Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2008

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

Computer backup is simply the process of storing a copy of your data in a location apart from your hard drive in order to ensure that you always have a copy of that file. Whether it is a system crash, a computer virus, physical damage to the computer or some combination thereof, there are many things that can happen to your computer that can result in the loss of your data. Whether you use the computer for home or for business, there are things on your computer that you just do not want to lose should the worst happen. However you choose to store your data, always keep your backups off-site to insure against a site-specific disaster such as a fire, break-in or flood.

Storage Media

  CD-Rs & DVD-Rs. CD-Rs and CD-RWs can have up to 800 megabytes of storage space and DVD-Rs can hold up to 4,700 megabytes. Once you have written data onto the disk and finalized it, however, that is it; the disk can be used to store nothing else, as the finalizing process means that no more changes can be made to the content of the disk. This might be okay for files that will be kept for archival purposes, but keep in mind the disks are also not indestructible. They can be easily scratched or warped if left exposed to sunlight or other items such as cleaners and solvents. For a more reliable solution (and for files you need and use everyday), there are other solutions that will keep you from purchasing blank CDs and DVDs in bulk.

  Internet backup? Many companies offer secure online data storage and retrieval with automated backup software. While the service is competitive and relatively inexpensive, this is only for those with a high-speed Internet connection. While physical media are limited in how much they can store, an Internet backup drive is essentially unlimited in how much data it can hold. If you have a lot of data to backup, this can be an excellent resource for you. There are many different Internet backup services available online, and they are not difficult to find.

  External hard drive. These allow you to backup large amounts of information in a short time and then take the drive out and store it somewhere else (ideally, off-site in a climate-controlled lock box or vault). They have some definite advantages – they allow you to backup data fairly quickly, and external, removable ones can be moved easily from one machine to another, making it easy to backup multiple machines or to restore data to different machines.

With any of these options, the best bet is to have more than one device so that one is always off-site while the other is available or in use. And if the back up device fails, while it might not be the most recent copy of your data, you will still have access to your files.

  Tape backups. If you’re going to use a tape drive to back up your company’s data, plan on spending at least $1,200 for a reliable one. These are often used on servers or the primary computer on a network. If you decide to go with tapes, be sure to rotate out the old ones on a regular basis and replace them with new ones.

  USB flash memory drive. This is probably the best solution. The increasing storage size of USB drives and their dropping prices makes purchasing multiple high-capacity drives a checkbook-friendly solution. USB drives also do not need to be plugged in to an electrical outlet and only need the one cable to connect it to the computer. Their size is also smaller than a portable hard drive and you can easily fit 250 gigabytes of data into your shirt pocket.

What to Backup

  Fonts & Bookmarks

  My Documents, My Music & My Pictures Folders

  My Downloads - I have a folder on my desktop called “My Downloads”, and every time I download software or a program upgrade it is saved in that folder. Later, if I need to reinstall a program from a CD, I will also have the updates available from this folder.

  Financial Info and Programs - You should be using the backup feature that these come with to do daily backups of this data (and if you aren’t, do it now).

  Your database and accounting files are your most critical data assets. They should be backed up before and after any significant use.

  Last but not least, do a last-minute export of your Microsoft Outlook (or Outlook Express) folders, files and e-mails by using the import/export utility found under the tab at the top called “File”. Save all your folders and sub-folders from Inbox to Contacts as one .pst file. This file may be very large.

How Often to Backup

You need to decide how much work you are willing to risk losing and set your backup schedule accordingly.

Your final step should be to develop a written backup plan that tells you:

  What’s being backed up

  Where it’s being backed up

  How often backups will occur

  Who’s in charge of performing backups

  Who’s in charge of monitoring the success of these backups

These steps will help you recover quickly if the worst should ever happen.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January 2008

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