Surviving Data Disaster: What’s Your Backup Plan?

Data Recovery

Hardware fails. Accidents happen. And like it or not, your computer will die – suddenly, unexpectedly, and when it’s least convenient. There’s no avoiding this cold hard fact of life. But how much money your business loses – that’s completely under your control if you set up a smart backup plan now. Here’s how to do it – and it’s easier/cheaper than you think. Read on.

Pop Quiz
If your computer(s) died permanently today …

  • How much data would you lose forever because you’ve never backed it up?
  • How long would it take you to get new hardware/software into your hands?
  • How long would it take you to do all the setup you need to get back where you were before the crash?

Whatever you answers are, they represent money you lose forever – either due to losing data, buying new equipment, or spending time setting things up (time that you could otherwise be using to generate money). And if you don’t have a backup plan in place, you’re looking at a substantial expense … or in some cases, a loss of the business entirely. (There’s a reason that backup solutions are called “Disaster Recovery Plans.”)

Most people who don’t have backup plans in place are in that position because they “don’t have the time” to set up a system to protect their data. So I’m tackling this from the perspective of a small business owner who doesn’t have the time/money to invest in an all-encompassing solution, and wants to start out as simply as possible.

How To Get Started (The Very Basics)

The first stage of a Disaster Recovery plan is simply backing up all your important data. And it’s never been cheaper to do so – you can hit your local computer store and pick up monster-sized external hard drives for less than a hundred dollars. They plug right into a USB port and are ready to go with little or no setup. I just picked up a pair of 320 GB external drives yesterday for $70 a piece, plugged them in, and was good to go.

So here’s how you can do a quick-and-dirty backup of all the data you need to keep your business cranking.

Step 1: Get All Your Data In One Place

It’s not uncommon for people to save their data all over the place on their hard drive – or even on multiple computers. This may be convenient in the short term, but it’ll hose you when it comes to backups. It’s a smart habit to keep your data consolidated in one place, even if it’s simply a directory called “Data” on your hard drive.

If you use multiple computers, you need to think about the best way to do this for your situation. If your machines are all on a network, then having a designated, shared place for all computers to save their data will take care of it. If you’ve got non-networked or mobile machines, save to a standard place on each machine so their files don’t get lost.

Step 2: Get Your Hands On Some Backup Drives

Add up all the space you’re using currently and (at least) double it. This guarantees your ability to backup your data, and gives you room to grow. Once you’ve done that, pick up a pair of external hard drives that match the size you need. Again, storage is dirt cheap these days, so buying two won’t set you back that much (especially when compared to the cost of not having them when you need them).

Step 3: Copy All Your Data To One Drive, Then Copy To The Other

Backup all the data from your computer(s) onto one of the external drives, then copy the first external drive to the other. You’ll probably want to do this overnight, since it will likely take a while. Why two drives? Think about it – if you backed up all your data to only one drive, and that drive failed, you’d be stuck. Not so with the pair – you’re even more protected.

Step 4: Hide The Second Drive

Take the second drive and get it out of the building. Now you’re data’s safe even in the event of a fire.

Step 5: Schedule Regular Backups

You’re not done yet – you need to schedule repeat backups on a regular basis. How often/how thoroughly you backup depends on different factors and is unique to your business. Just don’t neglect it – because the price of failure is pretty steep.

Again, keep in mind that this isn’t the optimal backup solution – there are a lot of ways you could do this more efficiently. But if you’ve got no plan at the moment, this will at least get you started, and that’s the most important thing.

In upcoming articles I’ll give more sophisticated ways of protecting your data, but for the moment …

Now It’s Your Turn

How do you back up your business? Share your strategies, tips and tricks below.


  1. says

    just get’s full home service for $5.00 per month for unlimited storage, it’s off-site, it backs up, and for $60.00 per year or so (hmm, isn’t a 120Gb drive more than that anyway?) it’s an easy way to keep the data safe.

    I learned about that little trick from some IP lawyers I know that use the service. Plus it’s Mac compliant too.


  2. says

    Completely agree with off site storage!
    Just remember, 92% of your ITs out there are getting paid less than they want and really don’t like the way you treat them!

    Don’t rely on anyone else but yourself to backup your stuff. …at a minimum, your most important stuff!

    I wish this article was preached across the nation ;)

  3. says

    i’m a mozy pro client as well. i learned from my dad, who’s company burned to the ground when i was in the 5th grade to expect the unexpected and plan for disasters as much as possible. a third party back up off site is about as good as you can get for protecting your data.

