Unlimited Backup Prevents Data Loss

When you store data on your on-site servers, you can run into a couple of problems. First, you risk losing data if internal hardware gets damaged. Second, you can run out of space. Cloud storage from UnisonBDR can solve both of these problems. With unlimited online file backup, you can avoid the danger of receiving expensive fines for losing patient data. You’ll never run out of storage space.

What Is File Compression?

File compression has been important since the invention of computers:

  • Computers, especially older ones, have limited data storage capacity.
  • Floppy disks stored only up to 1.44 MB, which is about the size of a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Dial-up internet connections had limited data transfer speeds, making large files impossible or very slow to download.

Today, file size is more of a concern in dealing with cloud services and mobile devices. File sizes have grown, as a single movie can be 3 or 4 GB. In addition, users want high-speed access to videos and other large files. Since mobile phone companies often charge users per GB of data access and have an interest in providing rapid and high-resolution downloads, file compression is key for reducing client data usage and increasing download speed.

File compression can be achieved in a couple of different ways. Examples of file formats that indicate compressed files are .zip, for zipped files, .sitx, or Stufflt X Archive, and .ipg, or iPod Game File.

Some file formats are natively compressed as part of their format.

Files can be compressed to save space compared to the original file format, but must be decompressed to be accessed.

Compression as Part of a File Format

Some file formats or types are automatically compressed as part of their specifications. They are smaller than other file arrangements, even if they contain the exact same information. For example, a photo that is 1080 x 540 pixels in JEPG format (.jpg file extension) could have a file size of 68 KB. The same photo in portable network graphics format (.png file extension) may have a size of 20 KB.

The end product appears the same, but picking the .png file instead of the .jpg version can allow for easier storage and quicker download for the user. This can be of particular use in the healthcare industry. A medical practice may need to store certain information on mobile devices with limited storage space or a patient may want to quickly download medical images such as MRIs.

Image Compression

Most image formats provide some sort of compression. Imagine a picture with a dark blue lake, a man fishing on a boat and a light blue sky. Compression essentially involves telling the computer to create a code to describe the pattern of colors that will be read when the image is displayed. The specifics of the code vary by format, but the general idea is the same. Identification of the pattern of colors allow most image formats to have some form of compression built in.

As you look around, you may see areas that color patterns that are duplicated, like the water and sky in the description above.

Text Compression

There are multiple algorithms or approaches for file compression of text. The exact one depends on the specific patterns associated with the file, but LZ compression is an example of an algorithm used on text files that illustrates the point. It is the method used to compress text when creating .zip files in Windows. You may recognize .zip as the file extension you get when you send files to a zipped folder to make them small enough to email to someone as an attachment.

The LZ compression method is simple. Normally, as words in a text file are redundantly used, the data is stored multiple times or each time the words are used. In LZ compression, instead of redundant data storage, a marker is placed in the file to indicate how far back the duplicate word is found and how many characters long the similarities are.

For example, take the following file:
“TITLE: UnisonBDR provides the best managed offsite storage in the world. It provides unlimited repository and HIPAA-compliant backup so healthcare providers and health insurance companies can focus on their patients and customers.
BODY: UnisonBDR provides the best managed offsite storage in the world. It provides unlimited repository and HIPAA compliant backup so healthcare providers and health insurance companies can focus on their patients and customers.”

The LZ compression algorithm will replace characters with a notation of how far back a recurring series of letters are, as well as how many letters are the same. In the case above, this file can be compressed, too.

UnisonBDR provides the best managed offsite storage in the world. It provides unlimited storage and HIPAA compliant backup so healthcare providers and health insurance companies can focus on their patients and customers.

This is an over-simplified example but the concept allows you to understand how LZ compression works in reality. In this case, instead of storing the paragraph twice and making the file size twice as long, the algorithm simply marks a notation that at that point (after “BODY:”), the file reader should go back 237 characters (to “UnisonBDR…”) and repeat the text for the next 231 characters (until “…patients and customers”).

This allows this file to be compressed 40 percent – taking up to 40 percent less storage space or be downloaded 40 percent faster.

This example also explains why LZ compression (and other methods) are able to compress most text files very well. Images, on the other hand, do not lend themselves well to this method. You can’t tell a computer to repeat portions of an image for a certain length of the image. Most file compression for images occurs because they are natively compressed, as explained above in the .jpg versus .png example.

