ISSUE 393: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Users know that backing up is hard to do
but it's better than losing essential data May 6
A couple of questions, if I may. How dependent
are you or your business on computers? If your computer, computers, or
network were to suddenly break down, or completely disappear owing to
fire or theft, what would be the effect? (Imagine a scale ranging from
liberating on one end, through mildly irritating, then to disastrous on
the other end.)
Assuming that the loss of your computers would entail
some degree of bother, how prepared are you and your business for this
sort of disaster? No, not insurance -- a cheque in the mail is a minor
consolation if your customer records, your accounts receivable or the
unsold screenplay to a major motion picture have all disappeared.
Instead, let's think about backups.
Backing up your data seems to be the computing
equivalent of going to the dentist. We all know we should. We all know
it's good for us. But most of us manage to make excuses to put it off
as long as possible.
If you work for a big company, this probably isn't an
issue. Hopefully, your computers are on a network, and there's an
ongoing backup strategy in place, backing up machines across the
network in the background or after hours. Presumably your data is safe.
(Though not necessarily the data on that notebook that you're
travelling around with!) But the majority of us may be working for
small businesses, or have important, work-related data on a home
machine. In too many of these cases, there's no backup strategy unless
we make one up ourselves.
Some people only back up their data -- since they have
all their original software, they claim they don't need to back up the
programs installed on the machine. That will work in a pinch (it's
certainly much better than no backups at all!), but most of us have
customized our software settings, and it will take a while to get the
system back the way we had it, and even reinstalling all your software
will probably take the better part of a day.
A new generation of tape drives has provided a
solution for me, however.
I've recently purchased an Iomega Ditto tape
drive. There are various models, designed for tapes ranging from 800
megabytes to 3.2 gigabytes. I got the mid-sized two-gig model, which is
available in an internal version (open the case to install it), and a
slightly more expensive external version that plugs into a PC's printer
port. Since I need to back up multiple computers, I got the external
version for about $300. Tapes are about $20 each.
Finally, it's easy for me to back up regularly. While
it takes a couple of hours to fully back up a system to tape, it can
now happen unattended -- let it run overnight, and in the morning, it's
all done. Regular incremental backups only take a couple of minutes --
I'm getting into the habit of doing them every week. (Those of you with
more critical business data -- sales records, for instance -- may want
to back up at the end of every day, part of a regular closing routine.)
A few things to note, however:
* Watch out for the advertised capacities of backup
units and tapes.
So-called two-gig tapes actually hold one gig of
uncompressed data. Backups can be compressed, so two gigs of compressed
data can be held on one of these tapes -- sometimes. It depends on the
sort of data on your drive. And you'll probably have to explicitly set
the software to get that maximum compression rate, which will make your
backups take longer. (This is not a problem if you're running a full
* Make sure you've set the software to verify your
backup. Again, this will make the backup take nearly twice as long, but
there's not much use to having a backup if you discover, when you need
it, that it's full of errors, and perhaps won't run. It's not a bad
idea to do a test restore from your backups now and then.
* While I'm happy with the Ditto, it's a PC-only
solution. Mac users will have to look elsewhere. And even on PCs,
Iomega has only written software to support DOS, Windows 3.1, and
Windows 95. Users of OS/2, NT, and other PC systems will also have to
find their own solutions.
Nevertheless, you need to have an ongoing backup plan,
and to actually follow through with it. For many home and
small-business users, a new low-cost, high-capacity tape system is
probably the most painless way to go about it for now.
And make that dentist appointment, too.*