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Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

Do you need a UPS? YES!

A UPS is basically an additional insurance policy for your electronic equipment and vital for maximum life of your hardware. It will not only stop most power spikes and surges from getting to your hardware. A UPS can also provide a battery powered backup in the event of a power brown-out or blackout for a period of time as well as voltage correction if the power supply voltage is too high or too low.

While most businesses already have a UPS protecting their critical equipment, few households do. Small but capable UPS’s are now cheap enough that there is basically no reason to not get one. An entry level UPS is now under $100AUD but I would recommend spending around $150-250AUD for a home PC system to give a bit more battery run time.

The big names in UPS’s are APC (Americal Power Conversion) and Eaton. Eaton consumer grade UPS’s are branded as “Powerware”. There are some other good brands such as Nikko but there are also some cheap and nasty ones that should be avoided.

Things to look for when deciding what to buy:

  • Easy battery replacment – Batteries are a consumable item and last 3-5 years, most UPS’s use readily available gel lead acid batteries
  • Compatible sockets – APC tend to use the universal IEC C13 connector which need a IEC cable to connect to a device or a converted to connect to a powerboard, Powerware use Australian standard sockets.
  • Connection (USB usually, network on commercial systems) to PC being protected – allows normal system shutdown when battery level gets critically low
  • Run time and load requirements – Run time at full load is only a few minutes, if you want more run time, buy a bigger unit. APC has an online run time calculator to calculate run time for a load for their range of UPS’s. Larger commercial grade UPS’s can have extra battery packs added for extra run time.
  • Online vs Line interractive – Most are line interractive (cuts over to battery if the supply fails) but some of these types do not like being run from a generator. If a generator backup is required (small petrol or diesel off the shelf unit, not purpose built), an online UPS (supply charges the internal battery and all output comes from the battery at all times) is generally better but also can be more expensive.

For extra surge protection, supply your UPS through a surge protected powerpoint or double adapter. Surge protection is cumulative, a single device may not be able to stop a big spike (>1000 Joules) but two or three (rated at 500+ Joules each) in line may be enough.

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Daily Backups

Regular backups are very important for anyone, especially businesses. While a home user may lose some music or photos if their backups are not up to date, a business may lose invoices, orders, emails etc which cannot be replaced and may have a long term effect on the business.

You really cannot go too far with backups, depending on your risk profile and budget, your backups may be a simple file copy once per day or real time backups pushed to multiple locations. Obviously the more you do the more it will cost but the lower the risk of data loss if something happens.

Before I go into the options, don’t think that it wont happen. It will. Hardware fails, computers die, laptops get dropped or stolen, power spikes occur etc. If you go into this expecting the worst, you are usually in better shape when it happens than those who are not ready for it. Once you have had a significant failure and your backups are not good enough, you tend to take it more seriously in the future.

* Hard Drive Backups

As a bare minimum, and I mean bare minimum, a portable hard drive is a cheap and convenient option to back up your data from one or more locations. It can be a bit manual and does require some discipline but is much easier than burning to CD/DVD. Many come with backup tools but having seen some of them in action, I recommend using a simple backup script to maintain full control over the backup process. Windows (from Vista onwards) ships with a utility called Robocopy which, while small, is one of the best free applications ever to come out of Microsoft. Older versions of Windows can also use it but it needs to be downloaded as part of the Windows 2000 or Windows XP “Resource Kit”. To use it, simply create a folder (call it “scripts”) and create a blank text file, call it “backup.bat”. If you have Windows XP or earlier, you need to put the robocopy.exe file into the same folder. You need to edit backup.bat (right click and edit or it will try to run it). The way you use it is to call robocopy, give it a source location and a destination location and tell it what you want it to do, one command per line. eg robocopy “c:\email” “f:\email” /MIR will use robocopy to “MIRror” the c:\email folder to f:\email assuming that your portable hard drive is allocated drive F:. The /MIR or “mirror” option will delete target files if they no longer exist in the source. This is useful to ensure your backup drive doesnt grow bigger than your data drive but you run the risk of data being lost if the source file get accidently deleted then a backup is run. A better option for a portable hard drive is to have two backups pushed to it, one with the /MIR switch to mirror it and one without which will copy changed files and new files but will not delete anything.

Other Robocopy options can make your backups work better or be a bit more flexible. eg

  • robocopy “source folder” “destination folder” /MIR /w:2 /r:2 will wait for two seconds (/w:2) and retry twice (/r:1) if a file is in use and cannot be copied. The defaults are wait 30 seconds and retry 1,000,000 times which will not always be useful.
  • robocopy “source folder” “destination folder” /S /log:logfile.txt will copy from the source to the destination including subdirectories (/S) (but not empty subdirectories use “/E” if you want empty subdirectories as well) and will log everything it does to logfile.txt
  • robocopy “source folder” “destination folder” /S /XF *.txt *.tmp will copy but will exclude files (/XF) that end with “txt” or “tmp”

Other useful switches are /XD (eXclude Directory), /MOVE (MOVE files and folders, ie delete from source after copying) and /PURGE (delete destination files that no longer exist in the source – used with /E has same effect as /MIR)

A full list of Robocopy options can be found by opening a command prompt and typing “robocopy /?”

The next step up from a USB/eSATA hard drive for disk based backups is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. This can be a single drive like the USB connected on or can be a RAID array connecting via NAS, FTP, iSCSI etc depending on your needs and budget. Openfiler can convert pretty much any hardware to a NAS device that Robocopy or another backup system can access for backup storage.

* CD/DVD backups

If you need or want archives of your data for long term storage, DVD backups are cheap and relatively reliable (CD’s as well but since DVD burners and blank DVD’s are so cheap, there is little point persevering with CD’s). A standard blank DVD holds 4.3GB of data which should cover most of your important stuff (documents and emails) for some time. They take up very little space and are readily readable. They do, however, require more work to create, the process cannot be as automated. DVD burning software like Infrarecorder is required (most DVD burners and PC’s will come with some form of burning software which will usually suffice). You will need to know where your data is stored and how much space it takes up.

* Tape Backups

If you have a lot of data and need archiving, the most cost effective solution is a tape backup unit. They are relatively expensive to buy but in Dollars per Megabyte, they are very cheap. The tapes are also very portable which makes it easy for you to transport your data if required (having the most recent tape in your bag each night is better than leaving your tapes onsite if there is a fire!). Tape drives run from a few hundred dollars for slow DAT format tape drives which will do 20GB or so, up to a few thousand for a high speed LTO 4 format tape drive that can hold over 1000GB of data on a single tape (the tapes are more expensive too). They also go much, much higher than this if you decide to opt for a tape library where the backups can span multiple tapes and tape changes are done automatically but I am not going to go into Enterprise class tape libraries here. My rule of thumb is to calculate the storage space you need now, at least triple it and buy a tape system accordingly. While it is possible, I strongly recommend ensuring that your backups dont run longer than a single tape over the lifespan of the tape unit and tapes (you should be able to assume that a DAT drive will last at least 3 years and LTO 4-5 years, the tapes will last longer than this).

* Offsite Backups

There are a number of backup services which, for a fee, provide a quantity of space on the internet where you can upload your files to keep a copy offiste where you can access them as you need them. While they are generally considered reasonably secure, if you are uploading sensitive information, your data should be secured before uploading. Zip archives can be secured with powerful encryption, 7Zip has this functionality built in, simply select the encryption option and put in a secure password and the file will be both compressed (for easier upload) and securely password protected.

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