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Back it Up Baby


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A sometimes overlooked aspect of any business is the protection of the data the business relies upon. Information, such as tax records, personnel documents, and most importantly, data which is given to you by your customers. Important facts and figures that your customers will trust you to protect. In order to ensure that your important data remain intact and accessible at all times you must have a reliable way to back it up. A solid data backup system is absolutely necessary to any business, never doubt that.

Why Bother with Backing Up Data?

So what is the big deal with backing up data anyway? Well, for one thing, if you lose a large amount of important data it could very well put you out of business. No kidding. Only 30% of small businesses which lose a large amount of data are still in business 1 year later. Why? Because if you lose somebody's important data it is unlikely they will still be your customer afterward. Not only that but word tends to get around and once you have a reputation for not being reliable it is very hard to change that. Soon, you have no business at all.

It Can't Happen to Me

Maybe it won't happen to you but did you know:

  • One fourth of all PC users suffer data loss every year.

  • One in ten laptops is stolen within one year after they are purchased. Of those, only 3% are ever recovered. On top of this most laptops (96%) are never linked to a central server for backup at all.

  • Despite the availability of the latest antiviral software computers are still being damaged to the tune of $55 billion dollars every year.

  • Eventually all drives fail. Every one of them.
    So, maybe it won't happen to you, but is it worth taking the chance?

    Backup Methods

    So, what methods are available for properly backing up your data? Let's consider each of them:

  • Tape Drive: This is probably the oldest method of backing up data, other than paper, and it is still used by some businesses today. It is not a great option because tape is probably the easiest medium to corrupt and tape actually wears out physically. It is also really sensitive to heat and moisture and can be damaged easily. Also, in order to store the huge amounts of data kept today you would need a ridiculous amount of tape.

  • ZIP Drive: ZIP drives are a magnetic media similar to the early floppy discs. These have been displaced somewhat by the recordable CD's, DVD's, and the USB flash drives. ZIP drives seem to top out at about 750 MB which places something of a limitation on them when one considers that most hard drives now far exceed this amount of memory.

  • CD/DVD: These are both optical media. The CD has a storage capacity of about 700MB typically but there is an 870 MB version which is uncommonly seen. DVD's have about 6 times this capacity and are therefore are a better fit for today's larger hard drives. How long a CD or a DVD last is dependent on the quality of the disk, how it is stored and how fast it was recorded. To get the best results:

    - Never buy cheap disks. Look for silver or preferably gold label CD's or DVD's.

    - Store your disks in the original jewel case and not laying flat but always upright on edge.

    - Store them in a place where temperature is maintained within a controlled range.

    - Store them in a dark place because light accelerates aging and degradation of data.

    - For better data integrity burn your CD's no faster than 16X and your DVD's no faster than 8X. Of course it will take a little longer but what you are going for here is quality not speed.

  • External Hard Disk Drive: This is essentially the same type of drive you have in your computer but this unit is external and can be transported independently. These drives come with large amounts of memory (more than a terabyte) so they can store everything on your internal hard drive with no problem.

  • Flash Drives: The most popular flash drives I see these days are those “little memory sticks" which plug into the USB port of any computer. I love these and I do have a few of them because they are so convenient to transport data from one location to another. Unfortunately, the media tends to wear out with time so there is a limitation to the number of write and erase cycles.

    Also, there usually is not a write protect mechanism with the device. My nightmare is that since these little guys are so compact and they fit right into my shirt pocket I might just lose one. I have been lucky in that one of my Flash drives fell out of my pocket but I noticed it so nothing was lost. These are great devices and they are very convenient to use but I would not recommend backing up very important data on a regular basis on these. The device is just too easily misplaced.

    What's New?

    By now many of you have heard of the Blu-ray disc. The technology is interesting but a bit more than what I will go into here. Basically, the Blu-ray disc is a disc which is read by a blue laser. What's different about this is that the wavelength of blue light is 405 nanometers which is substantially shorter than the red laser (650 nanometers) used to read a DVD. The result is that a Blu-ray disc will hold a great deal more data than a DVD. In fact, a double layered Blu-ray disc will hold about 50 GB of data which is about 6 times the capacity of a DVD.

    I do not know what the lifespan or integrity is of the Blu-ray disc is so I can make no recommendation concerning it at this time. If any of you have more information about this I would like to hear from you. (see contact us page)

    Now What?

    If you don't already have a system for backing up your data then you obviously need one. Using one of the methods mentioned above is a good start but in and of themselves all of them are vulnerable to data loss. As mentioned previously eventually all drives fail. If you do use one of these methods you need to make certain that your storage is off site. Why? Because, if your office burns down with both your computer and your backup device in the same place, you will lose them both.

    My personal recommendation is that you consider using an online backup system in addition to whatever on-site method you select. Of course if you are a thinking person you are probably going to ask yourself at least a few of these questions:

    - Is it safe to transfer personal/critical data over the internet? This was my first question and the answer is to use an on-line backup provider who utilizes either bank-level or military-level encryption. These are the most secure options and if you do your banking online, as so many of us do, then you already have experience with this technology.

    - What about the added expense? There are many providers out there who charge as little as $10 per month depending on the amount of data to be stored.

    - Is it difficult to learn the software? To be competitive today many providers offer state of the art software designed to be easy to learn and utilize. Also, as with any other business purchase, look for 24/7 telephone support so that you know you are always covered.

    - How do I know who to trust with my data? Look for references, names you are familiar with. Large, well known companies don't typically trust their data to just anyone. Ask for a list of companies using their services and give some of them a call. Isn't that what you do before you hire any employee?

    Finally, find a backup company that offers a free trial period of at least 30 days. This will give you a good month to examine the services and make certain they are who you want managing your backup services.

    Don't neglect this important step in protecting your business. Protecting your vital information is an investment in your business you need to take seriously.

    William Utley is a physician and an entrepreneur. He has a great many interests especially online business. For more advice concerning online business visit

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