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COMPUTER FORUM
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COMPUTER FORUM

I am very excited to be joining the ranks of the writers of The Plastics Distributor and Fabricator Magazine and I hope this column can directly meet your computer information needs. The editor and I determined that the best approach to adopt is a question and answer format. This will allow you to steer the subject matter in a direction that can directly impact your business.

My 36 year work experience has been in varied fields, from data process management to the design of laboratory statistical systems, with a diverse batch of industrial, service and research positions sandwiched in between. This background allows me to evaluate different business and industrial processes and recommend potential solutions. I can also address detailed questions that arise in these systems.

To kick off my column, the following question was solicited by phone from you, the readers.

What is the best approach to preventing data loss in an industrial setting?

Since there are many threats to data integrity on any management system, there is no single approach to this problem. They range from unintentional introduction of a computer virus to accidental power disruption. Since we have greater up-front control on power disruption let's deal with it first.

Electrical system planning and regularly scheduled hardware checks combined with the usual two-pronged approach of power (or surge) protection and data back-ups should prevent data loss. These sound like involved, time-consuming demands on your undoubtedly busy schedule, but, along with disaster recovery planning in the event of a system crash, these methods have proven to be successful time and time again when loss of critical data is a danger.

Power disruption is the major cause of system crashes that are, in turn, the major cause of data corruption and loss. Although not the only necessary route, isolating the computer system's power supply from any industrial equipment is the best way to prevent power loss or disruption.

Since it is not always possible to totally isolate the computer's power supply, surge protection becomes critical. With machinery being used on the manufacturing floor power drains are very high and often erratic. The power surges or dips each time the equipment is turned on or off and each time the equipment cycles through a part of its procedure.

Surge protection can be achieved at many points in the power chain, and the best placement depends on the individual situation. The most immediate control on this is to have your individual computer plugged into a good quality surge protector, and don't forget to protect the phone line to the modem - a lightning strike to a phone cable can easily knock out your modem or even your computer's motherboard.

Isolating and protecting the single power line branch to your computers is more difficult but allows protection of a group of computers. Many modern high-tech office buildings have surge protection built in at the power inlet location, protecting the entire building from power spikes and surges. Even so, if the source of the power disruption is industrial machinery inside the building, this will be of no value. If you rent, it is advisable to check this out with your landlord.

A major disadvantage of mere surge protection can be seen when there is a power loss due to a lightning strike or some other power loss. The solution to this problem is a better form of data protection known as the uninterruptible power supply (UPS.) UPS's contain batteries that maintain their charge while the power is on and use that stored power to keep the computer up and running for a period of time after the power goes out. Sold by many manufacturers, they are capable of protecting on the same levels as surge protectors.

Regularly scheduled hardware checks can be performed by software utility programs that determine your hardware's ability to perform its tasks. A good example of such a program is the well know Norton Utilities®. It can be used to scan the surface of your hard disk drive to determine its ability to store data without danger of immediate loss. System diagnostics programs supplied by most computer manufacturers perform this type of test and many more to determine the functionality of your your hardware.

Finally, the importance of regularly backing up your data to a tape, disk or some other isolated storage device cannot be overemphasized. I myself have become all too complacent in this area at times due to the reliability of modern computers. However, it only takes one crash to teach us the critical importance of this procedure. Unfortunately, that one crash can have devastating effects. Along with our faith in modern computer's, we now store more data in digital form and maintain less hard copies - after all, isn't a computer for storing and viewing data? How would you run your business if you lost all your files?

Jerry Garden is a computer consultant and data management system developer, specializing in small business systems. He is anxious to help you answer your business technology questions. He can be reached by email at jgarden@plasticsmag.com. Or write him at: The Plastics Distributor & Fabricator Magazine, 2701 North Pulaski Road, Chicago IL 60639.

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