Disaster Recovery: Smart Ways to Work Around a Broken System

February 4th, 2015 by admin

Cartoon of a sad-faced computer and a panicked user with '!?' over his head

Computers have a knack for breaking at the most inconvenient time. Murphy’s Law is alive and well. But you don’t need to wait for IT repairs in order to get an employee back to work: smart techniques and planning can minimize your downtime so you can maintain productivity and take back otherwise lost hours.

Small businesses endure around 14 hours of IT downtime every year per employee, costing them around $55,000 on average—and that number can increase depending on the extent of the outage and when it hits.

Don’t Quit Before You Get Started

You might assume you’re out of luck if you are working on a project stored only on a laptop or desktop computer, and that system goes down. However, there are smart techniques you can use to avoid downtime or work around a failure when it happens.

Use Roaming Profiles and Synchronize Your Data Files with Your Server

If your office uses PCs and a Microsoft Server, have your IT service people proactively set up Roaming Profiles. This wonderful Microsoft system synchronizes files and settings between your computer and your server every time you log in or log out.  Make sure when Roaming Profiles are set up that everyone’s “My Documents” folder is set to synchronize. Then make sure your staff knows to store local files under “My Documents” and nowhere else. (Note: this applies only to files that must be stored on your workstation or laptop.)

With Roaming Profiles, there are always two copies of any one file—one on your computer and one on the server.

If your computer breaks and files are lost, no problem. Backup copies are safe on the server.

Store Files on Your Server, not your Workstation or Laptop

If your office is like most, there is a system that backs up your server either to an on-premises system, to a Cloud system, or to both. If you have this sort of arrangement, avoid storing data files you can’t afford to lose on your computer or laptop. When your computer breaks, simply continue working by using another computer at your company. Your data files are accessible from any computer in your office by simply logging in to it.

A Spare System = Smart, Inexpensive Insurance

Computers today are really cheap. Your labor, and your staff’s labor, is really expensive. Always have at least one spare computer at your office all loaded with software and ready to go. When a computer breaks, simply unplug the broken one and plug in the spare. That way, when your computer breaks, you’ll be up and running again in five minutes. Make sure to follow either or both of the previous guidelines (Roaming Profiles or storing data on the server), and you won’t miss a beat. Then get the broken computer repaired in a less expensive, non-crisis way.

One spare system can save thousands of dollars of labor downtime per year.

A spare pays dividends in other ways as well: If your company is growing, a spare system allows you to get a new employee set up simply and quickly. Just plug in the spare for a new hire—and then purchase another spare to replace the one you just used.

Use a Backup System that Backs Up Automatically at Frequent Intervals

A backup system that backs up your firm’s data files on a frequent basis—once an hour or even once every 15 minutes—is a fantastic way to avoid the downtime that would otherwise result from someone’s computer failure. Automated backups may be configured by your IT service team to back up to an on-premises hard drive, a Cloud data center, or both. The best backup system is called a Hybrid Cloud Backup System. This type of system continuously copies files to an on-premises device and then replicates current and historical versions of the files to one or more Cloud data centers. That way, copies of your files are stored in multiple locations.

Use Your Resources and Your Wits

As long as your broken computer’s hard drive still works, you may be able to get back up and running with spare hardware and some quick thinking. Almost every modern production computer uses the SATA connection standard, making the hardware cross-system compatible. You can quickly recover data that was stored on the failed computer by extracting its hard drive and connecting it to a functioning computer. Anyone attempting this process should have a firm understanding of computer hardware and be prepared to consult an IT professional (or MSP) for guidance if they reach a point of confusion. While by no means a permanent solution, transplanting the hard drive works as a temporary fix until your service people can resolve the actual problem.

Desktop computers typically have support for multiple internal SATA drives, so you can use a second desktop system to recover the data without any additional hardware. You can use a laptop to perform the process by installing the broken computer’s hard drive in an external enclosure. External enclosures convert internal hard drives into external ones, and are useful to keep around for data recovery situations. Once you’ve connected the hard drive to the working computer, you can use the file browser program to locate and copy the files you need. Note: use of encryption software on the hard drive will prevent this method from working.

PC World has an excellent guide on installing hard drives.

When All Else Fails

If your hard drive has failed and it won’t work in another computer, if you have no Roaming Profiles, no backup, no stored files on your server, and if your lost files are valuable to you—then you have no choice but to hire a hard drive recovery facility to see if they can extract data from your damaged drive. Kroll OnTrack provides this service. You may pay a steep fee, and you may pay whether or not your files can be retrieved.

And if you lose data and your precious time forever, guess what? There’s a bright side. You will now wise up and implement some or all of the above recommendations so this never happens to you again. That’s peace of mind—even if you learned it the hard way.

Expect the Worst

Computer components suffer increasing failure rates as they age, meaning it’s likely that you’ll experience some sort of device failure before your hardware refresh cycle is up. A Square Trade study found that one in three laptops fails in the first three years. According to a Microsoft study, the CPU is the part most likely to fail, followed by the hard drive and RAM.

Prepare yourself for these eventualities with the right hardware and the right support to minimize your downtime and maximize your productivity.

Posted in: Hardware and Software