Beaverlog Tips:  Volume 49 - August 31, 2010

Flash Drive Backup Strategy

We cannot stress strongly enough the importance of making regular backups of your data. And with today's flash drives, there is really no excuse for not doing them. Flash drives are inexpensive, fast, convenient, and secure and are the media of choice for making your offline backups. However, if you just backup to the same flash drive every time and overwrite the previous backup you are not getting the maximum safety and cost effectiveness from your drives.

As of the writing of this article, the most common size available is 4 GB. That is over four billion characters of data you can store on each drive and you can pick them up for under ten bucks each. Even the largest of backups from The THERAPIST is miniscule in comparison and gives you the opportunity to store multiple backups on each drive.

This article will give you a very secure backup strategy using four flash drives. Starting with blank drives, you first want to create a series of folders on each drive as follows:

Drive 1:  folder names 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28
Drive 2:  folder names 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, 29
Drive 3:  folder names 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30
Drive 4:  folder names January, February, March, April, etc.

Be sure to label each flash drive using permanent marker or a labeling machine tape.

The backup schedule will have you make an offline backup each day you use The THERAPIST or Aeris Basic. You will make one additional offline backup at the end of each month. The monthly backup should include not only the practice data but a backup of the global data. Global data doesn't change as often but you may want to include it in your daily backups as well.

Make your first daily offline backup to Drive 1 into the folder named "1". Make the second backup to Drive 2 into folder "2". Use Drive 3, folder "3" for the third backup. The fourth backup should go again to Drive 1 but into folder "4". Continue cycling though the drives and folders until the end of the month. On the last backup of the month, make the backup onto the appropriate Drive 1, 2, or 3. Then make a second backup onto Drive 4 into the folder named for that month. Be sure to backup your practice data and your global data onto Drive 4. Take Drive 4 home so that if a total disaster occurs to your office, you have at least one backup that will be safe.

NOTE: Never remove a flash drive from your computer unless the power is off or Windows tells you that it is safe. Windows has an icon in the system tray for safely removing hardware. The system tray is the cluster of icons, usually in the lower right corner of the screen, that also shows the system date and time. Click that icon and select the drive letter corresponding to your flash drive. After a few seconds Windows should respond that it is now safe to remove the drive.

To help you keep track of the backups, you can download and print a form where you can write the date of each backup for the disk and folder in which it is made. It is best to print this onto card stock or heavy weight paper for durability because it will be handled frequently.

Causes of Data File Corruption

Your data is the most valuable aspect of your computer. We have written several times about the importance of backing up your data, including the article above. This article is more technical and covers the largest causes of lost and corrupted data.

Network Hardware

The most common cause of data corruption is flakey or marginal network hardware. This can be anything from the cables used to connect the network to the network interface cards (NICs). Intermittent hardware problems are extremely hard to find but can cause serious problems.

Power Problems

If you are running The THERAPIST or Aeris Basic on a network or even a stand-alone computer and are not using uninterruptible power supplies on all workstations and servers, you are asking for data corruption. If a program is saving changes to a data file when the power goes out or flickers, it is possible, even likely, to corrupt the data file. Consider uninterruptible power supplies to be an essential component of every computer installation.

Opportunistic Locks and Write-Caching

Opportunistic Locks (Oplocks) is a technical term for a technique for improving performance, usually across a network. Unfortunately, in database systems, it can cause file corruption and should be turned off. Consult the following Microsoft Knowledge Base articles in how to disable oplocks on file servers and workstations:

Microsoft Security Essentials

It has been reported that Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) can cause data file corruption. The work-around is to tell the program to ignore these files or the entire application.

To tell MSE to ignore the data files, go to the Settings tab in MSE and add the data folder path to the Excluded files and locations. You can find the data path in The THERAPIST by going to Help > About The THERAPIST and clicking the Information button. For Aeris Basic, go to Help > About Aeris Basic and click the Information button.

To tell MSE to ignore The THERAPIST or Aeris Basic, go to add ThWin.exe or Aeris.exe to the Excluded processes list in MSE.

If you are not sure whether you are running MSE, go to the Windows Task Manager. One way to get there is to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and select the Task Manager from the menu. Go to the Processes tab in the Task Manager and look for msseces.exe. If it is listed, you are running Microsoft Security Essentials.

Other Anti-Virus Programs

Some anti-virus programs (McAfee is notorious) can interfere with The THERAPIST or Aeris Basic and cause corruption in the data files. The best way to handle it is to tell the program to ignore The THERAPIST or Aeris Basic or to ignore the data files themselves. Because this is handled differently in every anti-virus program (and even every version), you should consult the documentation for you anti-virus software to determine how to set up these exclusions. If you can exclude an entire folder, specify the data folder. If you have to exclude specific files, try to exclude all of the tps files (*.tps is a wildcard expression for all files with a tps extension).

Tip: Using the Working Date

The Working Date [Tools > Working Date] is a useful tool if you are entering a large number of services or payments from a previous day because it saves you from having to change the date of every new transaction.

Go to Tools > Working Date and set the date you are working on and the default date for new transactions in The THERAPIST software will be this working date. You can change this date as often as you like. The Working Date is reset to the computer's system date whenever The THERAPIST is started.