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    You can’t move forward without backing up

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver March 28-April 3, 2006; issue 857

    High Tech Office column; 

    Over the years, I’ve concluded that backing up data is like dental hygiene: not something that most of us particularly like to do, but a relatively minor chore if it’s done regularly. If it’s ignored, however, it will almost certainly result in major pain in the future.

    Unfortunately, too many of us put off regular backup hygiene. Some estimates suggest up to 70 per cent of businesses – particularly small and mid-sized companies – aren’t backing up at all. Other estimates claim that among businesses that lose their data for 10 days or more, half file for bankruptcy almost immediately and 93 per cent are bankrupt within a year.

    Vancouver engineering firm Condor Rebar Consultants investigated backup options. It concluded that, though widely used, tape backups were difficult to manage and unreliable. Mirroring – making a duplicate of one computer’s data on another – led to problems: if a file was deleted on the first computer, it was also erased on the mirror. Storing large amounts of data online was expensive and impractical.

    Proprietary hardware and software systems were too expensive. Ultimately, Condor chose to design its own; after fine-tuning it on-site, it has begun to market its DataVault backup system to other small and mid-sized businesses (

    Signing on to DataVault gives each client a pair of tiny Linux-powered dedicated backup computers and a pair of external USB 2.0 hard drives. One system remains on site, the other is kept at a remote location like the owner’s home.

    The backed up data is readily accessed using simple Windows File Sharing or password-protected FTP. While being transferred between the on-site and remote locations, data is protected with secure 1024-bit encryption.

    After an initial full backup, only changed data is backed up; it is compressed for transmission to the remote location, minimizing the time to transfer the data. Hardware and data is owned by the clients and stored only at the clients’ locations. With this system, a client maintains two backups of its current data along with an archive of changes. This archive can be kept as long as needed, something that’s becoming increasingly important with stiffer regulations affecting many industries. As the external hard drives fill up, they can be replaced and stored as a data library. Many backup schemes require users to install recovery software first in order to retrieve data. With DataVault, the stored data is not in any proprietary format and can be opened using standard applications. DataVault uses powerful but easy to use open source Cobian Backup, but clients can use other backup programs as long as they can be set to backup to the shared network hard drive. The initial $1,000 setup cost includes installation and hardware. Condor also charges a $150 monthly fee.

    Condor/DataVault hopes to provide customized, automated systems for small to mid-sized businesses. Smaller or home-based offices may prefer to create their own, combining software such as the free Cobian Backup for Windows or Silverkeeper for Mac with an external hard drive. If relatively small amounts of data are involved, consider an online backup, such as Toronto-based Acpana Data Deposit Box, which costs about $0.01 per megabyte per month ( or iBackup (about $120 per year for five gigabytes:

    Your data is vital to your business. If you’re not regularly backing it up, it’s time to improve your backup hygiene.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan