What Will You Do When Your Hard Drive Dies?

Most small size businesses rely on their data to keep them going on a daily basis. Their Outlook files are often indispensable and contain the history of their communications with the outside world. Unfortunately, few small businesses backup their software or data regularly and even fewer do it properly. According to industry sources “Every hard drive will eventually die at some point”. By following the simple steps outlined below you can save time, money and prevent a disaster from occurring.

1. Backup Your Data –Fortunately there are a variety of hardware and software tools that make this job easier than ever. One solution is to purchase external USB or Firewire hard drives. They are relatively inexpensive ranging from a street price of less than one hundred dollars to several hundred dollars depending on their size. Currently stores such as Best Buy, Fry’s, Amazon, etc. offer 1 Terabyte drives for less than one hundred dollars. The rule of thumb is to purchase a backup drive that is twice as large as the amount of data that you are looking to backup. This allows room for storage of multiple versions of backed up files.

Recently I tested drives made by Maxtor, Buffalo, Toshiba, Iomega and Seagate and have found that most new boxed drives offer reasonable performance along with simple setup and installation. Many of their models come with “One Touch” backup capabilities which allow you to create a backup of your entire drive with the push of a single button. External drives are available in pocketsize and full size versions so that you can choose the one that fits your lifestyle. Faster drives are labeled USB 3.0 and are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 ports, however we did run into some compatibility problems on some USB 3.0 drives that we connected to our USB 3.0 port on our Dell test computer.

Many software packages only backup a portion of your files, such as your “My Documents” folder.Others back up the entire drive including your programs and the operating system. Determine your needs and make sure that all of your important files are in the specified backup folders.

If you are only looking to backup your data files, then you may consider using writeable CDs or DVDs or USB drives. This makes it easy to create a work copy along with an offsite copy. Don’t be lazy. Make sure to keep all copies up to date. Needing to recover yesterday’s files that were never backed up is a prescription for disaster.

Additional tip: If you are using software such as Microsoft Office, turn auto save on for each application. This won’t backup your data, but it may keep you from loosing your work in the event of a power failure or system lockup.

2. Test Your Restore Capabilities –
Being able to restore your data in an easy and timely manner is as critical as your initial backup. Often times, individuals learn that they didn’t setup the backup properly or they didn’t create a recovery disk or they didn’t realize that their backup had error messages, etc. We recommend that, at a minimum, you select or create a directory that does not contain important information, delete it and then try recovering the deleted folder back to your drive. Although this is not as thorough as a full recovery, it is much easier and will often show potential problems that can occur during setup.

3. Keep a Backup Offsite – Now your backup is set, however the job is not done. Earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes and other unpredictable events can jeopardize all of your data and related backups. Don’t put this important step off until tomorrow. Maintain a current backup of your files and store a copy in an offsite location that you can access in the event of emergency. The majority of small and medium size businesses that were wiped out in hurricane Sandy will never reopen because their data was destroyed.

Offsite options include:backing up to CDs, DVD, portable hard drives, USB drives or online services. If you have a high speed connection you can backup your data to online services such as: www.crashplan.com, www.carbonite.com, www.evault.comwww.ibackup.com or a variety of other paid services. I recently tried Carbonite which offers a backup procedure that continuously backs up your selected data files (not programs or operating system files) to their servers whenever your system is idle. They offer flat fee pricing that allows users to backup as much data as they would like. Most of the other services offer similar features with the main difference being price, amount of backup, multi-pc backup and the reputation of the provider.

Realize that each provider has their own tools and pricing structure. Most offer a free trial period. Look for one that is easy to use; has good security and privacy protection and fits your budget criteria.

4. Don’t Panic –
If all else fails, lost data can often be recovered from seriously damaged drives including those exposed to smoke, fire, water etc. There are a variety of companies that will attempt to restore your data for a fee. My personal favorite is www.salvagedata.com. They are one of the largest providers of these services and have recovered thousands of drives including a trashed Maxtor external drive that we sent as a test. Although there is no initial charge to diagnose you drive, recovery can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. How much is your data worth? By following steps one thru four above, you may never need Salvage Data’s services, however it’s good to know that they have the tools and experience to get the job done in the event of an emergency.

This process takes some initial effort and time to setup, however the results are well worth it and you’ll save a lot of grief.