Game Over

Nothing can match the stomach churning, sweat inducing panic that you feel when you know you have lost all your data. Think of the lost hours, the lost money and the lost information and what that could mean for your business.

If that hasn’t made you squirm a little, let me tell you a story of how the digital animation giant Pixar almost disappeared. Not with a magic spell but with one tiny bit of code.

/bin/rm -r -f *

toystory2bd-01

Back in 1998 a small crew of Pixar’s animators were working against a hard deadline to produce Toy Story 2 in time for launch. In a project like this every animator is working on the same computer network. One person may be altering the lighting of a shot, whilst another is adjusting the movement of Woodie’s hat in the same scene. As the animators worked, elements of the scene started to disappear. First a texture looked odd, then a character’s face disappeared and then the whole world started to crumble as bodies, props and scenes vanished. By the time the server plugs were pulled only 10% of the original film survived. By mistake someone had entered the master delete code. As the animators’ screens froze and they went to lunch, the gravity of the situation had not yet sunk in.

Every company which holds data should have a backup system. However, according to the Guardian 48% of UK small businesses admitted that they had no regulated plans in place and 78% said they didn’t have a mobile data recovery plan. According to the British Chambers of commerce 93% of businesses who suffer data loss for over 10 days file for bankruptcy within the year.

Fortunately, Pixar had a backup system. Back in 1998 backups were stored on tapes – when one tape was full this would trigger an alert to replace it. However on this occasion no alert was triggered. This meant that as newer work was written it began pushing the older work off the tape, deleting the older more fundamental structures on which the newer animations were based. When this came to light the panic started, the cold sweat ran and an emergency meeting was called.

Today backing up your files is easy. Many online services can backup your data to their own servers and provide a guarantee of data security and quality of service. If you cannot spare the budget for a paid service or would like to organise your own data the UK Data service and ready.gov  provide guidance on how to back up data and what to do if you lose it.

Back at Pixar, with the Toy story 2 project and the fate of the entire company hanging by a thread, one employee shouted “I have a machine back at my house”. It so happened that the Supervising Technical Director on Toy Story 2 had been returning from maternity leave, and working on the film from home, where she had an almost complete copy of the film saved on her hard drive. A team was sent out to collect the machine which held the fate of the entire company on its memory banks. Pixar didn’t go bankrupt that day, but went on to produce some of the most magical films of the last decade. The story could have ended very differently.

Will you be this lucky?

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