Preserving your digital data

Welcome to The Digital Dentist, a new monthly feature of Dental Economics. Of all the components of a dental practice, technology seems to be changing the most rapidly.

Lorne Lavine, DMD

Welcome to The Digital Dentist, a new monthly feature of Dental Economics. Of all the components of a dental practice, technology seems to be changing the most rapidly. New practice-management software, imaging software, digital radiography, cameras, and a host of other advances have altered the landscape for dental offices. The goal of this column will be to keep you current on the latest developments in digital technology, to assist those of you who are moving towards the "paperless" office, and to help you separate the facts from the marketing hype. In this first column, I'll focus on preserving your data.

As practices move towards elimination of paper dental charts, the data that is stored on the computer becomes more and more important. Computer records often consist of the daily appointment book, treatment plans, ledgers, charting, and digital images such as X-rays and camera shots taken to document cases. Keeping this data intact and being able to restore it are critical to the livelihood of the practice. The two methods that dentists need to consider are:

1. Redundancy
2. Backup

Redundancy

Many computer servers found in dental offices have RAID drives. RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. In the past, all computers had one hard drive for each computer, and dentists were forced into the cumbersome techniques of duplicating the drives. Enter RAID. There are different levels of RAID, but all involve using a minimum of two hard drives in the same computer. The RAID that is ideal for a dental practice is either Level 1 or 5. RAID 1 involves two equal hard drives that are attached together inside the computer. Each hard drive is a mirror of the other drive; any information that is written to the first hard drive is automatically written to the second drive as well.

The advantages of RAID are considerable. In a RAID system, if either hard drive were to fail, the computer would issue a warning, and the second drive would take over. This translates into zero downtime for the office. RAID used to be very expensive, and inside a dedicated server, it still costs $500 or so to properly set up. However, there are add-in RAID cards for any computer that can be found for less than $100 today. These would be ideal for offices using a peer-to-peer network.

Backup

Tape backup has been the "de facto" standard for many years, and most servers still use this as the backup medium of choice. For dental offices, tape isn't the best medium anymore. Tapes are very susceptible to damage. More importantly, few, if any, offices have more than one computer with a tape drive. If the computer or server with the tape drive were damaged by fire or flood or if it were stolen, the tapes would be useless. The reason the tapes would be useless is because there would be no computer in the office that could actually read the tapes!

A newer idea developed over the past year has become very popular. This idea involves the use of a portable or removable hard drive. A removable hard drive will give you almost unlimited storage capacity. The drives are housed in tough exterior cases, protecting them from the elements. Because of the amount of data that is often being copied, dentists should consider only those drives that use either a USB 2.0 or a Firewire interface. Almost all new computers come with at least one of these interfaces. Many of the latest removable hard drives have storage capacities of 120 to 250 GB, so it would be tough to ever run out of room on these drives.

By combining redundant drives and data backup, you will be taking the best first steps to keeping your practice data safe and secure.

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for over 10 years. He is an A+ Certified Computer Repair Technician, as well as Network+ Certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by email at drlavine@thedigitaldentist.com or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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