15 Most Common Reasons Backup Data Can’t Be Recovered (Or Becomes Lost)

File Not Found - Gone ForeverDespite our best laid plans, details can sometimes slip through the cracks when protecting data. In their effort to maintain reliable backups and fast recovery times, IT departments have to overcome hurdles such as:

  • Limited available time for maintenance
  • Constantly changing infrastructure and new technologies
  • Diminishing IT budgets

And sometimes, when backed up data needs to be recovered, it can’t. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Here are some of the most common reasons that IT staff can’t recover files from their backups:

  1. No backup copy was available. This can happen if the data loss occurred before the daily tape backup was processed.
  2. The backup copy was corrupted. This can happen if the backup device was damaged or processed incorrectly. It may also happen if the storage device contained some sort of physical defect.
  3. Backups were done incorrectly. This is a common scenario in businesses that host their own SQL databases or Exchange servers, but lack the proper training to back up properly. One day, they load up their backup tapes and find that they’ve only been backing up their flat files… and have never backed up their database.
  4. All backup copies were corrupted. This can happen if invalid data is unknowingly backed up repeatedly over a long period of time.
  5. Loss reported too late. Most corporate backup policies state that deleted files must also be removed from the backups after a specified length of time. If the data loss isn’t reported before this time has elapsed, the data could be gone forever.
  6. Important files, directories or components were excluded from the backups. Many home users will only back up their “My Documents” folder, leaving other files at risk such as their Outlook files and those files saved on the Desktop. Many applications will also save important data to a sub-folder under their “Program Files” directory.
  7. Other systems or hardware were added without updating the backup process.
  8. Files were saved on the end-user’s local drive or portable media instead of the assigned network folder. If you have users who save data locally – as is common with laptops – you must have a plan to protect those as well.
  9. Human error. Everyone messes up once in a while. That’s why you have to automate as much of your backup process as possible, and ensure that your IT staffs are properly trained.
  10. Software bugs. Although software providers do their best to write bug-free software, they’re constantly racing to catch up with the fast-changing operating systems and external applications that they must interact with.
  11. Backup software was not installed or configured properly. Once again, this can be attributed to human error and lack of proper training.
  12. Unable to locate files, or locating files would be too inconvenient. Sometimes, the process of recovering files can simply be too laborious, or it would eat up too much precious IT time. In this event, the company must evaluate the maintenance costs against the cost of the lost data before making a decision.
  13. No backup process in place. As crazy as this might seem, many smaller businesses either have no backups at all, or only back up a few of their machines. For them, every day is Russian roulette.
  14. Forgot the encryption password. Nothing is more painful than backing up properly, then being locked out of your files when you need them the most.
  15. Only one copy of the backups were ever made, and they were destroyed with the servers. This is usually the case in the event of fires or natural disasters.

And there you have it. I’ve just given you plenty of reasons for why you need to test your recovery process on a regular basis. No matter how perfect you think your process is, every tiny change to your IT system increases the odds that something might go wrong later on.

It’s better to invest the time now and iron out the kinks, than to wake up one day and realize that you’ve been forgetting an important step all along.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickymontalvo/3237982968