Back it up!
Written with the assistance of Jack Barker from The
Document Centre & Offsite Backup.
What to backup?
Where to backup to?
Everyone that uses a computer will suffer data loss at some time.
Rarely a day goes by when I don't hear a tale of woe from someone
who gets a virus, a Hard Drive fails, computer won't boot for
some reason, computer gets stolen, lightning strike and other
natural disasters and the list goes on. Sure, insurance can protect
against many of these situations but losing data can be far more
costly than the loss of the hardware. Recovering data from a corrupt
or broken hard drive can be a very costly exercise too. Paying
a techy for several hours to recover data from a Hard Drive with
a software problem will generally cost from a few hundred dollars,
but recovering data from a Hard Drive with a physical problem
will start at around $3000.00 and go way up from there depending
on the fault.
Ok, how do we protect our computer from data loss? We back up.
We copy our data to a safe place. A safe place is preferably away
from our computer and off the premises, safe from fire, flood,
burglars, spiteful partners/employees and any other circumstances
that can go wrong. A fireproof safe is a good idea, but bear in
mind if your backups are on CDs or similar, the
melting point of plastic is considerably lower than the burning
point of paper.
Regular scheduled backups are an essential part of any business
risk management strategy, just like insuring your premises against
fire or your car for accidental damage. The biggest cause of data
loss is because businesses have no back up plan or do not back
up often enough.
What to backup?
Ask yourself where you would be if suddenly you lost your accounting
data, documents like letters and spreadsheets, emails, databases
and so on. (Donít kid yourself your customers will phone you and
offer to pay you if they donít get a bill from you). Statistics
show that businesses that lose critical computer data go broke
in the following 12 months.
A good practice for a home or sole user is to keep all of your
important data in the one place on your computer. eg The My Documents
folder. This way you only have the one folder of data to remember
to back up. For businesses with a computer Network, all important
data should be saved on a central file server and backups made
from that on a daily basis.
Tip: You can change the Store folder for Outlook and Outlook
Express to a folder inside your My Documents folder so that you
also back up emails when you back up the My Documents folder.
Another useful practice is to set your email client to a leave
a copy on the mail server for a few days. That way if something
dreadful happens, you can re-download the last few days' emails.
Where to backup to?
The size of your organisation and the type and volume of data
you have will determine the best way to protect yourself, but
the main points to consider are:
a) When you lose your data you will want to restore it back, so
the system has to be reliable and someone has to know how to use
b) The system should be as automated and straightforward as possible
so that you know it is going to happen each day when it should.
c) Cost of the backup system vs cost of rebuilding the lost data
manually. eg I once lost a fortnight's worth of accounting data
which took at least another fortnight for staff to rebuild it.
Add up wages to input the data again and the cost of lost productivity
and it's not hard to see that I would have saved money even with
a more expensive backup system in place.
Most removable media comes with software utilities to specify
what data you want to backup and then set it to a schedule, so
that the only thing remaining is to remember to change the tape/drive/CD
etc and/or take it off premises regularly.
||Spare Hard Drive. This is
the most basic option and involves copying your data to a
second hard drive. This can be a hard drive in a removable
rack so that you can swap it and/or take it away with
you after hours (bearing in mind these are often criticised
for causing overheating problems), or an External Hard Drive
(perhaps a USB Hard Drive in a networkable device like the
NSLU2), or even just across to another PC on the Network.
A great free utility for this is EZBackitup.
EZBackitup copies specified directories across to another
Hard Drive or other media. It retains the original directory
structure and doesn't compress so it's very easy to retrieve
the data again, and you can set it to a schedule or multiple
schedules. I find this great to do anyway for stuff I'm always
working on like spread sheets and web pages as I can quickly
and easily revert to yesterday's backup copy if I muff something
Pros/Cons: These options work on the basis of having a
2nd copy of your data. Having a copy on a Network Drive is
great for most situations but doesn't cover for theft or natural
disasters. If copying to a removable drive you have to remember
to take it off premises, and Hard Drives are easily damaged
Cost: Little to no cost. Hard Drive racks are under
$50.00 each (you'll need to buy two if swapping two Hard Drives
regularly) and decent sized Hard Drives can be had for under
$100.00 each new.
||CD burners are cheap &
easy for making backups but be careful as they have their
share of problems.
Pros/Cons: Ever had problems copying music or program
CDs? Well it easily happens to backup data too. When you find
out the backup data is corrupt, it is usually at the very
worst possible time. Rewriteable CDs will give you anything
between 5 and 100 successful rewrites so take care and test
Cost: CD Burners start at under $50.00 and CDs can
cost as little as 20 cents each or less. Watch the cheaper
ones though as they are far more susceptible to scratching
and can tend to become unreadable after a few months. When
burning a CD, the slower the burn the deeper and more permanent
it will be.
||DVD Burners are an improvement
on CD burners and take capacity from around 700MB up to a
standard* 4.7 Gigabytes. (* There are many variations of burners
and disk technology with the current
World Record standing at 27 Gigabytes of data on a single
Pros/Cons: I frequently hear of difficulties installing
DVD Burners and difficulties with actually getting a quality
burn so the same problems as with CD burners remain to some
Cost: From around $150.00 for a really basic burner
and from around $3.00 for a blank (4x) disk.
||Zip Drives: Zip
Drives come in two basic forms - internal & external.
Internal Zip Drives are usually cheaper and faster but involve
some mechanical knowledge to fit. External Zip drives can
be either USB or Firewire.
Pros/Cons: The main drawback is the limited amount
of data you can store on a Zip disk and it can be a pain if
you need more than 1 disk to fit all of your backup as it
means human intervention is required to swap the disks over.
