Data loss is potentially one of the biggest risks to your school. With electronic data storage having (rightfully) become the default setting for schools, it’s important to consider what happens when things go wrong and what can be done to protect our organisations against major failures.
The best approach is to build protection from data loss into your systems and processes from the ground up. Some basic principles to observe include ensuring that all data is backed up off-site in multiple locations at regular intervals. This is a wise move that can help save you money in comparison to on-site solutions.
Consideration should also be given to how quickly you can recover your data when needed and which members of staff will be involved in that recovery. Just as your school will practice evacuations in the event of fire, you should carry out drills based on what the process of recovering data from your backups in the event of a major data loss will involve. It’s always best to be prepared.
It may be that you have some in-house expertise to help support this process. If so, that’s great, but always take care not to rely on just one person’s skills. Bring in some external scrutiny, perhaps from another school, to quality assure practice.
Newer cloud storage solutions, such as European Electronique’s ‘Freedom Cloud’ (see euroele.com) are specifically designed to meet the demands of the education sector. Some promise to take away a lot of time-intensive tasks through managed services, working with schools to ensure that they’re not just compliant but gold-plated with regards to protection against data loss.
When things go wrong
If you experience a major system failure and there’s no backup, things can get very expensive, very quickly. Specialist providers such as Redstor (redstor.com), Stack (stack.co.uk) and Data Clinic (dataclinic.co.uk) are incredibly sophisticated in their ability to recover data.
While it’s possible to recover files from so-called ‘ghost images’, it’s an often complicated and time-consuming process. A considerable amount of analysis needs to be performed on a hard disk before it’s even possible to know whether the data is recoverable.
If the failure is less serious, causing you to lose just one or two files that haven’t been backed up, think back to when you last shared them. Did you email them to someone? Store them on an external hard drive or save them to a cloud service such as Google Drive or Office 365?
Personally, I’ve not been worried about experiencing data loss since 2012, which was when I first adopted the ‘cloud-only’ approach of using Google’s G Suite for Education (see edu.google.co.uk). Free for schools, the service enables me to store an unlimited amount of data in the cloud and access it from any device at any time via a web browser. I don’t feel limited by what it offers, and have been able to perform my full roles as a senior leader and now headteacher using cloud-based tools exclusively. If my laptop breaks or is stolen, I can simply pick up another device, log in via the Google Chrome browser and access all of my files straight away.
This marked a big change in my working habits at first, but has since become my default setting. I now wouldn’t dream of opening up a file stored only locally on my device or onsite server. Sometimes what we need is a rethink, rather than a reboot…
Gary Spracklen is headteacher at The Prince of Wales School, Dorchester, a former Digital Educator of the Year and a member of the government’s Educational Technology Action Group.