Starting A Data Backup System

March 31st is World Backup Day. In celebration, here are some tips to get your backup system in place.

First, consider all of the data that is on your computer and what would happen to your business if all of it was suddenly gone. How long would it take to reconstruct the data? Would it be even possible to reconstruct the data? You can’t reconstruct email if it wasn’t backed up.

How about orders, invoices, customer data? Accounting data? If it’s not printed on paper the data is probably gone forever and in the case of fire or flood, the printed files may be gone also.

Here are your three main considerations when creating a backup plan:

  • How often it needs to be backed up
  • How much data needs to be backed up (in MB or GB)
  • Where to back up your data

Backing up your data is the most important and most often neglected aspect of running a small business. How often you back up your data depends on how much data you can afford to lose. It can be done continuously, daily, weekly or monthly. Consider the nature of your business and how much new data is being entered to determine the frequency of your back-ups.

I back up my data daily.

Data can be lost due to a hard drive failure, data corruption due to a virus or worm, or theft or destruction of the computer. Because of the latter possibilities, your data also needs to be backed up “off site”. Backing up data from one hard drive to another in the same computer or on the same network will prevent data loss from a hard drive failure or virus, but not from theft, fire or flood.Your options are to back up the data to removable media such as a CD-RW (Read/Write) or DVD-RW disk, a tape drive (both ‘old school’) or an external hard drive (which may include backup software), even a USB ‘thumb drive’ which can now hold gigabytes of data, or use one of the many Internet back-up services. The amount of data generally dictates which method you use.

You don’t have to back up your entire hard drive (drive image), although that may be a good idea, but you need to back up the data contained in your User Profile, including the My Documents folder. That’s why it is important to keep all of your data in one folder on your computer.

This brings up a note about Microsoft’s My Documents folder — On Windows XP it’s actually a subfolder of the Documents and Settings folder. If you back up the Documents and Settings folder, it will include the My Documents folders for all of the users, each users settings for the desktop and Microsoft Office programs, your Internet Explorer Favorites,  plus your email if you use Outlook, Outlook Express or Thunderbird (it’s buried in the hidden Local Settings AND ALSO in the Application Data folder, shown below on an XP computer). If you use another email program that doesn’t store the data in your Documents and Settings folder, make sure you include them in your back-ups.

Drilling down to your backup folders

There’s a ton of backup software to choose from.

If you are using Windows 7 it has a great, free backup system that will do both drive image and regular backups of your personal data, but only to another drive within your computer or an external drive attached to your computer. It won’t back up to a network drive or the Internet.

PC Magazine has regular reviews of backup programs.

Another possibility is to create a backup folder on your web server if you have the available space. Use a backup program that will FTP backed up files. Back up and encrypt or password protect your data and have the program FTP it up to your server.

There are now many commercial online backup services like Mozy, Carbonite and others. Amazon is even getting into the act with their new Amazon Cloud Drive, but it doesn’t integrate well with backup software.

NOTE: TEST YOUR BACKUPS! After your first backup, try to restore a few files to make sure your backup is working. Rename a some random files by adding something like -old to the file name, then restore the original files from your backup. Open the files to make sure they are the same. Then, test it every month or so to make sure you can restore your backed up data.

Whichever means you use, it is best if your backup system runs automatically. If you have to remember to run it, you’re gonna forget. If you forget, you’re gonna lose data. Because it’s not a matter of IF your hard drive crashes, but WHEN.