Zips come in various sizes, the mostly common being 100 &
Cost: From around $150.00 for basic 250mb Internal
Zip with a spare disk, and from around $300.00 for a 750mb
Firewire Zip Drive. Disks cost from around $20.00 each for
||USB Memory Sticks: Memory
Sticks come in sizes starting from 32mb of data capacity up
to around 2 gigabytes (at the time of writing). Their ease
of use and price could quite easily be seen to be responsible
for the old 3.5 inch floppy's probable obsolescence and they're
definitely giving Zip Drives a lot of curry too.
Pros/Cons: Limited capacity but cheap & easy to
use and extremely portable. Although I've heard of very few
faults occuring with memory sticks that's not to say they
don't happen, and when they do I'd imagine it would be fairly
terminal and it wouldn't be easy to get the data back off
them. For this reason I'd consider USB Memory sticks best
used for carrying a copy of back up data and never entrusted
with the sole copy of anything important.
Cost: Starting from under $30.00 for the small ones,
but the best value for money would be around the 128 &
256mb sized which would generally be from around $40.00 up
to $100.00 or so. Expect to pay close to $350-400.00 for the
big 2GB units.
||Orb Drives: use a metallic
Disk and take capacity up to 2.2 Gigabytes and there's even
a 5.7 gigabyte model. Orb drives come in Internet (ATAPI
(internal or external), USB
These haven't been hugely popular in Australia for some reason
but elsewhere were being touted as a possible replacement
for CDs. Unfortunately manufacturers Castlewood
appear to have filed for bankruptcy so the future is a little
uncertain for these.
Pros/Cons: Larger capacity than Zip Drives and metal
disks with unlimited re-records.
Cost: From just under $300.00 for an internal 2.2gb
IDE Drive and from around $75.00 for a 2.2gb disk and around
$130.00 each for 5.7gb disks.
||Rev Drives: Rev drives from
are the next step up from Orb Drives and can take up to
90 gigabytes of data compressed onto their 35 gigabyte disk
size. They can be purchased as either Internet (ATAPI
(internal or external), USB
Pros/Cons: A fairly recent addition to the market with
some obvious cost savings over tape systems for those people
too big for a standard Zip Drive but balking at the cost of
a full blown tape system. Metal disks mean long life and low
susceptibility to loss or damage and can be formatted to suit
either PC or Mac.
Cost: Start from around $500.00 for an internal unit
and from around $90.00 each for disks.
||Tape drives have proved
very effective over the years and come in all shapes and sizes.
Make sure your technician sets your system up correctly and
you regularly perform test restores. Much larger amounts of
data can be stored on tapes, your technical support person
should be able to advise what you need.
Most tape drive backup systems can set to be run on a schedule,
after hours. The tape is removed from the drive the next morning,
the next tape inserted and yesterdays backup tape taken offsite
the next night. Usually you need a daily tape (Mon-Thurs),
a weekly tape (Friday) and a monthly tape (month end).
Pros/Cons: You will need several tapes and these can
seem expensive, and you should replace your tapes every 12
months as they do wear out.
Cost: To set up a tape backup system could cost between
$1400 to $4000 (including media).
||Internet based backups are a relatively
new development and work well for small to medium sized businesses,
lap top users etc. New compression and encryption technology
enables large amounts of data to be sent securely (and cheaply)
across the Internet to a remote secure server using a standard
Backups are scheduled to occur automatically on a convenient
schedule each day. No human intervention is required and this
method is particularly suited to low skill level computer
users. Data can be restored securely across the Internet or
via encrypted secure CD.
Internet based backups could be regarded as a secure method
of backup as the encryption ensures only the owner can read
Costs vary according to the amount of compressed data held
but range from $15.00 a week to $20.00 a week on average.
There are no media or hardware costs.
Jack Barker from Off
Site Backup who helped write a lot of this page provides
an Internet based backup service.
* Note that most removable media is usually not secure.
If you donít keep them in a safe place offsite they can be read
on any other computer, and then someone else knows your business.
A couple of quick notes on power protection as one of the biggest
causes of data loss comes as a result of computer equipment being
damaged by power surge or lightning strike.
||Surge Protectors: Every bit of wire that
connects your PC to an external source should be surge protected.
This includes power cables, phone lines, Cable Internet lines,
data cables connected to outdoor WAPs, RF cables connected
to antennas and so on. If it's a cable that comes from somewhere
outside then there's a risk of it carrying a power surge through
to your equipment. I have seen lots of blown Cable & ADSL
modems, Dial-up modems, Fax Machines, PayTV Decoders, Routers,
Network Switches and PCs that were all unplugged from power
yet still were damaged during an electrical storm.
You get what you pay for with surge protectors and the cheaper
the device the less likely it is to respond fast enough to
an actual surge. Look for connected equipment warranties to
spot the quality units. These mean the manufacturer will pay
for any equipment damaged by a surge while it's plugged into
one of their surge protectors.
||UPS: (Uninterruptible Power Supplies).
Ever spent hours on something on the PC only to experience
a blackout and lose it all? Or ever had a blackout and suddenly
the PC won't start up any more due to a damaged Hard Drive?
These situations are where a UPS comes in very handy. Basically
they're a battery backup that takes over during a loss of
power. They start from under $200.00 for a basic unit that
will have surge protection and provide a few minutes for everything
to be saved and the computer shut down safely (all controlled
automatically with the supplied software), up to units that
supply varying amounts of power to keep PCs running until
the mains power comes back on.
Note: For outdoor antennas fitted with gas filled lightning
arrestors, bear in mind that these have a limited life and need
to be replaced every couple of years for them to be effective.