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How safe is your data? Tips to safegard IT.

Ever since I have been working with computers I have been told of the importance of backing up my files to protect myself from a hardware failure. This is something that I have found very tedious and time consuming so usually I didn't do it.

Ever since I have been working with computers I have been told of the importance of backing up my files to protect myself from a hardware failure. This is something that I have found very tedious and time consuming so usually I didn’t do it. As I got older, some of my friends were using computers in their small businesses and they didn’t backup either. The scary part is that many small business still do not today or they have a false sense of security and possibly a greater risk of data leakage because of a poorly thought out solution. This is one of those things in life that seems to sell best after an incident. This is similar to the way that many people have a burglar alarm installed after they are robbed. Today, even the smallest of businesses use computers for scheduling, inventory control and financial operations. A hard drive failure or a data leakage can render you out of business.

As our computers got more powerful over the years, backups have become more inconvenient than ever because our hard drives are much larger that they were just a few short years ago. Additionally, many users believe that they have to back up everything which increases the challenge. This has become a bit easier as a result of CD / DVD burners becoming standard on most computers. Additionally the price of hard drives has dropped tremendously. In fact you can now purchase a one terrabyte external hard drive for under $350 and they are even bundled with back up software that allows you to automate the backup and archival processes so that you don’t have to worry at all because it happens automatically in the background. Despite the inexpensive price of backup solutions, your data may still be at risk. Even though you have a neat, automated backup solution, you are still exposed for several reasons.

The first being that your backups are more than likely physically located at the same location as your computer. In the event of fire or theft, it is highly likely that you would loose not only your computer, but your backups as well. Some of you will say, I'm much smarter than that because I transport my backups to another location. What if you lost them in transit? Are your backups encrypted to ensure that the finder can't read them? This could expose you to lawsuits and violation of privacy laws as well. To make matters worse, your backups could fail and you probably would now know that your backup won’t work until you that hardware failure occurs and you attempt to restore your files. You might think that it won’t happen to you, but according to many statistics, nearly half of computer users are affected by lost files each year.

There are now a couple of options that you can implement at a relatively low cost that will backup your critical files to an offsite location. The major benefits in this are that your backups are now stored at an offsite location in a secure, encrypted and managed manner.  I found two services that are geared toward consumers; Carbonite and Mozy.

The first service I looked at was Carbonite. This service charges you a modest annual fee of just $49 to back up as much data as you need.  Your data is encrypted prior to it being transmitted to Carbonite's secure data center so that it is only accessible by you. It is important to point out that the encryption is performed on your local machine prior to transmitting the file. This ensures that your data is safe while in transit and can not be intercepted while in transit. The actual backups take place during your computers idle time so that you do not notice any performance degradation. On the company’s website, you can sign up for a 30 day free trial. When you do so, you will be required to download and install a small back up utility which monitors your files for changes and then it writes an encrypted copy of each file to the offsite backup. Currently, this product is only available for only Windows based computers but they expect to offer a Mac version mid-2008. In the event of a failure, you simply log on to their website and restore the lost files.

When I installed Carbonite on my Windows Vista based laptop, I had no difficulty with the installation and set up. After my initial backup, I began to receive pop-up warnings from Windows stating that the Carbonite application was not responding. I could not resolve the cause of this but I believe that there was a conflict with Microsoft Outlook because I received the same warnings about that application during the time that I had Carbonite installed. As a result, I ended up removing Carbonite and moving on to try Mozy.

The price and promises made by Mozy are essentially the same but Mozy provides you with 2 Gb of free storage with no expiration. Additionally Mozy supports the Mac platform right now. When I installed the Mozy product, I had absolutely no problems with it and I have had it running for several weeks now. My important files are now always backed up. The product offering at Mozy comes in two service levels; MozyHome and MozyPro which you can see in Appendix A. Most individuals and small businesses will be best served by MozyPro. The only instance where I would recommend MozyPro is if you were looking to back up a server since this version explicitly supports the features of a server.

The bottom line is that MozyHome offers you a very inexpensive and easy to use solution to back up your critical files. I am stressing that this is for your critical files! You should still have a periodic image of your computer so that you could perform a full restore in the event of a hard drive meltdown. This image is essentially a time saver more than it is an absolute necessity. You can always sit there and reload your operating system and applications one at a time from the install CD's and then use MozyHome to restore your data. Needless to say this could take you days or even weeks to do. If you have a restore image, this will bring back your operating system, all of your applications and the data as it was when the image was created. After this is complete, you can delete all of your data files and restore the latest version using MozyHome.

In summary, I would recommend MozyHome as the perfect solution to backup your important files. This solution is much safer than the external hard drive that your friends may be recommending to you because it is maintained offsite to protect it from physical damage or theft. Additionally, your backups are being maintained at a secure, state of the art data center that is protected from hard drive failures. An external drive could fail just as the one that you primarily use. The final reason I would recommend it is that at some point in time, you will buy a new computer which will come with a bigger hard drive. When this day comes, you can simply install Mozy and restore your data files to the new computer… Done. No headaches or risks.

Tom Mustac is veteran in the IT business.  He is a contributing writer and is a tremendous source for business applications.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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