Automated Online Backup Horrors & Why the Monster is YOU

Data disasters happen. This much we know. Smart individuals and organizations know that it’s not a matter of if, but of when. They prepare for that fateful day when information evaporates from a hard disk or transmogrifies into something unreadable and ugly.  Yes, they back up their data. And this is where the horror comes in – not because data are backed up (which is good, even essential), but because the people doing the backing up cease to think about what they’re doing. This can lead to all sorts of unpleasant situations.

The Dark Side of Automated Online Backup

Computers for the most part are completely reliable and also utterly soulless. They will typically do what you tell them to do, without qualms, scruples or second thoughts. You might get an occasional pop-up window that says “Are you sure you want to…?”, but that’s about it. So if you tell them to do something wrong, they will faithfully do that wrong thing. So the dark side is in fact you and the zombie part of your nature that stops you from thinking things out and checking before acting.

“My Online Back-up Program Doesn’t Understand Me”

Or perhaps you don’t understand your online back-up or data storage program. What for example does ‘selective sync’ mean in online file storage and sync terms? One user found out the hard way. When the selective sync app crashed on his computer as he was backing up lots of files, he rebooted his computer and left it at that. Two months afterwards he discovered that all of those files had gone. They were no longer on his computer, nor were they in his online file storage space. Why? Because the selective sync app was designed to keep the files online, not on the computer. When app crashed, the files ended up in the online recycling bin where they were kept for just 30 days (the standard procedure). Waiting for two months before checking again was more than long enough to make sure the data vanished for good.

Wait, It Gets Worse

The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Virtualization is currently a popular way for organizations to rationalize their data storage, backups and replications (and to get app load balancing and resilience). It can be done up in the cloud with the benefits of lower investment and capital expenditure. Customers can grow their cyber data center according to their needs. But you have to be absolutely sure about what’s what. If a maintenance operation leaves a virtual storage unit connected to the wrong server, a case of mistaken identity can led to the unit being automatically formatted. The state of that unit can then be replicated to a second unit which normally acts as the backup unit. Now you have zero data on both the primary and the secondary unit.


IBM had a marketing slogan about 30 years ago. It was very simple – “THINK”. If you don’t want to be the scary monster in an automated online back-up horror, then thinking about what you’re doing (or what you’re automating) is a good start. Apply common sense to make sure that your original data and a back-up copy are secure and usable at all times. You have a regular back-up process? Good! But then regularly check that it’s doing what you need it to do. Banish zombie attitudes and unjustified assumptions, and you automatically increase the chances of your online backups being there for you like they should be, when you need them.