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 five tips to help mitigate these everyday challenges.
Most help desks are already aware that when left to their own devices, most end users will rarely, if ever, perform backups of their mission-critical data. Your IT department can eliminate this pitfall by integrating scheduled backups into your company’s default computer images. Both Windows XP  and Windows Vista  clients include built-in backup and restore utilities, which can be configured to ensure continuous data protection via a user-defined schedule.
Windows System Restore is a utility that allows users to restore their Windows configurations to a previous state. While 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 user machines. In many situations, this handy utility can roll back afflicted machines to a completely uninfected state. Of course, System Restore can work only when it is turned on and cataloging system states, so make sure it’s enabled on all user machines.
While notebook computers are often used in a variety of scenarios (online and offline, docked and undocked), desktop computers in company offices are almost invariably online with ready access to network storage. Use this to your advantage by redirecting desktop clients’ My Documents and other default storage paths onto network shares, where administrators can include them in your company’s 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.
Training users to think critically when on the Internet and to practice good “Net hygiene” is perhaps the most important step any IT department can take to prevent support calls and, ultimately, data loss. Creating a culture of responsibility starts with training, but it can’t end there. Encourage users at every turn to employ a “better safe than sorry” mindset when dealing with unfamiliar territory, and make sure they understand that your department is there to help them stay out of trouble. Most help desks would rather answer a seemingly silly question before rather than after a worm outbreak or system failure.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things go wrong. Backups fail, vital data falls through the cracks, or users simply save screw-ups 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 re-creating lost data.
Jason Holbert is a Tier II desktop support technician at Harcros Chemicals, a chemical manufacturer in Kansas City, Kan.