If you don't have reliable backups and your hard disk crashes or your computer is damaged by lightning, fire, flood, theft or sabotage, you could lose hundreds of hours of work and, if you use your computer in a business setting, possibly your job or business as well.
Backing up is a specific type of "save" procedure. You save your word processing, spreadsheet, graphics and other data to another medium besides your hard drive to allow you to recover quickly if you no longer can access them from your hard drive.
Because backing up is so boring, many people don't bother to do it. But there are some innovations in the technology that make backing up easier.
As with just about everything else having to do with personal computing these days, the Internet now plays a role in backup strategizing. A number of companies have begun providing services in which you can back up data on your hard drive to a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server on the Internet using specialized software.
Backing up this way can be slow and relatively expensive compared to other backup solutions, but if you do a lot of traveling, or if you don't otherwise have a backup system that allows you to store data off premises, it can be a workable solution. Internet backup services with good reputations include Connected Online Backup (www.connected.com) and Atrieva (www.atrieva.com).
Another new backup option is the super floppy drive. It has always been possible to back up your data to a conventional 1.44 megabyte floppy disk, but with the files from today's programs mushrooming exponentially, you might need hundreds of disks.
Sony (www.sony.com/storagebysony) is preparing to market a high capacity floppy drive (HiFD) that can replace your existing floppy drive. It not only will be able to read and write to conventional floppies, but also to floppies that hold a whopping 200 megabytes of data. It wasn't long ago when storage space like that was considered to be expansive for a hard drive.
To back up your programs along with your data, and to avoid having to shuffle even super floppies in and out of your computer, you'll need an even higher capacity backup medium. The single most convenient option here is a removable hard drive.
Iomega (www.iomega.com) is expected to begin shipping its new Jaz2GB removable hard drives soon. These drives can hold two gigabytes of data, and like their one gigabyte predecessors, they can be used not only as a backup medium, but also as extra storage space for the programs or data you use every day.
The old standby in backups is the tape drive. These drives aren't as fast or as flexible as removable hard drives, but they offer even larger capacities and are less expensive. The HP Colorado line of tape drives has a long-standing reputation for reasonably priced reliability. Check out www.hp.com/tapefor more information.
When and Why
Regardless of how you back up your data, you should do so regularly. Determine how much data you can afford to lose in terms of the time you spent creating it, whether it's one hour or one week. Then do backups no less frequently than that.
Virtually all tape backup systems come with backup software, and these days virtually all backup software allows you to schedule automatic, unattended backups. If for some reason you don't like the backup software that comes with your system, you can buy a third-party program. There's not a big market for these programs because most people simply use the software that comes with their backup systems or the backup software that comes with Windows 95. The two best third-party backup programs are Seagate Backup Exec [(800) 327-2232] and Cheyenne Backup [(800) 424-3936].
One more point: Running automatic, unattended backups at night is a good idea. The only downside, and it's a small one, is that you need to keep your computer turned on.
Consider storing at least one set of backups off-site, particularly if the data on them are vital for business purposes. Fires, floods and other natural disasters can destroy not only the data on your hard disk, but also your backup disks or tapes.
In a business setting, it's also a good idea to keep secure the backups you store on-site, in a locked file cabinet or safe. It would be relatively easy for someone to slip a disk or tape into his pocket and walk off with confidential information about clients, salaries or manufacturing processes.
Disaster recovery experts recommend you practice recovering from a disaster before one occurs. The thinking here is to make sure the system works and you know exactly what to do ahead of time. According to those who've been through it, there's nothing worse than learning how a backup system works-or doesn't work-under pressure.
What's my backup strategy? I use an Iomega Jazz drive for monthly backups of both data and programs, and I copy data from current projects to conventional floppies on a daily basis. For off-site storage of crucial projects I'm currently working on, I stick the backup floppy in my shirt pocket when I'm out of the office.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or members.home.net/reidgold.