Protect your office – backup your PC!
You may only touch your computer once a day, or you may spend all day working from it, it doesn’t really matter, backing up your PC is like brushing your teeth, you should do it regularly.
Most people site, ‘I don’t understand how to do it’, or ‘I just don’t get around to doing it’, but when your hard drive fails, all your work files, emails, contacts, invoices, financial records, most of it could be gone forever. IT professionals can save some or maybe all of your data, but why take that risk with your business.
Protecting your information should be as important to you as protecting your PC from viruses. I bet you have virus protection on your PC, but did you know that you are only 1% likely to lose files directly as a result of a virus attack. You are 13% likely to suffer a hard drive failure (regardless of whether the PC is new or not).
IT companies have spent years developing software and services to make it easier for you to backup your PC, and the reality is you make this task as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. Most important, however is that its done, regularly!
Most people just want IT to work, so I have had a look at some of the very automated options that you can use to back-up your PC as well as some of the more manual ones.
Extra Hard Drives
Lots of people buy an external hard drive. In addition to your back-ups it can also be used for when your internal drive gets full. Hard drives vary in size, and today they are pretty cheap.
What you can do with your external hard drive is make a direct copy of your entire C:/, D:/Drive or other drives. This includes all files and applications. So if your hard drive fails, you can switch across and keep working (provided that your PC still works). You can connect your external drive via USB 2.0 or FireWire (type of cable for transmitting data).
Another option, is to add another internal hard drive. This sounds complicated, and if you are not into opening up your PC, you might want to avoid it or visit your IT Professional to help you out. As with the external hard drive, you can use your internal drive to create a direct copy. This can be automated using software if you know what you are doing, but it can be tricky.
External drives that hold more than 250GB of data are now smaller than most diaries and are easy to move around. This means that if you need to take your drive with you to visit a client or another work site, you just unplug it and go.
To automate the process of backing up (remember we are trying to keep it easy), you should look out for software to help you. Some external drives come with inbuilt software which enables you to schedule automatic updates. If you are on Windows XP or Vista, both of these operating systems come with built in backup utilities. MAC’s also come with their equivalents. Be sure to ask about software if you decide to buy an external drive.
There are lots of good brands out there such as Seagate, Maxtor and Iomega. Some of these even come with a button that you press to begin your update (still requires you to remember to do this), others can be scheduled to happen every day etc. Set them up once and it all happens for you. You should however check regularly to see if it is working right.
If your home office has more than 1 PC and they are networked, you might want to consider backing them up with a network-attached-storage (NAS) device.
Manual Backups – CD/DVDs & USB Sticks
Using CDs or DVDs is another option that enables you to only backup the most important files and folders. The biggest limitation with the CD/DVD option is space, discs have much less available storage compared to an external drive. CDs hold approx 650MB and DVDs hold 4.7GB. If you go for a double-layer DVD, you could get 8.5GB.
There are various pro’s and con’s regarding CD/DVDs.
• Every new PC that is sold has a CD/DVD burner. Even if it doesn’t you can buy one (they are pretty cheap these days).
• CD/DVDs can be read by any PC.
• CD/DVDs are also pretty inexpensive when purchased in bulk.
• Depending on how you store them, they can also last a while. Obviously some brands are better than others.
• Consider using rewritable discs to save space and money.
• Backing up with CD/DVDs is a totally manual process. It is therefore very time consuming.
• You need to have storage for all of the CD/DVDs
• If the CD/DVD is damaged, so is your data.
• You will need another solution for larger files.
To help you with the burning, you will also need to consider software. Once again there are various applications that you can take a look at and they are relatively inexpensive (under $50). They will support DVD+ and DVD- (including double-layer), as well as DVD-RAM. If you are going to invest in rewritable discs, be sure to purchase software that will enable you to erase existing files. Some software also enables you to encrypt files for some added security.
In summary, the manual process is ideal for some of those key files that you just can’t lose. It isn’t ideal for files/data that is constantly changing.
Flash Drives/USB Sticks
Most people nowadays have one of these (or several). Their capacity is also pretty good these days, ranging up to 32GB.