  4. says

    Fred / Erin
    Mozy looks good and is certainly seems like a good service. As I mentioned in the article, everyone’s needs are different and by no means was I trying to present a total solution – just *something* to get the ball rolling.

    The reason(s) I focused on a hard-disk rather than hosted solution in this article was to accommodate a few issues common to some entrepreneurs:

    Some people (esp. graphic/audio/video people) may be maintaining 150-300GB of data at any given time. This presents some issues:

    • Mozy’s Home service is for non-commercial accounts (and they likely monitor bandwidth to detect business users). Plus, it’s unclear what liability issues may be incurred from violating terms of service.
    • Mozy’s Pro service is 50 cents/GB/month – for the above users, this would run $75-$150 a month (but that may actually be worth it if the time savings can be translated into sales).
    • Backing up large amounts of data online takes more time then a direct-to-disk connection, and may not be feasible for large archives.
    • Online companies are not immune to going out of business – if that happens, where does your data go?

    Again, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t use an online backup service – it just may not be the best fit for all businesses. If your needs are small enough, using two competing services may give you more peace of mind as well. :-)

    It’s all about what makes sense for your particular situation, with your own particular risk tolerances. I’d wager that if someone tried my suggestion and outgrew it, they’d be in a better state of mind to take action and go with a better fit … which is the whole goal of the post (moving from ‘someday’ to ‘now’).

    Thanks so much for your comments, and if you know any additional online storage places, add them to the comments for others to benefit from.

  5. says

    Great stuff Dave.

    I use a Maxtor One Touch drive. It comes with really great software. You can set it to backup whenever you want (like at night after you leave, taking the other drive with you). The software also allows you to set up which folders you want to backup which is nice if you’re data is scattered around the PC.

  6. says

    Any recommendations for doing full system image backups rather than just basic data?

    I really need full system backups to avoid having to reinstall the operating system and all the apps.

    my laptop’s hard drive just failed this past weekend and it’s been a major headache trying to get my system environment back to the way it was.

  7. says

    Ryan –

    Norton Ghost is the way to go for you. I manage a dozen machines at my job, and it’s a quick and easy way to store your whole configuration – literally a snapshot of your machine.

    And you don’t need the latest version ($70) – we use Ghost 2003 here ($9!) and it works just fine. Only get the latest version if you need the additional features.

    One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the backup image will be roughly 25%-75% of the original size – meaning if you’ve got 50 GB on your machine, you’re looking at a 25-40GB image.

    What we do here is separate data from environment. Here’s how:

    • Use Partition Magic to split your hard drive into two partitions (C: = operating system/applications, D: = data). C:\ can be a lot smaller (like 10GB), since it’s just the OS and programs.
    • When your C: is exactly the way you want it, use Ghost to make an image of it and store it on D:
    • Immediately back up the Ghost image from D: onto DVDs (this way if the hard drive dies, you can use the DVDs to restore from)
    • Keep all your data on D: and back up as needed.

    Enjoy! Check this guide out (scroll down for the Ghost info) for the step-by-step …

  8. says

    Hey, Dave, thanks for the great advice. I’ve been burned badly twice before and you’d think I’d have this covered. But like you said, we get busy and either put it off or don’t give it a second thought.

    I an almost complete business plan (127 pages) and on another occasion a catalog for a company. Now I produce a business blog and this is just good business sense. Why do we tempt fate?

  9. Mosey says

    My colleague was telling me that Acronis (whilst not free but does have a free trial period) is *The* backup software – it images your entire drive – so you can choose to mount it as a new drive (within a new drive should anything happen) or just image the whole thing to a new computer/backup. He said it was very compact at least!
    At the moment, I’m using SyncBack (the free version) to do weekly backups, but they are really only for file documents rather than the whole system (OS/software) etc.

  10. says

    I’m a little paranoid about backups. My entire business and life are on my computer system. So I’ve been doing what you suggested for a long time.

    I have two external drives. I back up and store one in a safe deposit box at the bank along with all my program disks. The other drive I keep in the office for day to day backups. Every so often, I’ll swap the drives. If something bad happens, I’ll have most of my business / life saved.

    I also have a disaster sheet with all my essential programs listed along with product keys, set up information for e-mail and internet accounts, passwords, everything.

    It’s a PIA to keep up with, but I’ve had some virus issues and so I’m realistic about what could happen. Always, always stay backed up.

  11. raman says

    in my company i use tape library IBM T3300 24 Slot for backup data ,, each tape size is 1TB i dont have problem with it

  12. says

    Get SOS Online Babckup. See my site for info on online backup services available and SOS in particular. I think SOS is one of the more sophisticated online backup services available for Home or SME users.


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