work. As an additional fail-safe, the offsite drive contains earlier versions of files that may have been overwritten on the server.

But…

In 15 years of consulting work I’ve heard a number of stories from managing partners and office managers who have made some good steps towards doing data backup but had not quite fully prepared for disaster recovery. Here are a few of these stories and how they fail to give you the level of protection you need.

‘I have redundant disks (RAID) on my server…’ — RAID protects you from losing your data if a single hard drive device on your server fails. It does not help you if your files are accidentally overwritten, deliberately or accidentally erased or the building burns down.

‘I keep my backup drives (or media) in the office safe…’ — Most fire-rated safes are rated only to protect paper, not sensitive electronics or the plastics in tape, CDs or DVDs.’

‘My secretaries save copies of their work to their PCs…’ — Again, not much help if the building is flooded. Also, it’s a logistical nightmare to monitor and manage.

‘We keep paper copies of all our documents…’ — Consider the value of the information stored in your practice management system, your templates, emails, accounting data and brief bank. Consider whether you would want to re-create all that from paper.

Getting It Done

I’ve outlined the reasons why you need a comprehensive backup system, a plan that covers a wide range of scenarios. I’ve given a broad outline of the components and procedures we use to protect our clients’ data. Write or call us to get more information about the specific products we use in configuring this system. If you are interested in having us set up a custom backup system for your firm, please do not hesitate to call for a consultation.

Comment
Oct30
Work in progress…
on October 30th, 2011 at 5:19 am
Posted In: About

If you are just tuning in, welcome to the building phase of my new website. I will be adding content and refining the appearance of this site over time. If you are trying to reach me for help with your law office IT infrastructure please give me a call at 479-445-6655.