At a recent event I was talking with the director of a 10 person non-profit, and she mentioned an important database she was trying to convert to a newer format. "Where is it kept?" I asked. "On my computer" she said. "Where else?" And then I got that look — the look that says "what do you mean — where else?" Ah. How much would it cost to replace that data? Perhaps a million dollars, which is her approximate annual fundraising income. So one more time, for you folks who have not done so — Back up your work. Please.
Google engineers did a scientific study (it's a PDF) of failure in consumer grade hard disks and found that over 56% of drives that failed didn't raise any concerns using their built-in error checking hardware. What does this mean for you? Well, when your hard disk's time is up you probably won't know it until it happens. Which is why you should back up constantly.
Jennifer Walzer, President of BackupMyInfo.com, a New York-based service provider for small business backup, told me that a common problem is "People will set up a backup — tape, CD, extra hard drive, online - and they think it is great, only to find out that it hasn't been running right. They are not testing to make sure it works. We do hand holding and monitor to ensure backups run every day."
Recently, she had a customer who runs a party and event-planning business lose 10 years worth of Quickbooks data when the owner's computer crashed. They were able to restore to another computer in the office in seconds.
"We keep multiple versions of your data and we don't delete what you delete on your side until you specifically ask us to," said Walzer. Small business can backup their offices for $55 to several hundred dollars a month. However, this is a higher level of service than a simple desktop backup, with 24 hour support.
For those looking for more simple solutions, SugarSync, Carbonite, and Mozy are very popular choices. Drew Garcia, VP of Product Management of Sharpcast, makers of SugarSync, told me "We have lawyers, contractors, real estate developers, graphic designers, and they have important data backed up, plus they use other features such as road warriors relying on the mobile app via Blackberry, iPhone, or Windows Mobile to get their documents on the go."
Sugar Sync has real time sync — you make a change to a document and it is immediately uploaded to the cloud. Some graphic designers use sharing functionality to show work to clients via a browser. This sharing can be "View only," or permissions can be set to allow collaborators to download a document, change and re-upload it. This sharing can be done among employees or with those outside the company.
Garcia is hearing road warriors adopt Netbooks, and they use Sugarsync to sync important files from their main computers, edit them, and sync back.
The three solutions mentioned above allow backup of a certain amount of data at a fixed price. For those working with Windows and Office 2007, http://www.officelive.com gives you up to 5GB of free storage for Word, Powerpoint, Excel files. With an add-in, you can save directly from these programs to your online storage area and you can access the files anywhere there's a net connection and a browser.
Don't end up like the presenter I saw at a conference last week whose laptop had been taken from the coatroom at the reception the night before. She was lucky she had emailed her slides to the conference organizer. Please backup. Go do it now. Share your tips for backup via the comments.