Your computer will crash. Your notebook may be stolen. Your computer files can be permanently corrupted. Accept these facts, and you can plan accordingly. But pretend "It only happens to other people," and you're going to be crying the blues.

As a professional writer, I'm heavily dependent on my PC. Your dependence on retrieving information stored in your PC may be just as great. Here are the secrets to my peace of mind--readily available products and services that won't cost you a fortune. As a survivor of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, I can attest you'll sleep a lot better at night with a backup plan in place.

Backing Up Your Data

When any disaster strikes, the first question your PC repairperson will ask you is, "When's the last time you backed up your data?"

Seldom do they hear the correct answer. Instead, victims of hard-drive crashes, viruses and other hazards of computing stammer and stutter about "forgetting to make a back up copy." Don't be one of those people! Today's solutions are so inexpensive--and take practically no time at all.

For large businesses, the answer to backing up data can be expensive and complicated. It can involve tapes, off-premises servers and other complicated technologies.

For our small businesses, however, there is a range of simpler choices:

  • Burning CDs or DVDs
  • Sending important files to an off-site storage facility
  • E-mailing files to yourself
  • Copying files to a tiny USB drive
  • Mirroring your hard drive to an external "one touch" hard drive
  • Using a Zip drive
  • Backing up on a tape drive

Let's examine each choice in a bit more detail.

Burning CDs and DVDs is reliable and inexpensive; it also requires the most consistent effort of the options to keep up to date. And your labeling system has to be very detailed if you're going to make this one work. If you're concerned about old backups falling into the wrong hands, this wouldn't be ideal for you.

GoDaddy.com'ssecure offsite storage service ($9.95 for 1GB per year, expandable up to 10GB of storage) lets you synchronize files on your computer with your "Online File Folder." Because you're always working on the latest version, you can access, share and manage files and folders right from your desktop or from any computer with an internet connection. And because you're not using e-mail to send and receive the files, you bypass those pesky ISP restrictions on e-mail attachment size. Password protection and 128-bit encryption keep your files secure from thieves and hackers.

Google's gmail.com (1GB for free) and Yahoo.com'ssupersized e-mail account (2GB for $19.99 per year) allow you to stash your important files via e-mail. The downside: You have to consistently e-mail them to yourself, so if you're pressed for time, this one's not your best choice.

Tiny USB drives are the ideal solution for transporting files and even some small programs. Two drives (512MB and 1GB) plug into any USB port without installation software, and they're selling at very low prices these days. However, tech experts have expressed concern about the vulnerability of the drives to shocks and other hazards that could render the data useless, and because they're so tiny, they can be easily misplaced.

Maxtor's popular "OneTouch II" external hard drives (250GB and 300GB each, starting around $250 street) connect via FireWire or USB to your PC or Mac. For PC users, it also creates historical backup versions with full system restore to a point in time, something that's unique to this way of backing up. And if it's lost or stolen, Maxtor DriveLock protects the contents of your drive.

If you don't have as much stuff, you can use an inexpensive Iomega Zip drive. With some 50 million Zip drives sold, ranging from 100MB to 750MB storage each, their durable disks are able to take a fair amount of abuse. So when that next hurricane comes into town and you're packing up stuff to leave, you could stuff one small Zip disk in your pocket--or 519 regular floppies. Some choice. Today's Zip drives come with free Iomega Sync to automatically back up and synchronize your file revisions.

Tape drives are primarily aimed at the needs of network administrators and, for the requirements of most small businesses, don't offer the affordability, convenience, and "anywhere access" most of the other choices give you.

Here's the bottom line: Bad things happen to good computers all the time. These proven, affordable and uncomplicated solutions are the virtual equivalent of wearing your seat belt in your car. And like a seat belt, your system has to be in place before that awful moment of impact.

The next time you have a disaster, and you've taken my advice, you'll thank me.


A self-taught technology scout, Pete Silver's always on the prowl for new ways to use tools to solve small-business challenges. To find out more about Pete or his consulting service, log on to www.PeteSilver.com.