Robert N. Phillips
CEO, Lasotell Pty Ltd.

The most important rule in our organisation is that you never turn off your PC until you have backed up today’s work–because your PC might not start in the morning. In these days of RAID servers and the like, there is much less risk of data loss for desktop users connected to the office LAN, but for those with portables who travel or frequently work out of the office (including at home), the risk of data loss is still quite real. For example, the portable can be stolen or run over by a bus!

The second most important rule is a risk management policy aimed at mitigating the problems of maintaining production if the central storage is not accessible and a fixed deadline is at hand. Copies of current work files must always be in two places–one copy on your PC (for example, in the local CS-RCS repository, see CIDM e-newsletter Volume 1, Issue 3) and one copy on a different system (such as a central document management repository or file server). Keeping two copies of current work files is easy for the desktop users, but what are the options for portable users? The options have to be quick and easy, otherwise keeping copies tends not to happen. We have found three options to be very effective–one obvious option and two options that may be new to some.

  • A lightweight external or built-in CD writer supports CD-RW that is configured to act as another hard disk (using DirectCD from Adaptec or InCD from Nero). This option is the most versatile because no matter where you are, if your portable is on, you can drag and drop files to the CD just before shutdown. (If you still remember how to write batch files, this option is essentially an automatic and no-cost process, or you can buy any one of a number of backup packages that will manage the task.)
  • Many free Web-based storage sites exist just to give you free storage space on the Web. The “price” is you have advertising on your screen while accessing the site. If you happen to be on a fast LAN connection, well and good; if you are on a 56K modem, that is okay provided you are not dealing with megabytes of files in the one sitting. These sites are accessible from anywhere in the world and they are infinitely better than trying to use floppies and a file splitter (such as a multi-volume zip).
  • If you have a company Web site (or your own home page), you usually have automatic access to an FTP area at the site address. This option is basically the same as the Web-based storage but without the advertising.

The company FTP site is advantageous when you need to interact with a distributed work group and remote dial-up access to the office LAN is not possible or cost effective. In that situation we create the following directory structure on the FTP site.

  • If one or more members are working at a site with an email attachment size limit, a Transfers directory is created with a sub-directory for each user. Files are placed in the relevant sub-directory, which acts as an in-tray for that user.
  • A set of Draft, Review, Edits, and Publish directories are created to move files through the different stages.
  • A work area is established containing sub-directories for each user where they can store a copy of work-in-progress files if they are not fit to go to one of the other directories. For the work group environment, the site has to have an up-to-date copy of all files at the end of the day.

The storage process has only two rules: all master files are renamed (adding the user’s initials) and copied to the local PC for work (uploaded and initials removed at the end of the day), and only one copy of the master file is on the site at any one time, irrespective of which directory it is in.

These options have proven to be effective methods for mitigating the risk of data loss and for providing a manageable environment for a distributed work group that does not have access to the office LAN or Web access to the office’s central document management repository.