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Frontline Defenses

Here are five tips to help your end users take the disaster out of disaster recovery.

Most IT departments tend to associate disaster recovery with big-ticket items such as mainframe access, communications, servers and primary infrastructure. But the truth is, most day-to-day disasters happen on the end-user level.

Compromised machines, stolen notebooks, malware infections and hard-drive crashes are at the root of most disasters. Here are tips and tricks to help mitigate the everyday challenges:

1. Don't delegate, automate.

Most help desks are aware that when left to their own devices, end users may not be as vigilant as necessary when it comes to performing backups of mission-critical data. The IT department can eliminate this pitfall by integrating scheduled backups into default computer images.

Both Microsoft Windows XP and Vista clients include built-in backup and restore utilities, which can be configured to ensure continuous data protection via a user-defined schedule.

2. Turn back time with System Restore.

Windows System Restore is a utility that lets users restore their Windows configurations to a previous state. Although System Restore is often associated with providing recovery when driver or software installations go awry, it can really shine when spyware or other malevolent software compromises users' machines.

In many situations, this utility can roll back afflicted machines to a completely uninfected state. But System Restore only works when it is turned on and cataloging system states, so enable it on all user machines.

3. There's no place like home.

Notebook computers are used in a variety of scenarios (online and offline, docked and undocked), but desktop computers in offices are almost invariably online with ready access to network storage. Use this to your advantage by redirecting users' My Documents and other default storage paths onto network shares, where administrators can include them in nightly backups.

Changing the default My Documents location in Windows takes only a few mouse clicks: Locate the My Documents folder in Explorer, right click it, then access the Properties dialog. Browse to the location you want to store to, then click OK. This setting can also be changed remotely using Windows Group Policy.

4. Foster a culture of responsible computing.

Training users to think critically when on the Internet and to practice good "Net hygiene" is perhaps the most important step any organization can take to prevent support calls and, ultimately, data loss. Creating a culture of responsibility starts with training, but it shouldn't end there.

Encourage users at every turn to adopt a "better-safe-than-sorry" mindset when dealing with unfamiliar territory, and make sure they understand that the IT department is there to help them stay out of trouble.
Most help desks would rather answer seemingly inane questions before -- rather than after -- a worm outbreak or system failure.

5. Never say die.

Sometimes, despite IT's best efforts, things go wrong. Backups fail, vital data falls through the cracks, or users simply save errant files over older, usable versions of their work. But even in situations like these, all may not be lost.

Walk your user through a few questions to see if there might be any inadvertent backups of the lost data. USB flash drives, network shares used for collaboration purposes, handheld planners and e-mail attachments are just a few locations where users might retrieve much-needed files in the event of a loss.

A little creative searching can often yield a workable recovery and reduce time spent recreating lost data.

Sep 17 2009