Sensible Backup Strategies

We’ve all heard – over and over – how important it is to back up our systems and our data, but it’s amazing how often firms fail to have up-to-date, complete, offsite backups.

A sound backup strategy is especially important if your law firm is going paperless. In addition to the obvious reasons, there are special considerations – mostly related to the volume of data you will be storing.

Law firms need to scan a lot of paper, much more than most businesses. And, scanned images take up much more space than documents originally produced on the computer. Typically, a scanned document requires six to ten times the space of the original word processing document.

Planning for capacity

Your backup system must be capable of handling a full backup of the Primafact database:

  • It should be able to backup all the data, unattended
  • It should be fast enough to easily complete the backup over the weekend
  • It should be able to handle whatever volume of data you will have in three years

Note: If you plan beyond three years, remember to balance costs. The cost of a more powerful backup system may be much less three to five years from now. Also consider that when the time comes to upgrade your server, you are likely to also upgrade your backup system.

It may be difficult to predict the size of your Primafact database. As a start, think in terms of banker’s boxes and your average case. A banker’s box holds 1,000–1,500 pages.

We suggest budgeting 25 GB for every 100 banker’s boxes. So, if you take on an average of four cases a month and each case averages one banker’s box worth of documents, in three years you would expect to have the equivalent of about 144 banker’s boxes of paper in Primafact. Thus you will need to back up 36 GB of data.

You should also think about your peak capacity. Eventually, you will start moving closed cases out of Primafact (these cases can be archived to DVD discs or a hard drive). Approximately how many banker’s boxes of active and dormant cases do you have now, on and offsite? You can calculate your peak storage requirement (x GB) as follows:

x = (current number of boxes for active and dormant cases) / 100 * 25

What to backup

Primafact stores data in two places:

  • Image files on a network drive
  • Metadata in a Microsoft SQL Server database

For a complete backup, both the image files and the SQL database need to be backed up.

All image files are stored in a folder called PfDocs on a network-accessible data drive. Backing up these files should be straightforward for any backup system.

The SQL database requires special consideration. Microsoft SQL Server will run 24/7 and lock its internal data files so that no other software can read them. There are two ways to get around this:

  1. Have a SQL Server Maintenance Plan in place that will make a nightly copy of the SQL database on the file system. The file can then be read and backed up.The Primafact installation automatically sets up a maintenance plan to do this (by default, backups are written five times a week to a folder called PfBack and any backups older than three days are automatically deleted).
  2. Use backup software that can handle live SQL databases. Generally backup software vendors can provide an add-on module to make this possible, at an extra cost.

Where to back up

We recommend that you back up either to tape or to a portable hard drive. Tape is still the most reliable and manageable medium, although hard drives are becoming increasingly popular. Your IT provider should be able to suggest the best solution for your needs and budget.

At this time, we do not recommend that you back up Primafact data directly to an offsite storage location. Currently, the storage size required for scanned document images makes it impractical and expensive.

You need to make sure that your backups are taken offsite for safe keeping. You should establish a procedure to ensure you have a recent, full backup in a secure offsite location at all times. The procedure should be easy and regularly scheduled.

When to back up

You should make a full backup of your Primafact data at least once a week, with differential backups on a daily basis.

A differential backup stores all data that has changed since the last full (weekly) backup. An incremental backup only stores files that have changed since the last incremental backup. If you ever have to restore an incremental backup, you may have to restore from as many as six backup sets, whereas with differential backups you will never have to restore from more than two.

You can schedule full backups for the weekend (they take longer), while you should be able to schedule differential backups overnight because they are much quicker.

Monitoring backups

Chances are that sometime in the life of your practice you will have to restore from a backup. It is common for firms in this unfortunate position to have to face the realization that their backup system hasn’t been running for many months.

Any backup system you create is eventually going to fail, so it must be monitored. Many firms leave monitoring up to their IT supplier. Make sure your IT supplier has systems in place to regularly monitor your backups.

If you rely on a Microsoft SQL Server Maintenance Plan to create a copy of your SQL database (i.e., if you have not purchased and implemented special software to back up the live SQL database), someone must monitor the creation of these files on a regular basis.

Critical points of failure

Certain events that can lead to a breakdown of your backup system:

  • Change in staff. If a staff member is responsible for checking backups, make sure this duty is re-assigned if that person leaves your firm. You will find out too late if your backup system stops working
  • Change in IT Supplier. Make sure your new IT supplier is fully aware of how your backups work and has systems in place to monitor the success of both the SQL Maintenance Plan and the backupWindows Server Migration. Make sure the Primafact data is getting backed up after a migration to new hardware. Changes to security settings and drive mappings can cause the SQL Server Maintenance Plan to fail
  • Migration to a new Microsoft SQL Server. Remember to set up the Primafact backup Maintenance Plan on the new SQL Server. Make sure that the database copies created by the SQL Server are getting backed up

More Information

The Wikipedia article Backup is an excellent starting point to understand backup concepts.