Backup Tedium Part II: Assessing the Risks

Last time, I asked whether the 3-2-1 principle of backing up was still relevant to the current day. A lot has changed in the last twenty years, not least the level and type of risk.

In the year 1999, what were the data risks? We still have several clients we were working with back then and, though my memory isn’t the best, I’m going to try and remember the biggest risks, the biggest first:-


  • Finger Trouble - not necessarily stupidity (though we’ve all been there, when we thought our application was auto-saving without any real evidence to that effect). It often happens when we’re moving data around. We either forget which version we’re moving and inadvertently overwrite the most recent version, or the computer decides to play dirty just when you’re moving your latest masterpiece into a different folder;

  • Hardware Failure - there’s no question about it - hardware failed a lot more frequently in 1999 - particularly hard drives. I remember a particular period when we renamed the IBM DeskStar the “DeathStar”, due to its unfailing ability to … fail;

  • Software Failure - I wasn’t expecting to include that one, but it’s true. It doesn’t happen so much now, but there were many occasions where software would simply refuse to open a file. Something had happened to it - often you didn’t really know what, but despite being able to see it with your own eyes, you couldn’t access anything from it. And don’t get me on to backup software. Whenever we actually had to restore a backup, the software invariably refused to recognise the file it had created.

So, how have things changed? What are today’s biggest risks? Here’s what I think:-


  • Hardware Failure - not the same as in 1999, and the risk is much smaller, but it is still the biggest risk. All data loss situations we’ve been involved in over the last few years have been in some way related to hardware failure. In a way it’s more of a risk now that hardware is generally a lot more reliable, because it hits us when we least expect it. In addition, we tend to keep a lot of data on, for example, a single drive. If that fails catastrophically, a lot more data is lost;

  • Accidental Damage / Loss - with many people using laptops for important production work these days (not an option in 1999), the occurrence of accidental damage or loss risking data has increased considerably and is one of the most common data rescue situations;

  • Finger Trouble - of course it is! We’re still human and we so often have ourselves to blame!

Well, you may agree or disagree, but note that I haven’t listed theft or fire or flooding. That’s not to say that we don’t need to protect against those things - we do - they would likely be far more catastrophic than the risks so far listed. But they are rare. It’s far more likely that your hard drive will fail than your home will be flooded, for most people at least.

So when you’re planning your backup strategy, think about the most likely risks first. If you frequently fly around the world with your laptop and an external hard drive, you might want to think about what would happen if you dropped them or left them on the plane before you cover the less likely events.

Next time…

Stay tuned for Part III, when we’ll give you a glimpse at the template we use to put a backup strategy together.

In the meantime, are you sure you should be balancing your laptop on the arm of the sofa like that…?