How to Make Your Data Last Forever

by Larry Emmott on December 10, 2012

in Management,Security

This has been an issue ever since the library at Alexandria was burned in 48 BC.

Because there’s no single, perfect digital archiving solution, the key to making our data last forever is good habits. We need to be vigilant, continually moving our data forward to new formats and keeping it on multiple devices—before whatever we have becomes obsolete or simply fails. The best protection we have against data loss is redundancy—and lots of it. (Emphasis mine LE)

via How to Make Your Data Last Forever – Popular Mechanics.

There are two different but related issues here. One is protecting our data from a sudden catastrophic loss. This could be a fire, a flood or some other natural disaster plus the more ominous computer age disasters, a hard drive crash or malware attack.

The second issue is preservation of our data over time. Even a great digital copy of our data has no value if the device or the application needed to retrieve the data is no longer available. Think eight-track.

In dentistry we are far more concerned with the first issue than the second but both are important. We do not really need to worry about preserving our data forever but we do need to worry about preserving it until the dental / legal statute of limitations has passed.

The danger here would be data stored on an old system that has been replaced. Consider this unpleasant scenario. A patient you treated for a short time six years ago decides that you mistreated her and files a malpractice suit. You upgraded to a new computer system, both software and hardware, four years ago. Following best practices you made and verified a complete back up of all your data at the time of the upgrade. Now you need those old records.

Here is the likely problem. The backup media cannot be read by your existing hardware and the old machine that could read it is nowhere to be found. But even if you could dredge up an old reader you do not have a copy of the software to access the data. If you can find the software it is not the right version.

What can you do? The linked article makes this suggestion:

Because there’s no single, perfect digital archiving solution, the key to making our data last forever is good habits. We need to be vigilant, continually moving our data forward to new formats and keeping it on multiple devices—before whatever we have becomes obsolete or simply fails.

That is sound advice yet it is extremely hard to follow and I know of no one that is doing anything like that.

On the other hand there are well established methods to protect against a sudden catastrophic loss. Backup, backup, backup.

  • Backup one is a redundant server hard drive, some sort of RAID.
  • Backup two is a full local copy to a removable drive that is taken off site every day.
  • Backup three is an automatic incremental backup to the cloud at regular intervals several times a day.

PS, In theory full cloud based applications like Curve Dental will solve both these problems.

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