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Data backup security measures to take ahead of a hurricane

In this firsthand look, IT and storage expert Brien Posey details how he secured data backup and other important system elements as Hurricane Florence approached.

As someone who frequently writes about backup and disaster recovery techniques, I often find myself thinking through various DR scenarios. In September, I had to prepare for a real-life disaster as Hurricane Florence set its sights on the state where I live.

Hurricanes are somewhat unique as disasters go in that they do not strike without warning like other disasters, such as a fire or a tornado. I knew that a hurricane was headed my way about a week before it actually got here, so I had time to ensure my data backup security measures were in place.

I approached my storm preparations by considering two key questions. First, how is the storm most likely to impact me? Second, how should I be prioritizing my time in the lead-up to the storm's arrival?

It was relatively easy for me to answer the question of what type of impact I could expect from the storm. The topography of the area where I live makes flooding all but impossible, in spite of the fact that I live near a large body of water. As such, I ascertained that the larger threat would be wind-related damage. I live in a heavily wooded area with plenty of trees that could potentially come down. As part of my preparation, I measured the height of some of the bigger trees to determine whether or not they actually posed a threat.

I was also concerned about the potential for a power outage. Even though my utilities are underground, the power lines are presumably above ground at some point between the power plant and my location.

Ensuring data has shelter from the storm

Based on the locations of the large trees, I determined that my server room was not at risk of being taken out by a tree. The room is also on the second floor, which meant that even if some minor flooding did occur, the servers should be safe. However, if the wind were to rip the roof off, then the servers would most likely be lost. As such, I knew that I had to do something to strengthen my data backup security measures.

I knew that a hurricane was headed my way about a week before it actually got here, so I had time to ensure my data backup security measures were in place.

My production infrastructure is based on Microsoft Hyper-V. I have a single production VM that acts as a file server and I replicate that VM and its contents to a secondary Hyper-V server as a way of insulating myself against hardware failure.

In preparation for the storm, my backup security measures included taking my replica server offline and copying all of its virtual hard disks to a series of 5 TB portable hard drives. In doing so, I made three separate copies of my data. I sealed two of the copies in separate waterproof containers that I had found in a camping store. I stored the first copy in a vault that is heavy enough that it would not be crushed by a falling tree and would not blow away in hurricane-force winds. I stored the second copy in my vehicle. That way, if I made a last-second decision to evacuate, I would already have a backup of my data ready to go. For further data backup security, I mailed the third copy to a trusted family member in another part of the country that would not be affected by the storm.

The disadvantage to these backup security measures is that offline backups cannot be updated in real time. For me, this was not a problem because I knew that I was going to be so busy with preparing for the storm that I wouldn't be creating much data. What little I did create, I saved to the cloud for data backup security.

I also knew that I had to prepare for an extended power outage. I have a generator, but a limited amount of fuel on hand. In the amount of time that I had to prepare, I was able to acquire a solar array that was set up to power several USB devices. In the event of an extended power outage, I surmised that I might be able to use it to charge my smartphone and keep up with email.

I also removed the batteries from my boat. Since I had to secure my boat in preparation for the approaching storm anyway, I took a few extra minutes to remove the batteries and bring them home. In a pinch, I knew that I would be able to attach an inverter to the batteries and power a laptop.

Thankfully, the hurricane weakened significantly before it arrived and I did not sustain any serious damage. Even so, I know that it is only a matter of time before a stronger storm eventually hits. Preparing for Hurricane Florence gave me considerable insight into what I need to do to prepare for the next one with comprehensive backup security measures.

This was last published in December 2018

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