Cloud Backup

You’ve probably heard of the “cloud,” but may not know how it relates to data storage or how it can help clinics, hospitals, and dentist offices with HIPAA compliance. Storing data in the cloud means placing it on a server that has a remote physical location that is offsite from you. A hosting company, such as UnisonBDR, takes charge of your medical data repository.

  • You don’t need to purchase and maintain hardware.
  • You don’t need to dedicate space in your facility to house the hardware.
  • You don’t need to worry about backups.

Two major benefits of off-site backups for file compression:

  1. Less bandwidth used to send data offsite. You transfer data to your storage space in the cloud using the internet. Smaller file sizes allow for faster transfer.
  2. Less storage space used on the destination device. This can facilitate data management.

When it comes to data backup, the advantage of compression is different. Compressing files for backup is not a part of the format or the specification of the file type. Instead, it is our software looking at patterns among the files, figuring out how to send and store the files in the most efficient way possible. At the time a file is restored, the process of file compression is reversed as files are decompressed back to their actual size.

File Compression Can Speed File Transfer

Choosing whether to compress files comes down to a trade off of CPU time vs. network bandwidth. In many cases, a few minutes of CPU utilization compressing data can reduce the time it takes to send that data to UnisonBDR’s servers by over an hour.

The faster a file is able to be sent from the customer’s server to our backup one the better. Not only will the backup complete faster, but more network traffic is available for use by our customers. This gives the appearance of sending more data in a given time period than the customer’s computer capability.

The same is true for a restore. Compressed files are faster to send over the internet to the customer; the faster CPU can decompress the data once it arrives.

Saving Customer Costs

Another benefit of backup compression is that it reduces the amount of space used on our storage servers. Most data storage companies use these savings to squeeze more files onto fewer hard drives. Since you’re paying according to how much space you’re using, you can save money by taking less space for the same amount of data. If your data is able to be compressed 50 percent, you may pay 50 percent less for your medical data storage.

Block Level Compression - Another Approach to File Compression

We can’t discuss compression without de-duplication. The previous examples of file compression methods consist of “File-Level Compression.” In reality, our software uses an approach called “Block-Level Compression.”

Block-level compression works because files are not stored as one big chunk but as a series of portions. Right click any Windows file and choose properties to see that “size” and “size on disk” are often two different numbers. This is because a large file is actually broken into 100’s or 1000’s of pieces of the exact same size, called “blocks.” These “blocks” are rarely stored in the exact same section of a hard drive but rather scattered around the HD to any available space. In fact, defragmenting your hard drive is the process of moving these blocks closer together so when a file is read, the blocks are closer together and the file can be read faster.

De-Duplication: Our File Compression and Backup Software

When our software backs up files, it doesn’t look the entire information at once but at each block that make up that file. This allows a technique called de-duplication to occur, where two files that are identical are only backed up and stored once.

Imagine that you back up several Word .docx files on your computer. A majority of these files often consist of identical content, such as the company name, logo, headers, footers, etc. Our software analyzes these files on a block level so it can back up similar sections of a file only once. This adds to an increased backup speed and less overall storage used.

De-duplication can be a standalone topic but compression at a block level allows the benefits of identifying duplicate data occurring across more than a single file to be stored only once.

100 “5MB” files that are identical will not take up 500MB of space like some backups, instead only using 5MB plus some overhead to track the names of the other 99 identical files.

As a recent example of the power of compression and de-duplication, we can manually force a backup for a customer that is performing a software update and needs a current backup.

Although this customer only had a 1 mbps upload connection, our software can backup the files at 50 mbps using the techniques described above to compress the data before sending. Data can be transferred 50 times faster by allowing our software to spend a small amount of time compressing the data first.

The Bottom Line

HIPAA/HITECH compliance poses challenges to the healthcare industry as providers and insurance companies seek to store and manage data. Using file compression, UnisonBDR enables rapid data transfer, unlimited data storage and online backup to provide peace of mind.

What Our Customers Say

“UnisonBDR managed online computer backup was quick, efficient, and thoroughly easy to use. It was truly as easy as a phone call and the staff was able to assist when a problem arose. I had the misfortune of having a total loss of data on my server, but the data was totally restored on my new server exactly as it had been up to the moment of the crash, no corruption or lost data. What a relief!”

‐ Dr. William DDS, Dodge Family Dentistry