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Back It Up, Jack
Jeff Pasternack
What do a half a can of Diet Coke, a burglar, and an eight-pound glass bookend have in common? All of them can deny you access to your hard drive.

Let's describe these cases in a little more detail. Someone spilled the soda into a laptop. Another person's home was burglarized and their computer was swiped. A glass bookend fell from the top of a shelf and landed on the top of the computer case. In all three of these circumstances, owners failed to backup their systems, resulting in angst, frustration and data loss. All three system owners could have avoided much of this grief had they been properly backing up their data.

Backing up data can be as simple as copying data one time to a CD and as complex as setting up a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) on a network storage device. The cost of backing up your data also moves along this complexity continuum. However, according to Bob Mellinger, president of Attainium Corporation, your focus should not be on what it costs to reliably back up your data, but on what it will cost if the data is not backed up.

"Can a business survive hours or days of downtime? What will be the financial impact in terms of income, reputation, and competitive strength? The possibility of terrorism and risks of war, potential damage from natural disasters and not-so-natural hazards, and the possibility of employee error or sabotage are just some of the threats that could endanger data resources," said Mellinger.

Of course, backing up your data is only half the equation. Restoration is the real key. Which means that no matter what type of backup methodology you choose, if you can't restore it, your disaster recovery strategy wasn't worth a hill of beans. Each backup method also has its own challenges when it comes to restoration.

According to Mellinger, "Tape, disk, and other local backup methods can be quite slow if more than a few files are involved, and aren't always reliably recoverable. What's more, if a company's offices are destroyed by whatever disaster caused the loss, so are the backups unless they are stored far enough away to have been spared." Frankly, I couldn't agree with him more, which is why I generally recommend using online backup.

With online backup, all you have to do is find an Internet connection and your data will be at your fingertips. Assuming that your disaster recovery plan includes an alternative business location, you could run over to most any computer shop and buy a cheap box, then contact your software vendors and request express delivery of replacement discs or download keys and be up a running in a day. If you have an application that's hosted by a vendor, they probably have your data and can have you patched right in pretty quickly.

So how does online backup work, exactly? Very easily. I use and chose them based on price surety. They charge $18 a month for 1 gigabyte of storage space. @Backup charges $50 a month for a gigabyte and Connected charges $15 a month for 4 gigabytes but, being a technopeasant, I was concerned about the extra fees that kick in if my monthly transfer exceeds 1gb a month. Connected claims that, "On average, less then 4% of our premium Data Backup subscribers exceed the 1000MB transmission limit." Frequent readers of this column already know how this technopeasant is constantly shafted and I saw this as an opportunity to avoid a potentially unpleasant experience.

Anyway, as you can see from this screen shot, the process for selecting files is very simple. Click your files on the left and click Backup. That's all. Done deal. I used their wizard to set up a scheduled event and specified 800mb of data to backup. The first run through took 15 hours or so. Subsequent backups only take 2 hours because I am doing incremental backups. This means that only changed or new files are transmitted. For a middle-of-the-night exercise, it's a no-brainer operation.

Restoring is also easy. I simply log in through their Web site and download whatever I need from wherever I am. A technopeasant couldn't ask for anything simpler than this.

A bigger organization that's going to store more than just data, however, really needs to have an official disaster recovery plan in place. Server settings, user identities and all sorts of infrastructure settings really require a well-thought out plan that small business or home users may not require.

Each individual and organization has its own requirements and comfort level with technology, and this will partially dictate how disaster and recovery planning are carried out. "The most important thing about a data recovery strategy isn't the medium or the method, but the fact that you must have one," says Mellinger.

Whatever backup solution you choose, one thing must be able to happen: you must be able to restore your data within 24-48 hours of the loss. Your data is too important an asset to lose for any period of time longer than that.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at