Data backup

Oct. 1, 2003
In last month's "Digital Dentist," we took a look at a brief overview of the options available with data redundancy and backup.

Lorne Lavine, DMD

In last month's "Digital Dentist," we took a look at a brief overview of the options available with data redundancy and backup. One of the most common requests I get from dentists is to help them develop a protocol for backing up their data. So, I would like to discuss this in greater detail. There are a few important concepts that need to be addressed first:

The data that resides in your computer system is crucial to the health of your practice. You need to consider the consequences of losing all that information and how easily you could recover from this type of catastrophe. Not having a backup system in place is like practicing without disability or liability insurance — it's a huge risk.

1) The data backup protocol must be easy to learn and implement. Since the duties are typically passed off to a senior staff member, make sure he or she can follow the protocol. If it's too difficult, it probably won't get done.

2) Backups should be done at least daily, and often more frequently depending on your individual practice. You should never be in a position where you could lose more than one day of entries.

3) The backups should be on a medium that is stable and easy to restore. As I discussed in the last column, tape would only make sense if you have at least one workstation with a tape drive — in addition to the server — since the tapes would be of no benefit if the server goes down.

Suggested protocol

Please keep in mind that this is just one example of how a backup protocol can be established. There are many modifications that can be done, and a lot will depend on the size of the practice and the amount of data.

One of the key concepts is that the practice should be prepared to lose the server yet still keep running. To do this, you will need one workstation that you designate as the "emergency server." If your server crashed, you would want all your workstations to tie into the emergency server workstation (a process called "mapping") and look to this alternative resource for the practice-management software and data. In most cases, the best way to do this is to add a second hard drive to the designated workstation that will act as the emergency server. You will have to make an exact copy of the server drive on it. The reason for this is that most Windows programs put files in multiple directories when you install them, so it's often not enough to just move the management software's folder to another computer. There are many programs that can accomplish this, such as Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image.

You'll also need to back up your data to both this server and to a regular backup medium. I highly recommend the newer removable hard drives because they are cheap, easy to set up, and have virtually unlimited storage. Back up the hard drive at the end of each day. The removable hard drive should be taken off-site, or at the very least, put into a fire-proof safe.

The item that will tie all of this together is the back-up software. I personally recommend one called Karen's Replicator, an excellent free program (http://www.karenware.com/powertools /ptreplicator.asp). This program has two very useful features. First, it will permit incremental backups, which save time. When you back up the PMS program folder, many of the files — such as the program files, for example — never change, so they really only need to be backed up once. The other feature I enjoy is that you can program the software to not "replicate" file deletions. In other words, if you accidentally delete a digital image from a patient's file, the image won't be deleted from your backup, so you would easily be able to recover the file.

By backing up to the designated workstation a few times per day and to the removable drive daily, you'll have your data secure and easy to recover in the event of a problem.

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 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 [email protected] or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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