If you’ve ever been a victim of a mild case of computer fever, had a client record you couldn’t open, or accidentally deleted a mailing list, consider yourself lucky. Glitches like that pale in comparison to the ultimate computer disaster—a hard disk crash or a virus that wipes out all of your practice’s records, including client and billing files.
Think it can’t happen to you? Think again!
Computer failures aren’t the only danger. Many business owners tend to think of a computer malfunction as the only risk to their business records. It’s easy to forget about the possibility of fire or flood. Almost every computer in service over a period of several years will suffer a major catastrophe such as a hard disk crash. Imagine what that would mean to your practice. Fortunately, modem technology has made protection from these disasters simple and inexpensive, but you have to give yourself the inoculation. Consider each of your data files and imagine what the consequences would be if that tile disappeared or became unusable.
This will tell you which files you must back up on a regular basis. You can replace a computer that fails; the information it contains, in many cases, is irreplaceable. Here are some steps you can take to give yourself the peace of mind that comes from knowing your business records are safe.
In the early days of desktop computers, backing up was a simple procedure; just pop a floppy disk in a drive and copy your data. Today, most files are much too large to fit on floppies. That’s why manufacturers no longer include floppy drives as standard equipment; some no longer offer them as options. In 1995, Iomega introduced its innovative Zip drive, a format many regarded as the logical successor to the floppy, but that hasn’t happened. One disadvantage was the cost of Zip disks, originally ranging from $5 to $10 per disk. Even with newer Zip disks able to hold up to 750 megabytes (MB) at about $15 each, the ever increasing size of data files has caused many users to look to emerging technology as a better solution to be the backup problem.
Another early format no longer considered practical for business backups is the tape drive. Tape backups are less reliable than other methods. Tapes can break, making them unusable; backups and restores are slower than other methods and tape drives capable of handling large amounts of data are quite expensive. Following are four modern backup methods that provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing your practice records are safe from loss.
CD DVD disks. Compared to early floppies that held a maximum of 1.4 MB of data,
CDs can hold as much as 800 MB, and DVDs can hold upward of 4.7 gigabytes (GB). There are few sets of practice records that cannot be accommodated by CDs or DVDs.
A single DVD, with its massive storage capacity, can be bought for around $1.25; CDs cost only pennies each.
Most new computers come with CD/DVD drives built in. As recently as six years ago, a DVD drive went for as much as $500 and a single DVD disk for $35.
You should keep in mind disks have their own set of disadvantages. Some users have reported disks that became unreadable after a few uses, others readable only in the drives in which they were created.
We consider disks a good short-term solution, but we don’t recommend them for long-term archival purposes. Disks are fine for transporting data from one place to another. You should keep in mind that just one scratch can make a disk unusable.
As far as cost is concerned, CD and DVD disks can’t be beat. For most users, they should be adequate and would certainly be the least expensive.
Jump, Flash, USB drives. So-called “jump” drives are tiny plug-and-play portable storage devices that use flash memory for data storage. As small as one-half inch by two inches, they can be toted around in a shirt pocket. Jump drives will work with any newer PC or Mac with a USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 port.
When you plug a jump drive into a USB port, your computer automatically assigns it to the next available drive letter. Then, just use the drag and drop method to transfer files and folders. If you are backing up less than 2 GB of data, I highly recommend using inexpensive USB jump drives. They’re a great way of backing up and transporting data quickly and easily. You can never make too many backups. Just make sure you organize multiple backups so you can find what you need easily in case of an emergency.
Jump drives have one major disadvantage. They’re so small that they’re easy to misplace or lose.
External hard drives. As you know, the “permanent” storage device on your computer is its hard drive. This is where all of your applications and data files reside. The use of a second hard drive for backing up data is arguably the most popular of all systems. The method of choice for backups is the addition of an external hard drive. Plug the device into a USB port and copy your entire library of data files.
For the ultimate in protection, unplug the drive and take it home with you at night for safe, off-site storage.
The latest external hard drives have also benefited from technological downsizing. For about $100, you can purchase a 250 GB drive that is smaller than your favorite novel. Even smaller drives with a capacity of 20 GB (more than enough space to store all of the data files for a typical practice) are no larger than a cigarette package. For the ultimate in compactness, we like this option. Most people have very good luck with them. However, you won’t go wrong with any of the major manufacturers such as Maxtor and Iomega.
Maxtor drives, bundled with Dantz Retrospect software, include a one-touch backup button. Just press the button and do other work while your computer handles the backup procedure automatically.
Online data storage. Practitioners who prefer not to invest in backup hardware and the bother of toting physical backups to an off-site location have an alternative method that helps solve both of those issues. Online data storage allows you to log on to a secured website where you may upload your files for storage and recovery.
The costs for online storage vary according to the capacity you require. Ibackup.com offers a basic plan with 5 GB of storage space for $9.95 per month. An enhanced plan with additional features costs $14.95 per month. Packages of up to 300 GB are available from Ibackup. Rates from other companies are similar. Iron Mountain (www.ironmountain.com} offers a plan with 2 GB of space for approximately $165 per year. All companies encrypt their stored data so it cannot be accessed by unauthorized persons.
You may be entitled to free online storage space if you have an account at Hotmail or Yahoo. Also, some Internet service providers offer limited storage space to their account holders at no additional charge. There’s one caution with online data storage that you should keep in mind. If the provider’s server goes down, you won’t be able to backup or have access to your files until the problem is fixed. That’s why I consider online data storage a supplement to traditional backups, not a replacement. While online backups are popular with many professionals, you should not think of them as fool proof.
Schedule Regular Backups
Remember that protecting your practice against data loss will be effective only if you perform your backups on a regular basis. How often should you back up your data? If you use your computer only occasionally, a weekly backup might be enough. However, in your practice, it is likely that important information in your computer changes every day. That’s why you should make backing up a regular part of your daily routine.
For the ultimate in protection, always store a backup copy of your data off site. When a client of mine’s building was destroyed by fire, I asked if he had current backups of his business data.
‘Sure,’ he replied. When I asked where they were, he pointed to his burnt-out building.
Finally, whatever backup option you choose, be sure to do a test restore occasionally to make certain it is working properly. Don’t wait until you have a catastrophic loss to discover your backups don’t work.