Project Management Institute

Use it or lose it

a data backup procedure

Concerns of Project Managers


Joe Reed, PMI Communications Office, Cullowhee, North Carolina

By now you should have read and thoroughly digested the PC Primer (which appeared in the April issue if you're just joining us), so it time to get down to business: you need a backup and you need it today.

If your initial response is, “Why do I need a backup? I've had this hard drive for three years and never had a problem,” then you should proceed directly to the sidebar and create your first backup immediately. While hard disks may be much more reliable today than they were a few years ago, things happen that you and Big Blue have no control over: tire, floods, famine, and bowling balls dropped on your system case. In any event, there is no excuse for not having at least a fairly recent copy of your vital data on hand.

While the sidebar discusses specific strategies for creating a backup without mentioning any special drives or software, you really should consider purchasing either a tape drive or a software package that gives you special options like unattended scheduled backups, data compression, volume linking, and really cool windows and buttons to show off to your friends. DOS 6.x includes a backup program that works under DOS or Windows, but does not offer backup-to-tape or unattended scheduling. Two software packages that include a great deal more than just backup programs are Symantec's The Norton Utilities and Central Point Software's PC Tools. Both offer versions for Mac, DOS, and Windows, and I won't try to recommend which you should choose. Just decide which box you think is more attractive and pull out the charge card. You'll get a slew of system management tools that are easy to use, so you won't need to read this column anymore.

But whatever you do, do it religiously. Backing up your data requires a commitment no less sacred than a wedding vow. But considering today's divorce rates, perhaps that's a bad comparison. ❑

Backup, Backup, Who's Got the Backup?

Your Thurman unit just overheated and caused a hard drive failure. How long would it take you to restore your data? More importantly, how much would it cost you in labor and lost business? If the answers make you want to run home to Mommy, you aren't alone. PC Magazine has estimated that 62 percent of all small businesses do not have an adequate backup strategy in place. So, here's a freebie from me to you: a backup procedure that you can feel free to steal and pretend it's your own. I won't tell your boss …or your Mom.


Your backup needs to be more than just a collection of your documents from last month. It should include everything you need in order to restore your system to complete working condition. You'll need two sets of disks (or tapes or runes or whatever): one for your applications, and another for your data. You only need to create the applications backup once; just add disks as you add programs. Your main concern is your data backup.


The most important thing to know about a backup is there isn't just one backup: there are at least three sets. You need a current copy of your data; how current depends upon how often your data files change. That may necessitate a more frequent rotation, but here we will discuss the basic three-set (“grandfather”) rotation, which will take two weeks to implement fully. Here's how it works:

Week One

1. Monday: Create a total copy of all data files on backup Set One.

2. Tuesday-Friday: Backup modified files to Set Two, appending data files to the set instead of overwriting files,

Week Two

1. Monday: Create a total copy of data files to Set Three, move Set One off-site for safe storage.

2. Tuesday-Friday: Overwrite the daily modified files from Set Two.

3. Alternate off-site storage of Set One and Set Three.

Other Rotations

If you have a great many data files that change often, a six- or ten-set rotation might work better. In a six-set rotation, you have a complete set for each day of the week, and one extra total for off-site storage. In a ten-set rotation, you have one for each day and then multiple copies of a monthly offsite backup. These methods are most likely discussed in your manual, depending upon what backup program you use. Just remember: in sickness and in health, ‘til death do you part. A backup procedure is forever.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • June 1994



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