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Protect Data From Catastrophic Failure Preserve and transport precious business files with these simple, low-cost storage solutions.

By Scott Steinberg Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While spending extra money on information archival may seem like a frivolous expense, especially for a well-oiled small business, there are two things to consider when debating the possible costs associated with data backup.

First, an ounce of prevention far outweighs a pound of cure here, with any up-front cash outlay paling in comparison to what you'd spend attempting to recover crucial files following a catastrophic system failure. And second, should costs seem unreasonable, always keep the following in mind. In the early days of home computing, PC owners paid upwards of a dollar per megabyte of disk space, hardly enough to hold even a single high-resolution photo by today's standard. As such, you're getting the bargain of the century by comparison, especially considering how much file recovery issues can ultimately cost in terms of delays, downtime and loss of productivity and customer goodwill.

Thankfully, with storage prices plummeting in recent years, it's easy for small-business owners to tack on added virtual safeguards to any enterprise without investing in racks of expensive servers or high-end digital archival solutions. Courtesy of a range of new plug-and-play external and portable hard drive options, your data can easily be copied and backed up regularly, preventing against power surges and file corruption, as well as travel wherever you do. To wit, the following selections all make sound investments in your company's future, allowing you to quickly and painlessly resurrect vital transaction records, billing details and customer info in the event of desktop meltdown.

But first, a word of advice: For most basic purposes including business travel and making duplicates of temporary files for quick transfer between computers, a USB Flash Drive will suffice. Also known as USB keys or thumb drives, these storage options--which plug right into your Mac or PC's USB port and require no additional software or cables--are among the most portable and versatile archival solutions available. Roughly the same dimensions as a money clip or stick of gum, options generally range in scope from 2GB ($6-$10) to 64GB ($120-$150) of available storage space. You can also now find 128GB models available from manufacturers such as Kingston, although its DataTraveler 200 costs $546 and is built to order only.

Effectively functioning as today's floppy disk equivalent, dozens of choices are available courtesy of vendors such as SanDisk, PNY and Corsair, so be sure to shop around. In most cases, you'll be able to get away with buying models of 4GB to 8GB or less in size, unless you're working with larger files such as digital video or music. Available in countless shapes and varieties (including some units modeled to look like rubber ducks or hidden inside watches and pens), it should be relatively easy and inexpensive to find a model that suits your needs.

Likewise, a number of online storage options such as Windows Live SkyDrive, YouSendIt,, and Dropbox make it easy to warehouse or transfer large files online. Many of these options don't cost a cent for general, everyday use, with paid service plans typically reserved for bulk usage or businesses that require significant amounts of data archival or transfer. In certain cases, you'll even be able to share files and collaborate on projects in real-time. It's a feature that those familiar with cloud computing services (which can safely store data on remote servers for access from any internet-connected device) such as Google Docs and Zoho Suite already enjoy.

Entrepreneurs who need ongoing backup options on a grander scale, or who prefer a larger physical repository for transportable data are advised to look at external hard drive options, with common varieties ranging up to 4TB in size. For example, Western Digital's MyBook World Edition II ($399 for 2TB or $699 for 4TB) makes a suitable choice for the paranoid, with automatic mirrored backup providing ongoing data redundancy as a helpful safeguard. Units, which hold hundreds of thousands of files, songs, videos and photos, also offer the option to wirelessly stream multimedia to Mac, PC or TV, doubling as a hub for digital content. Likewise, key sales presentations and purchase orders can be retrieved over the internet if accidentally left back at the home office, proving a lifesaver should you forget important files before hitting the road.

Seagate's Replica, offered in 250GB ($129) and 500GB ($199 with a dock supporting multiple PCs) sizes, also provides continuous automated data backup on a smaller scale. Clickfree similarly offers a number of equally roadworthy and recommendable backup solutions starting at 120GB capacities ($89), with credit card-sized Traveler models beginning at 16GB ($79) in size as well. As such, simply plug and play to enjoy consistency amongst all your files, with up-to-date saves of all data stored without prompting, allowing you to easily restore a single hard drive or recover your entire computer from a fatal crash.

Several other manufacturers also offer cheaper alternatives that require a little manual effort (e.g., remembering to drag and drop copies of important files with some degree of regularity) on your part. See Iomega's eGo PS line, with both rugged portable options that guard against drops from roughly four feet in height (starting at 250GB, for $84 and up) and desktop solutions (beginning at 1TB for $139) offered. There's even a 500GB BlackBelt edition ($139) that ups drop-proof capabilities to 7 feet in height and provides online file backup options. Likewise, Seagate's carry-on ready FreeAgent Go (starting at 160GB, $89 and up), Desk (starting at 500GB, $99 and up) and speedy eSATA, FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 connector-equipped FreeAgent XTreme (starting at 500GB, $159 and up) models also make welcome choices. But with external HD storage technology largely standardized and cost-affordable, you'll find plenty of great alternatives from countless additional manufacturers like LaCie and Hitachi.

The bottom line for entrepreneurs: You don't have to pay much for a little peace of mind, thanks to an unparalleled range of off-the-shelf solutions. Think proactively, and you can still save your business's precious data, or carry crucial files along on the road, without having to blow a small fortune on custom network storage devices or worse, pricey data centers.

Scott Steinberg

Futurist and Trends Expert

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