They perform in a similar way to CD/DVDs. Backing up with them is usually as simple as using Windows Explorer or MAC OS X to drag and drop files into them.
They are ideally suited for files such as presentations or contacts that you need to carry around with you. I would be careful not to place sensitive files within them as they are easy to lose (or be stolen).
Some USB sticks also come with security (password) that provides some protection. There are also versions that support the U3 platform. U3 enables you to carry your software on the same flash drive that carries your files. You can plug it into any PC and work using the application. Most importantly when you unplug it, it leaves no personal data behind.
It sounds like a service reserved for big business but anyone can benefit from an online solution, and with more and more people turning to broadband, it will be the next big thing for the home or office.
The key benefit comes down to simplicity and convenience. In some cases, you could begin your protection literally within minutes. With online solutions you don’t need to purchase nor install any hardware. All you need to do is install an application that you download from the web and the backup process can start immediately.
The added convenience of online solutions is that you can in some cases access your data from any PC that connects to the internet.
The biggest bonus with this option is that it can be a “set and forget” solution. In addition, because your data is stored offsite on a remote server, not in your home, even if your PC was lost/stolen or your house burnt down you data is never lost. You can also downloaded your data to a new PC within minutes.
You might ask, what if the datacentre it was held at was attacked or burnt down? Online services are offered by some very large IT corporations who invest millions into these centres and the security surrounding them. Stick to one of the bigger brands if you feel a little unsure.
Your data is protected at the point of leaving your PC and whilst it is safely stored offsite. The same encryption standards used by banks are used by companies offering these services.
There are also several services available today that offer you unlimited back-up for a set annual fee. This can be very cost effective.
One thing to consider with online services is that your initial backup could be large and take some time as it needs to travel over the internet. This could result in you hitting and passing your monthly download/upload quota. (Both Telstra and Optus include uploads in your monthly access quota.) In this case, your internet service provider would throttle (reduce) your bandwidth speed to a maximum of 54kbps, alternatively, you could be charged for any excesses.
This is most likely to happen during the initial upload. If you are worried about this, you might want to consider initially only backing your key files, and completing the rest over a few months so as to minimise any extra costs.
Online services weren’t designed to create a full copy of your PC’s drives, eg operating system files (MS Windows XP/Vista) and other applications. They will backup what is produced by these applications eg emails, contacts invoices, reports, spreadsheets etc. In most cases you will have the CDs for the application and can reinstall them.
Note that it can also be difficult to do a full backup of some applications as they can make entries in various directories within your PC.
Carbonite was one of the early providers of online backup services. They were first to introduce unlimited backup for a set monthly fee. It backs up your files behind the scenes. Once installed it will automatically back up all the data on your hard drive. You can also manually specify which folders, subfolders, and files you want to store. As long as your computer is on and connected to the internet, Carbonite continuously monitors and backs up your data. Whenever you create a new file or modify an existing one, Carbonite records the changes.
To give you added confidence that it is backing up, it labels each file (within your Office Explorer) with a coloured dot. A green dot indicates that the item has been backed up, while yellow means that a backup is in progress. No dot means you haven’t selected the file for backup. Your files are encrypted and stored securely on remote servers. If something goes wrong and you need to restore, you just launch the program and it guides you through the process. It is actually a very useful service if you purchase a new machine and want to move all the files from one to the other. Best of all is its price, $6 per month for a 12 month subscription. A free 30 day trial is available at www.carbonite.com.au
A similar service is Mozy. Just like Carbonite, once the software is installed you select the files you want to back up and off it goes. Mozy also offers a free version that gives you 2GB of storage capacity, which is great if you are only wishing to backup small files. Their standard service is US$4.95 a month. Other benefits, is that additional assistance can be given for large files eg > 3GB and for Microsoft Outlook files. The service also allows you to access your files from any computer over the internet. www.mozy.com
There are also other variations of Carbonite and Mozy (not many other offer unlimited backup for a flat monthly fee). Some alternatives offer greater flexibility when it comes to administering when and how your files are uploaded and restored. Some also enable you to share files with other users. Consider IBackup, IDrive-E Online Backup, and Xdrive.