Preventive Maintenance Best Practices – CompTIA A+ 220-802: 1.7

| May 23, 2013

To keep things running at peak efficiency, your computer needs occasional maintenance. In this video, you’ll learn some useful techniques for maintaining your PC.

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If you watch my videos through the years, you know that I’m always begging you to do backups. Make sure that you have some data that’s copied to another location, so if something happens to your computer, you’ve always got something to fall back on.

Generally, in larger environments, you’re performing both daily and, weekly backups, and both of files, entire disks, in some cases, images of disks which makes it very easy if you ever need to recover very quickly and get the machine back up and running again.

And if you perform a full backup just as the name implies, you are backing up everything. Everything that happens to be on that computer, you’ve now made a copy of all at the same time. Obviously, a full backup takes quite a bit of time to back up everything on your computer. And if you think about it, there are certain files that certainly change a lot on your computer, but the vast majority of what’s on your system probably doesn’t change very much.

So in those cases you might want to take advantage of a differential backup, where you might perform a full backup once a week, and then throughout the week, you would only back up the things that have changed since the last full backup. That’s called a differential backup, and that can greatly speed up the backup process. Obviously, to restore, you would need to not only restore the full backup, but any differential backups that you’ve made since that point.

Another option for backing up is something called an incremental backup. In that particular case, you’re only backing up what’s changed since the full or incremental backup. So you’re effectively performing a full backup, then performing an incremental backup perhaps a day later. When you perform the next incremental backup it will only be what’s changed since the last incremental backup. And when you have to recover from those, you have to recover the entire full backup and then every single incremental backup that you’ve made since that full backup was taken.

These days we also tend to have our data stored in many different places. You might want to have your data stored on site in a lot of larger environments. You might take that information also offsite, that way, if something was to happen to your building, you’ve still got your backup data stored somewhere safe that’s away from anything that might happen.

There’s also a lot of options these days to store information in the cloud. Usually, you’re encrypting that information and storing it somewhere across the network. That way, when you need to recover, simply connect to the network and pull that information back down again.

A preventive maintenance that I perform on my web server every week is I check the hard drives that are running on that computer. Even though I have this set up in a raid environment with redundancy, I want to be sure that I get any Warning signs the hardware itself may be failing. One good Warning sign comes from the drive itself.

There are a number of statistics and metrics that the drive is keeping track of, and these are called S.M.A.R.T. Statistics. They stand for self-monitoring analysis, and reporting technology. These are statistics that are constantly being generated and if you have the right third-party software, you can look at how that information is changing over time.

You can see how many errors happen to be occurring. And you can see if there happens to be a sharp uptick in the number of errors that might be happening. That way you might be able to get a Warning sign that something might be going wrong with this particular hard drive. It’s also useful to perform some write checks and physical checks of the drive itself.

You might also want to look at the logical layout of the drive to make sure all of your file system is in place, and intact, and working the way you would expect. In Windows, there’s a utility called chkdsk that you can run that’s on your drive properties. And one of the tools available in the Tools tab.

The file systems that we use in Windows very commonly will take the files that we’re saving and split them up into fragments and store them in different places on the drive. Whenever we need to write that file or read that file, that’s spinning drive now has to access all of those different places to put the file back together again, so that we can then access it in the operating system.

If we could somehow rearrange all of those fragments, and move things around on our drive, so that the entire file was all in one place or it was contiguous, then we would be able to access that file with a lot faster read and write time. It certainly would improve the efficiency. If you’d like to run this defrag command, you’ll find it in the drive properties itself. You could also run it right from the command line with the command defrag.

If you look in your Windows Vista or Windows 7, you’ll notice that this is already configured and set up in a weekly schedule. You can find it in your Control Panel, Administrative Tools, under Task Scheduler. Now, obviously, this would only apply if you’re running this on a physical spinning disk. If you’re using an SSD, this fragmentation doesn’t affect your performance at all.

So if you look in this Task Scheduler, you’ll notice that that’s not enabled, because Windows has already recognized that you’re not running a spinning disk, therefore, the defragmentation process is not going to help you.

A good preventive maintenance best practice is to always keep your operating system and its latest version. And Windows has an automatic capability built in called the Windows updates. This will update your operating system with security updates. Those are released by Microsoft once a month. You might also find that there are new features to the operating system that are released, and you’ll find those every time you download an update what new features might be available.

Occasionally, you’ll also get driver updates for the hardware that’s in your system. So to make sure you have the latest driver, you might want to make sure you’re running the Windows update. You have complete control over this update process. The default configuration is to have Windows automatically identify that a download is available. It will download it to your computer and automatically install it.

You also have the option to just downloaded and not install it, but it will notify you that it’s there. Or you can have Windows tell you that there is an update available and wait for you to begin the download process. And if you don’t want any updates on your computer you do have the option to disable this entire Windows update process entirely.

In larger environments, this update process, and really any changes whatsoever to the operating system or the surrounding environment, is tightly controlled. There’s a change control process that you must go through, so that everything can be tested before putting it into effect. This is usually something that is well-documented. It’s an overall philosophy of the organization that protects and make sure that all of your applications, your resources, in the services that you’re providing, are going to be available 100% of the time.

This change and controlling the change that goes back and forth is pretty important. There have been times when these new updates come out, actually, have other problems associated with them. So they might fix one thing, but they might break something else. And the thing that they’re breaking might be much worse than the thing it happens to be fixing.

And that’s why this change control process is in place, so that you can test these things before you put them into production. Usually, there is a process that involves a test and a schedule of when you would implement it. There’s the actual implementation of the change, and then you always need to have a rollback process.

You may have to involve backups and have a secondary process in place in case it doesn’t work properly. Just making these tiny little modifications to an application or to an operating system can have a huge impact, so you want to be sure to minimize any problems that might occur.

It’s not often that you would get a driver update, but sometimes these driver updates can solve problems that you might have interacting with the hardware on your computer. Some drivers are updated a lot more often than others. You’ll notice that something like a mouse or a keyboard hardly ever has a driver update. But something like a video adapter tends to have a lot more frequent updates. The video adapters are much more complex pieces of hardware. So it makes sense that the drivers would be constantly updated.

Many of these drivers are available through Windows update, and it will tell you if new drivers are available for your computer, but not all manufacturers will make their drivers available through Windows update. You may have to go directly to the manufacturer’s website to be able to download the latest version of the drivers for your hardware.

Windows has a huge market share, so it’s, obviously, very attractive to the bad guys. They want to be able to, in fact, take over your computer with their viruses and their malware.

So you want to be sure that the antivirus and antispyware on your computer is constantly updated with the latest signatures. Those signatures are made available, generally, every day by the antivirus and antimalware companies so you want to make sure that you always have the latest ones on your computer. Even missing it by a day might open up an opportunity for the bad guys to then infect your computer.

If you look at your antivirus or your antimalware, there may be a schedule that allows you to set up that automatic downloading and installation of the latest signatures. You might want to set it to be even hourly to make sure you have the latest. If you’re running something like Microsoft Security Essentials, it is set up to perform those updates automatically. There’s nothing that you need to configure it’s always going to keep your machine updated with the latest signatures.

And this is incredibly important, because new viruses and new malware is being released all the time. By having the latest signatures, you can be assured that your computer’s going to be as safe as possible against these threats.

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Category: CompTIA A+ 220-802

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