Extension Backups – History, Policy, & Off Site Backup
Recently, we have received a number of questions regarding off-site backup
of county file servers. Based on numerous conversations and e-mails I have
found that there have been several assumptions (myths, miscommunications,
rumors – whatever you would like to call it) about how the backups function
for a county file server.
First, some extension network/backup history. File servers have only
been in place in every county since 2004, before that there were very few
counties with file servers and it was only in the 1990’s that all the offices
were networked. Data was kept on individual computers, and files were either
shared via the S drive on the Columbia campus or via floppy disks or CD’s.
There was no central plan or policy on backing up the data. Most kept their
data on floppy disks and those were never backed up. It was up to the individual
to back up their own data.
When the first county offices got file servers, these units had tape
drives. The tape drives required someone to replace the tapes every day
and the backups occurred at night. Backups occurred Monday through Friday
and an additional tape was provided for offices to create a monthly off-site
backup that could be stored in another location for disaster recovery. We
still use tape drives on a few of the file servers on campus. As we replace
these servers, we will evaluate the best method of backup for these departments.
Starting in 2004, the file servers contained 2 additional drives to store
6 backups (Monday-Friday and a monthly backup) instead of using tapes.
There are two main reasons for using hard drives. First, tape drives
are expensive. Tape drives cost as much or more than the file servers for
the amount of data that can be stored. Hard drives are fairly inexpensive
and are faster for backups and restores. You may be concerned that if the
server fails, or gets hit by lightning, that all the drives could be lost.
While there is a slight possibility that this could occur, it is highly
unlikely that all three drives would be lost. We have had several servers
hit with power surges and drive failures and in every case we have been
able to recover data from at least one if not multiple drives.
The second reason is the issue of continuity. When we used tape drives
in the counties, the job of changing the tapes was forgotten or not given
a high priority as personnel changed in the offices. By changing to hard
drives we eliminated the issue of changing tapes. With the hard drive system,
the backups are automatically stored in 6 different folders split among
the 2 backup drives (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on the first drive and
Tuesday, Thursday and the Monthly on the second). They are readily available
for us to restore files as needed for the offices.
When the servers went out to all the counties in 2004 apparently people
misunderstood how the backups were occurring and they assumed that backups
were occurring on a server in Columbia. This has never been the case. Since
2004 there have been no official off-site backups for the file servers.
We did assist offices that wanted to write the monthly backups to DVD, but
the amount of data was taking too many DVD’s. So the practice ended for
E-Discovery and the Current Policy and Practice
E-discovery presented a new dynamic to county backup practices in 2007.
E-discovery allows all electronic media and backups that might be involved
in a legal case to be subpoenaed. This includes files on computers, cell
phones, PDA’s, disks as well as the current and any previous backups for
as far back as backups are stored. This means that if the backup media exists,
the ability to read it must exist as well; even if it is out of date or
old technology. To that end, Extension established the following backup
Extension uses two types of media for backing up file server data.
For the county offices and some campus offices, the file servers backup
data to 2 hard drives inside the server itself. For the other campus departments,
data from the file servers is backed up to tape.
Daily backups are written to media Monday through Friday and the media
overwritten every 7 days.
Monthly backups are written to media on the Last Friday of the month.
The monthly media will be overwritten every month.
Backups during Holidays (for servers still using tapes)
During University holidays, tape media will not be replaced; daily
backups will occur but be written to the tape currently installed in the
tape unit. If a monthly backup is schedule to occur during a holiday, the
monthly backup will be done on the next working day.
Backup Media Deletion and Disposal
As backup media becomes obsolete or otherwise unusable, the media
should be erased and/or destroyed. Tapes should be erased or formatted (either
via tape drives or bulk erasure). Hard drives should be erased to DOD standards.
Tapes which can no longer be used due to hardware replacement should be
If hardware required for backup is replaced, the hardware will be
kept until such time as all backup media used with the device would have
Examples of what can and cannot be retrieved with these backup practices:
A file created or edited and deleted on the same day is not backed
up and cannot be retrieved.
A file created or edited and deleted in the same week is backed up
and retained for 6 days from deletion. A file deleted in this scenario could
be retrieved for up to 6 days.
A file created or edited before the last Friday of the month and not
deleted until after the last Friday of the month is backed up and retained
until the next monthly backup which will be the last Friday of the month
the file was deleted. File(s) deleted in this scenario would be available
until the next monthly backup occurs.
If the data drive fails, files will be restored from the latest available
If a file is saved to the file server and never deleted then it will
be available to be restored.
This policy limits the number of backups kept which makes it simpler
to comply with E-discovery.
Now what happens if the file server should be stolen, the building catches
fire, or there is a natural disaster? Shouldn’t offices have an off-site
backup? The simple answer is yes, an off-site backup is a good idea in case
of a disaster that could wipe out an extension center or the file server.
The long answer is the there are some security/legal issues around off-site
If you’re interested in having an off-site backup, ETCS is willing to
help you plan this out.
We recommend that you purchase your backup device from us, this way we
keep a consistency among all the offices about what backup device we purchase,
making support for the backups easier. Currently we are recommending a 1.5
TB external USB drive. These are quite a bit larger than the current capacity
of our servers so there is room to grow on these devices as new servers
are purchased with more data capacity. Currently, we’ve been buying these
for around 150 dollars. We’ll encrypt the drives here at ETCS and keep a
copy of the encryption keys so no one can access the files except by bringing
the drive back to your office or to ETCS where we can decrypt the backup
for you. The encrypting keeps others from seeing the files if the drive
becomes lost or stolen. We’ll also work with you to schedule the backup
so it’s convenient for someone in the office to bring the drive into the
office and take it back to its off-site location.
Your off-site backup should be stored in a secure location. Look for
a location that everyone in the office has access to and prevents unauthorized
personnel from accessing the drive. The location should also be accessible
by ETCS personnel and Extension administrators should the need arise. In
case of a natural disaster such as flood or tornado, having the off-site
drive in another county might be a good idea. You could ask the Extension
Office in another county if they would store the off-site backup.
We want everyone to feel their data is safe and secure in case of a fire
or natural disaster, but we also need to balance this against keeping your
data safe and secure from people who do not need access. These recommendations
will help to protect your off-site backups and make it available when needed.