--Alan Zisman

Backing up computer information is a dull job
but it may be the most important thing you do

Like going to the dentist, we all know that backing up the data on our computers is something we should do regularly.

But, despite that, it's more like Neil Sedaka never sang: "They say that backing up is hard to do."

Well, I'm going to add my voice to the chorus. You really ought to have a good backup strategy. And -- here's the hard part -- do it. Regularly.

If you're using computers for work, think about what value you place on your data. The hardware and software are replaceable. But what's the value of your data?

Hard drives crash. (I know. I lost the drive on a 13-month-old notebook -- just past warranty -- a year or so ago.) But that's not all. Your data is vulnerable to fire. Or theft. Computer viruses. Your kid dragging all your data to the Trash/Recycle Bin. The list goes on and on. In the end, the best protection is regular backups.

You know that. But do you do it?

Even with good intentions, it's not always as easy or convenient as we might like. Windows 95 users, for example, get a free backup utility included with the operating system. But it's not installed by default. And it probably shouldn't be -- it's a poor excuse for a utility. If you've purchased a tape drive or high-capacity removable drive, however, you probably got backup software with the hardware.

Even so, most of this software doesn't make it convenient to restore your system after a crash. Typically, you have to re-install Windows 95. Then install the backup software. Finally (an hour or two after you started), you're ready to restore your system from the backup. Only to find, perhaps, that your software doesn't properly restore Win95's vital System Registry.

If you're going to be serious about backups, you should get serious about backup software. Seagate, better known for its hard drives, also has a software division -- Seagate Software. They have a big operation in Vancouver, best known for Crystal Reports. Their Florida-based Storage Management Group specializes in backup software. Seagate's Backup Exec comes in a range of products, for various networks and a range of desktop operating systems.

Seagate's Backup Exec for Windows 95 (now in version 2.0) does a good job of by-
passing most of the obstacles in the way of backing up and restoring Win 95 systems. It supports a wide range of tape drives, removable storage, even recordable CDs. It properly reads and restores the System Registry. Best of all, it allows the user to create an emergency floppy disk. Booting your system from that disk makes it possible to completely restore your system, without having to first install Win95 or other software.

Microsoft has recognized the superiority
of this product and a scaled-down version of Backup Exec is going to ship with Windows 98. Check with the maker at

With the Internet becoming so pervasive, it's not surprising that Internet-based backup plans are proliferating. Ontario-based StorageTek Canada (, together with Calgary's TeleBackup Systems, is offering Internet-based backup for companies and individuals. The company is hoping that its service, using its proprietary REX software, will soon be available from selected Internet Service Providers and others. They've been joined in an alliance with Vancouver's Reconnaissance Technologies (, which offers Global Replace, a service aimed at overnight hardware replacement for notebook-toting busi-
ness travellers. The companies note that an estimated 900,000 notebooks were stolen or damaged last year and hope that combining backup and replacement at a monthly price of $49.95 will prove popular.

In an earlier column, I compared backing up to going to the dentist. Soon after, I was contacted by Vancouver dentist Les Kallos, but not because he disagreed with the metaphor. Recognizing the need, he'd started up Teledata Backup Systems (264-1191), which also offers online backups. Teledata, however, doesn't use the Internet. Kallos points out that modem connections over the Internet are almost always slower than connecting directly. Instead of using the Net, Teledata's customers use backup software that connects directly by phone to the company's server. This avoids any security problems over the Internet and maximizes connection speeds. While it's DOS-based, the software works well under Windows 3.1, 95, or NT and can be set to run automatically, perhaps every evening. The software even automatically upgrades itself as new versions become available. The service, aimed at small business and home users, costs about $30 a month (depending on proposed usage).

If you want to back up your entire, multi-
gigabyte drive, don't even think of using a modem and online service. Instead, invest in something like a tape drive. Make full backups regularly and incremental backups of changed files even more regularly. And test your backups. Few things are more frustrating than needing to restore a backup and finding the tape is faulty.*

Search WWW Search

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