The Backup Van

Most of my clients are small businesses. I like this -- the people making decisions and the people using the stuff, if not the same people, at least know each other really well, and stupidity is kept to a minimum, usually. However, once in a while, I do work with large companies... Things are different in a big business.

In this particular case, it was a new client of mine, but an IT manager I have worked with at several sites over the last many years. We'll call him John. John has a number of people working for him at this job. John had called me in for a meeting, they had a small Y2K issue that snowballed in such a way that they had to replace most of their field servers (short version: Backup software was a problem. This meant a new version of the backup software, which mandated more RAM which these computers couldn't take, so new servers).

In this meeting was John, myself, and about three members of John's staff. We put together a system which was very cost effective and capable -- at a price of about $2000 for the entire server. About half that price was the new tape drive -- we figured that since the old servers were several years old, the likelihood that the old tape drives would keep running for much longer was low, just replace them now. We were quite proud of ourselves...most other people would have soaked them for a much more costly server.

As we are wrapping things up, the CFO of the company, we'll call him "Rob" (because, that's his name) walks into the office. Rather than being impressed that we are putting in new servers for a very good price, he sees the tape drive taking up half the price of the new servers, and decides this is out of line.

Now, I don't know this guy. And he doesn't know me. But the moment of silence told me much.

Remember, I'm a consultant, this is a big client, but one of many. And, they really were not even an active client at that moment, just a prospective client. I prefer to keep it so that I am not dependent upon any one client, so I don't have to take bad jobs. A client that treats backups with indifference is a bad client. Besides, the other people in this room have to work with this guy, I don't. In a situation like this, it is my job to tell the guy he is very wrong, and in this case, as he has made his foolish statement in public, it pretty well mandates that he be told he is wrong in public. Also consider that if it was that same tape drive in a $5000 system, he wouldn't have griped one bit.

In the discussion that followed, his counter points included "We can backup to floppy" (1000 (for a small branch)? Every night? at every branch? yeah, right). "They don't do anything that important at the branch offices, anyway" (oh, I bet they would disagree). Finally, when he couldn't out-logic me, he did something interesting, he tried to discredit me by demonstrating that I don't practice what I preach with regard to redundancy: That was the honest truth.
We got our tape drives.

To be fair to Rob, he became a big believer in proper backup strategy, however, it did take a hard lesson about just how valuable some of their data was, but he did learn his lesson.

Redundancy and backups: It is a way of life.

Copyright 2002, Nick Holland
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