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Thread: Minimising the effect and stress of computer theft. Any ideas?

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    Minimising the effect and stress of computer theft. Any ideas?

    Its a reality in South Africa today that at some stage most of us will experience a desktop or laptop being stolen. I suppose power surges and spilled coffee could be factors too, in suddenly removing the functionality of an important work device. There is the obvious cost of replacing the device, but I would like to get some ideas from you learned folk on how to minimise the pain of losing your data and software.

    Backing up data is an obvious one, but unless automated, it becomes a chore and is not in real time. Its also not always painless when machines have to be reconfigured on a small network, your backed up data is a different version to your original software or accessories such as printers and scanners are no longer compatible with the new operating system. These are all solvable, but involve lots of googling, time and frustration.

    I imagine that most small businesses have the following categories they need to manage: Emails, documents, accounting and specialised desktop software. How can these be dealt with in the easiest way? Having it all online and accessible with only a username and password does seem to be the simplest method, with security and internet downtime being two issues to take into consideration.

    Emails: Gmail is a common solution, but what if you prefer using Thunderbird or Outlook or some other desktop application? I believe using the IMAP setting instead of POP is a good option as this leaves your messages on your provider's servers and will still be accessible to you if you set up and log in from a new computer. The number of emails can become a cost issue once your files get larger. How easy is it to backup this data on your own drive in the event of you no longer having access to Gmail or your provider?

    Documents: Security aside, I think the likes of dropbox, box, googledocs, etc are an excellent option for storing spreadsheets, letters, PDFs, brochures, pictures and any other document you typically use for your business. Its free for most of us and we file them like we normally do on our computer, but can magically access them again if our computer disappears.

    Accounting software: Most of us probably use the likes of Quickbooks and Pastel for our accounting purposes. There are backup options for the data, but these tend to come at an extra cost, or require your daily intervention, which soon becomes weekly and then monthly and then its not really useful anymore. Also what happens if you were using an older version at the time of the loss. Do you now have to buy a new package? Or the other way round where you were using an online updated version, but the original software download you have in your backup is an older version. Now your backup data won't work with it.

    There are some online packages available such as smartedge as a local variety, and plenty of international ones. This is assuming you need more than the entry level online packages currently available by the likes of Pastel. What are the practicalities of having an online server where you keep your own copy of Pastel / Quickbooks / Whatever and then each user logs in to it, in much the same way they would have should the server been on a computer in your office? I'm thinking along the lines of VPS here.

    Specialised desktop software: This may include your accounting software mentioned above, but also perhaps payroll software, CRM software, job planning and scheduling software, industry specific software, basically any program you have installed on your own computer and use regularly. This is possibly where the loss hurts the most, especially if the software is used on a daily basis. Is there a practical way of moving this software off site, yet still having access to it and using it as though it was on a computer a few desks away?

    The appeal of moving everything online is the ability to use it wherever you may be as well as the ability to continue to use it even if your experience loss of equipment through fire or theft or other damage. The downside of course may be some data security issues, the risk of provider side problems, loss of internet and possibly a more complicated initial setup process.

    I would love to hear what some of you are doing and hopefully be exposed to some clever ideas and tricks.

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    Diamond Member adrianh's Avatar
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    One of the issues is how difficult it is to get another machine set up just right. My laptop has a huge amount of software with lots of mods, plugins and add ons. It is fine to have backups but it takes weeks to get it all set up nicely again. If I had the money I would have at least 2-3 machines set up identically. Then I would keep them synchronized so that if one fails for whatever reason my life goes on without a glitch.

    And of course I agree with everything else you said.
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    Diamond Member Justloadit's Avatar
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    Ghost helps with making an identical copy of your drive.
    If you have the same hardware on the replacement machine, then the systems is up to your last update.
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    Diamond Member AndyD's Avatar
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    RAID 1 drive? Not my preferred option personally but for Adrian's problem which is more about setup than actual baxk-up it might be better.

    For my data critical laptops I use back-up scripts that create a back-up of my email (complete pst file) and selected directories which include finances, customer info, invoicing, quotes etc. A back-up is made every 24 hours onto one of my local servers which has sufficient drive space (each backup requires approx 2 Gigs). The first backup in the target directory is always kept, the second backup is then added but, after that, each time a new back-up overwrites the previous one six times. The eighth back-up is then stored as a third file and the process starts again where the 10th overwrites the 9th and 11th 12th.....16th all overwrite the previous.

    Still with me?? So after 16 backups the target directory would contain the 1st, the 8th and the 16th as separate files. All the other intermediate backups would have been overwritten so basically, although I'm making a new backup every night I'm only keeping one backup from each week permanently.

    Now it gets a bit trickier because there's a second directory on the server and when the first directory gets to the point where there's a sixth file in it, the oldest file gets transferred into the second directory. This second directory is set up in exactly the same way so the first file that gets moved into it is kept. The second file is also kept but the third file that gets moved overwrites the second one and so on as per the other directory.

    I know it sounds complicated but what it means is that at any given time I've got backup's for the last day, the last 4 weeks, and older backups at monthly intervals, even older backups at 6 month intervals and very old backups at yearly intervals. I've actually even got backups still from 1997.

