Monday, June 16, 2008

Don't Lose Your Computer Files: Do Your Backups

computer destroyed in fire

As more and more critical information gets stored on our computers rather than in paper files, computer backups become increasingly important.

The following is a guest post by Jeannie Shea, owner of Bay To Bay Technical Solutions, LLC. Jeannie helps small business owners all over the San Francisco Bay Area protect and organize their technology.

What is the most important technology problem small business owners face? Recovering from a hardware failure or other disaster that brings down your computer.

The easiest, most painless way to keep your business going when your computer fails you is to have an up-to-date backup of your digital data.

Don’t have a complete data backup? You’re not alone! A typical small business owner will have the following types of files stored on his or her computer, most of them not backed up:
- e-mail correspondence
- contact list or address book
- task list
- financial and tax records
- PDA database
- spreadsheets
- word processing documents
- industry-specific database
- music files
- digital photographs
- “favorite” web site links
- PDFs

What does it mean to "back up" your data? It means all of the important information on your computer gets copied to another physical location: from your computer hard drive to some other device.

This backup device could be:
- an external hard drive plugged in to your computer
- a CD, DVD or old-fashioned Zip drive
- another computer in your office
- a "flash" drive or "thumb" drive that gets plugged into your computer, but is much smaller than an external hard drive
- another computer in a different location, accessed over the Internet (a remote back-up service)

Not every small business's back-up needs are the same. How much data you have will determine the best back-up option for you. Does your computer travel with you during the day? If so, it may not be plugged in when your pre-scheduled back-up tries to start – but there are ways around this usually overlooked problem.

There are many good software applications available now to help you figure out exactly how much data you have to back up; some even figure out where all that data is. (For example, would you know how to find your e-mail signature files to include in a back-up?) And most applications have a trial period, so you can "try before you buy."

I recommend the following three products.

1. Eazy Backup

This software "finds" the data for you (check it carefully though!) and backs it up to a device connected to your computer or network. You’ll have to configure the scheduler yourself, and whether each backup is "full" or "incremental," meaning only files changed since the last back-up get copied.

2. Mozy

This is one of the most popular "remote" backup programs there is, recently featured on Time Magazine’s Top 50 Websites of 2007. You’ll need a fast Internet connection though – no dial-up. The first backup takes hours or even days; after that it only backs up changes – done in minutes. The program runs every few hours at an interval you control – but only when your computer is "idle."

3. Norton Ghost

This isn’t strictly a data backup program, but is designed to take a picture of your computer, called an "image." This is useful when your hard drive crashes, and you want applications and data all back just the way it was, lickety split. You can perform a partial "restore" to find data files included in the image.

Related Post: Backup Your Data: Avoid Heartache and Pain

More good reading on back-ups:
Back Up Your Computer
Why You Should Buy a Backup Harddrive
Surviving Data Disaster: What's Your Backup Plan?

A Different Perspectives on Mozy:
Everybody like Mozy - except me

And just for the Mac users out there:
SuperDuper Mac Backup Utility Now Leopard-Ready
Mozy Mac Client Final Release Available

[Photo from Topato / John, who writes: "This server was destroyed in the Choteau fire in NE Oklahoma on 11/27. This is why I stress to my clients the need for off-site backups. That's a telephone on top.

Any small business owners out there should ask themselves 'What would I do tomorrow if none of my data was retrievable'. The answer in many cases is 'I'd go out of business'. Backups are cheap insurance, and if you don't store them off-site, you will regret it one day."]


Jeannie Shea said...

Jeri, you have provided excellent information in the additional articles you noted; all valuable, all relevant.

Most backup systems are not perfect, the best one is the one you'll actually understand and use. Have two backups! Store one (securely) elsewhere.

Jeri Dansky said...

Jeannie, I like that line about the best system being one you'll actually use; I'm sure my clients will start hearing that from me.

Martin Wright said...

If you are thinking of signing up to Mozy, they offer a 10% discount on new signups.

Find the latest discount codes at