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Two words: bird flu. Two more: Hurricane Katrina. How about the Northridge earthquake, alternating snowstorms and floods in the Northeast, annual tornados in the Midwest, daylong gridlock in the Southwest, skyrocketing gas prices and deteriorating air quality?
Long-standing productivity benefits aside, business continuity is driving a new boom in telecommuting. And why not? With broadband everywhere, powerful portables and phone calls that follow you, 45 million Americans already work in three to four different locations, reports telework facilitator ITAC.
But have you taken the few extra steps needed to survive, say, one of the 30,000 lightning strikes on buildings every year? Couldn't happen to you? Couldn't happen to me, either.
So imagine my surprise last year when a lightning bolt fried an uninterruptible power supply and my favorite PC. It turns out lightning strikes Earth 20 million times a year-and it loves electronics. So nowadays, when I hear the thunder rolling, I squeeze under the bed.
But what about my stuff-not just my main PC's files, but critical e-mails and all the applications and settings it would take me weeks to restore? That's where teleworking comes in.
If you're among those Americans who frequently work from home, just a couple of extra gadgets and procedures can prepare you to resurrect a destroyed virtual office without losing a step.
Big-time IT service providers like IBM and Hewlett-Packard are building hardened facilities with everything a Fortune 500 manager needs to keep the wheels of industry turning. Build yours cheaply just by cloning your work space in more than one workplace.
First, you need a painless way to extract an up-to-date image of your company's irreplaceable assets-messages, accounting records, contracts, project archives-from that useless pile of junk we all collect. It's not too hard if you start with a high-capacity network-attached storage device.
I use Buffalo Technologies' $600 (all prices street) TeraStation. After a half-hour setup, I've been spending exactly zero minutes a day keeping an up-to-the-minute, bit-level duplicate of my important stuff on TeraStation's four Raid 5 drives. TeraStation's intuitive management utility bundled with Memeo AutoBackup makes it easy. I clicked on my important folders once; since then, Memeo has automatically backed up every changed bit.
The 9-by-9-by-6-inch TeraStation holds up to 1.6 terabytes of swappable storage, and aside from a gigabit Ethernet port, has four USB ports. Clear off your work space while improving your chances against lightning bolts by making TeraStation a print, fax, e-mail and web server in another room networked via an adapter like Buffalo's $65 AirStation Ethernet converter.
Of course, all that has to be behind a robust uninterruptible power supply like Tripp-Lite's $140 SMART1000LCD. It will smooth out electrical sags and spikes and deliver up to 60 minutes of emergency power.
But what about fire, flood, tornado and tidal wave? If you have a far-flung enterprise, just mirror your NAS in multiple places. If not, back up to a virtual desk space like SimDesk. Prices start at $15 a month for 2GB of space, so only mirror critical or frequently changing folders-accounting records, e-mail and works in progress. SimDesk also updates your virtual work space automatically and makes it sharable with any associate you choose from any device with a web browser.
So, for $1,000 in tax-deductible hardware and $15 monthly (also deductible), you protect your company's most valuable assets, gain time in operational flexibility and have a work space accessible from anywhere. You'll recover that $1,000 in productivity enhancements in no time; after that, those dollars fall to your bottom line. Think of it as an insurance policy that prints money.
Save It Again, Sam
Always on deadline, Halon Entertainment can't afford lost files. The preproduction materials and 3-D layouts created by its 26 artists are critical elements in some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters. "If we run late, everyone runs late," explains Daniel Gregoire, the 34-year-old founder and CEO of the $1.5 million venture.
Halon's solution to having project teams in odd film locations can be summarized as extreme redundancy. Artists' workstations are backed up to local servers mirrored on both removable disks and Halon's central server. That's backed up to removable drives saved in both its California offices. As Gregoire advises, "Keep things in multiple places accessible by multiple machines."Mike Hogan is Entrepreneur's technology editor.