    What brought this about was one time when files got accidentally deleted. I didn't notice the files had gone for about a month and even though I'd been backing up every week, when I searched my backups for the missing files they weren't there because I'd already deleted the particular backup that would have saved my skin.
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    Diamond Member Justloadit's Avatar
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    Adrian, What happens if the server drive fails, where is all the data?
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    Diamond Member adrianh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Justloadit View Post
    Ghost helps with making an identical copy of your drive.
    If you have the same hardware on the replacement machine, then the systems is up to your last update.
    Lol; now I just need R50K for 2 identical laptops and 3D mice
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    Diamond Member adrianh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Justloadit View Post
    Adrian, What happens if the server drive fails, where is all the data?
    Of course we make backups but I would still prefer to have two identical servers, one at work and one at home. Drives should be mirrored and synced at least every day.

    I am not so much in favor of putting all my stuff online. There is just too much risk i.e. internet lines going down, power failures (I have laptops so that is not a big deal) and besides that I have a rather serious aversion to putting my stuff in the hands of unknown parties. Another thing is that Google already controls 90% of the internet, they are not getting my data as well.
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    Gold Member irneb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BusFact View Post
    Backing up data is an obvious one, but unless automated, it becomes a chore and is not in real time. Its also not always painless when machines have to be reconfigured on a small network, your backed up data is a different version to your original software or accessories such as printers and scanners are no longer compatible with the new operating system. These are all solvable, but involve lots of googling, time and frustration.
    Automated backups is definitely the way to go. There are so many such programs available (even just built-in on a normal Windows install you can schedule backup tasks). Some of these backups even work similar to dropbox clients, in that they keep mirroring the backup as and when you overwrite existing files / delete files / create new ones. The first such program I used around 10 years ago was Karen's Replicator, but there's a long list of alternatives: http://alternativeto.net/software/replicator/

    Quote Originally Posted by BusFact View Post
    Emails: Gmail is a common solution, but what if you prefer using Thunderbird or Outlook or some other desktop application? I believe using the IMAP setting instead of POP is a good option as this leaves your messages on your provider's servers and will still be accessible to you if you set up and log in from a new computer. The number of emails can become a cost issue once your files get larger. How easy is it to backup this data on your own drive in the event of you no longer having access to Gmail or your provider?
    Yes and? I use my gmail account through Thunderbird. You can choose to use it as a POP3/IMAP connection like you can with any email server ... it's just that google gives you a web interface on top of the normal email. In both those connection types you have local off-line copies of your mail - POP meaning all messages stay in the Thunderbird/Outlook/Evolution/(whatever client you use)'s local file storage. IMAP means you can set per folder (or even per message) which stay live on on-line and which is downloaded for off-line use.

    Quote Originally Posted by BusFact View Post
    Documents: Security aside, I think the likes of dropbox, box, googledocs, etc are an excellent option for storing spreadsheets, letters, PDFs, brochures, pictures and any other document you typically use for your business. Its free for most of us and we file them like we normally do on our computer, but can magically access them again if our computer disappears.
    Depending on exactly "what" you want to store of course. For those small stuff like spreadsheets / documents such online file sharing servers (I hate the marketing term "cloud") is pretty good. But once your files become large, they're less than ideal. I constantly work with files ranging from 50MB to 5GB for 3d models. Having something like a dropbox client autosyncing these tends to means I constantly see an error popup about the file being locked for access. That's if I ignore the enormous increase in my bandwidth usage - i.e. each and every single save is re-synced instead of just once a day. Nope, see above about automated backups - "syncing" to a USB attached drive is way better.

    Quote Originally Posted by BusFact View Post
    Accounting software: Most of us probably use the likes of Quickbooks and Pastel for our accounting purposes. There are backup options for the data, but these tend to come at an extra cost, or require your daily intervention, which soon becomes weekly and then monthly and then its not really useful anymore. Also what happens if you were using an older version at the time of the loss. Do you now have to buy a new package? Or the other way round where you were using an online updated version, but the original software download you have in your backup is an older version. Now your backup data won't work with it.
    This is definitely a problem. Usually you can archive the installation media and licensing settings. But some software tends to require on-line activation, and some then disallow you to re-install an older version. If this is the case then they MUST provide some means to upgrade data so the new versions can use the old data.

    Quote Originally Posted by BusFact View Post
    There are some online packages available such as smartedge as a local variety, and plenty of international ones. This is assuming you need more than the entry level online packages currently available by the likes of Pastel. What are the practicalities of having an online server where you keep your own copy of Pastel / Quickbooks / Whatever and then each user logs in to it, in much the same way they would have should the server been on a computer in your office? I'm thinking along the lines of VPS here.
    In South Africa? Practically not a good idea, unless you're in a major city centre with awesome internet access. The trouble with on-line application servers (i.e. something closer to a "cloud" than the usual marketing misnomer - i.e. something EXACTLY similar to the 1950's mainframe-with-dumb-terminals-connected-over-long-distances) is that once your internet connection is down, your work stops. It's pretty much as if the power went off. You can't even open the programs, never mind see your data.

    And that ignores anything about security / privacy / confidentiality. As soon as you use any on-line backup / app server you're giving all your data over to someone else. You may "trust" the company not to divulge it to others, you may even have it encrypted so they can't just open your files themselves, but you've given up "ownership" of your data. Also, take note - using such online service doesn't do away with the requirement to upgrade your data to newer versions - it's just that the supplier tends to handle this on their side is you didn't encrypt it (all the same still applies though, like possible loss / corruption of data during the upgrade process, only now you don't even have the capability to make a backup before the upgrade happens - hopefully they do over there, but I'd not hold my breath).

    Of course you "could" just simply share a computer with remote desktoping to get the exact same experience as you'd get from online app servers. Maybe even better as you'd be using the default normal desktop programs instead of working through a web page. Though it would also mean you need a decent network connection to stream the desktop. You'd most likely not want to do this over internet connections, unless you're one of the lucky FTTH clients. We've attempted this for graphics workstations - using a VMWare HorizonView virtual server running 16 concurrent W8 installations shared through remote desktoping to computers in the same LAN as well as between JHB & PTA. The latter was a bit laggy (even over our 50MB/s fibre connection), but the LAN connection is as if you're using your normal computer. And that was for high-intensity graphics using 3d modelling software. For the sorts of stuff you mention, i.e. a few word docs, emails, spreadsheets, you really do not even require any sort of special graphics hardware at all - so remote desktoping becomes a much more interesting idea. And depending on just how you set it up - e.g. using those virtual machines shared, then means you can actually "check-out" a local off-line copy of the VM and run it directly on your local computer (at least that's one of the features of that HorizonView server - though cost-wise it's only effective if you use lots of clients). You should even be able to do similar through manually copying the VM files if you use something like the free VirtualBox from Oracle - it has built-in VNC connection for remote desktop into whatever OS you installed in each VM.
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    Gold Member irneb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrianh View Post
    Of course we make backups but I would still prefer to have two identical servers, one at work and one at home. Drives should be mirrored and synced at least every day.

    I am not so much in favor of putting all my stuff online. There is just too much risk i.e. internet lines going down, power failures (I have laptops so that is not a big deal) and besides that I have a rather serious aversion to putting my stuff in the hands of unknown parties. Another thing is that Google already controls 90% of the internet, they are not getting my data as well.
    Agreed about the RAID vs Mirrored Server. Even going with RAID5 you're not exactly "covered" in case of damaged discs, you definitely are not covered in case of some other hardware failure - you've only got some recovery ability for the discs in the RAID, nothing else. But the worst thing about RAID (and no I'm not referring to "stupid" RAID systems like RAID0 and RAID1)? Try to recover (i.e. "Re-Silver") a damaged disc in a RAID5 array ... it gets exponentially longer the larger the array is. To the point where it's nothing strange to see a re-silver process take days or even weeks. During that time your entire server is dead to the world. And if this doesn't already put you off RAID, then read up on this here (explained a lot better than I can): http://www.smbitjournal.com/2012/05/...more-reliable/

    So no, RAID (no matter if you go RAID 5 or 6 or even 10) is not an "answer" to make sure everything's always available. At best RAID may be one aspect to help out, but it sure isn't any form of always available and never corrupt data. The mirror server idea is closer to that. Even if you do not use any RAID inside of the servers it still provides more "safety from crashes" than any RAID on its own can.

    Nope, backup-backup-and-more-backup is your only answer. No matter if you do it online, or using external discs you swap around each day. Anything would be better than relying on some server-based RAID to "keep mirrors" of your data. Remember, a mirror is just that, a mirror - it duplicates all the files you overwrite, so overwriting / deleting a file by accident (i.e. the usual reason for wanting backups) is not something a RAID or even Mirror Server is going to help fix. Only a periodic backup / archive has any chance of doing that for you. Even stuff such as an auto-syncing dropbox client isn't going to help with those, because as soon as it notices that some file/folder in the shared folder has changed it starts the sync process (i.e. you've got next to no time to realize you made a mistake and then try to stop it from syncing to the online server).

    Even when I do use stuff like dropbox, I prefer using them through rclone instead of those aut-sync background bloatware programs they install. That way I've got much more control over when the sync happens, and if I want to overwrite the online version with the local one or visa-versa.
    Gold is the money of kings; silver is the money of gentlemen; barter is the money of peasants; but debt is the money of slaves. - Norm Franz
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    Diamond Member adrianh's Avatar
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    Years ago my brother told me a really good one. He was auditing a company and the company was in a serious disagreement with one of the partners for some reason. The partner walked in one day, packed the server and backups up and took it home with him. Kinda difficult for a company to function if one of the guys who knows everything about the business walks away with the entire server and backups. I suspect that they settled rather quickly considering that if they were to report him to the police he may just have "accidentally" stumbled and dropped the server off the 3rd floor balcony onto a huge magnet.
    How easily someone is offended is directly proportional to how stupid they are.
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