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Backing up your data

This document outlines the hardware, software and procedures necessary to effectively and efficiently back up the key data from your computers. It includes hardware recommendations, software recommendations, and suggested tips on what specific items on your hard drive you most need to back up.


Backing up your data regularly is vital insurance against a "data catastrophe." Unfortunately, this is a lesson that most people learn only from bitter experience. Developing a solid backup plan requires some investment of time and money, but the cost is far less than the often-impossible task of recreating data for which no backup exists!

Backup best practices
All backup routines must balance expense and effort against risk. Few backup routines 100% airtight -- and those that are may be more trouble to implement than they're worth. That said, here are a couple of rules of thumb that should guide you in developing a backup strategy:

1) Develop a written backup plan that tells you:

What's being backed up
Where it's being backed up to
How often backups are occurring
Who's in charge of performing backups
Who's in charge of monitoring whether backups are being performed successfully
2) Your database and accounting files are your most critical data assets. They should be backed up before and after any significant amount of data entry and/or use. For most groups, this means backing these files up every day. Groups that do a lot of data entry should consider backing up their database after each major data entry session.

3) You should back up your other documents (e.g. "My Documents" folders) and email files at least once a week, and probably once per day. Each organization needs to decide how much work they're willing to risk losing, and set a frequency of backups accordingly.

4) You should store a copy of your backups off-site to insure against a site-specific disaster such as a fire, break-in or flood. Ideally, you should store your backups in a safety deposit box. Generally, we recommend rotating a set of backups off-site once per week.

5) It is not usually necessary to back up the complete contents of each hard drive -- most of that space is taken up the operating system and program files, which can be easily reloaded from CD if necessary. The only exception is if your organization has a dedicated file server; it's a good practice to do a full backup of your server so that have a way to restore your server's entire hard drive.

6) Don't forget to back up your laptops! Laptops can be hard to back up, but are just as important as your desktop workstations.

7) Test your backups BEFORE you need them. You need confidence in your backups. Make sure your backup software has full read-back verification. Try restoring a few files.

Choosing backup hardware
Choosing appropriate backup hardware is the first key to implementing an effective backup strategy. In any situation, there are probably several "right" answers. Here are some guidelines for choosing backup hardware that will work for you:

1) Determine how much data you need to back up. Take a look at each machine on your network -- or at least a representative sample. How big is the each user's documents folder? How big is the email file? How much data do you in your organization's primary shared folder? Add up the totals for all your machines, or multiply the average by the number of machines in your organization. Be sure to leave room to add a few new staffers, and to plan for growth -- it's not impossible to add 100 MB of email per person per year.

2) Choose a backup device that uses tapes or cartridges with a capacity that's at least twice the total amount of data you need to back up. This will give you room for growth, and will also allow you to perform "incremental" backups on the same tape with a "full" backup. (More on this in a bit.)

For many organizations, external FireWire hard drives are a great choice, as these drives combine speed, ease-of-use and with large storage capacities (40-250 GB per hard drive) and reasonable costs.

Groups that need to make many archive copies of documents might want to look at DVD-RW drives, which offer moderate capacities, moderate speed, and reasonable costs.

3) Another consideration is the speed of the drive and its interface to your computer. If you have a large amount of data to back up, having a big storage device isn't much good if you can't write data to it quickly. There are four common ways to connect a backup drive to your machine: SCSI, IDE, FireWire and USB 2.0.

SCSI drives, which can be internal or external, are the fastest -- and most expensive. Most PC's don't have built-in SCSI adapters, so you may need to add a SCSI card ($50-$150). (Some servers have built-in SCSI, though.)
IDE is used for internal drives only, and is inexpensive, with mid-range performance. All PCs have built-in IDE connections, and so do new Macs..
FireWire is a new standard for external drives. It's fast and simple. While most PCs don't yet have FireWire built-in, you can add it for ~$30. FireWire is standard on all new Macs.
USB 2.0 is another new standard. It's not quite as fast as FireWire, but it is a bit more common. Many external drives support both FireWire and USB 2.0.
What about CD-RW and Zip drives?
CD-RW and Zip drives are inexpensive and lots of folks now have them. Why not use them as your primary backup device? While they can be used effectively in some circumstances (e.g. individual users and very small offices), we don't think they're a complete solution for offices with more than 3-5 people. Here are a few considerations:

-- Limited capacity. CD-RW discs only hold about 650 MB of data per disc; that's plenty to back up your database, or a single person's documents and email, but it's not enough space to hold the files of everyone in a 5-20 person organization. Zip disks are even smaller, at 100-250 MB per disk.

-- Finicky hardware. CD-RW drives can be finicky, and sometimes produce "coasters" -- failed recordings. Not something you want to base a backup strategy on. Zip disks are relatively fragile. And external Zip drives (especially older parallel port Zip drives) can be VERY slow.

Does that mean that CD-RW and Zip drives are useless? Definitely not! Here's how we think you should use CD-RW and Zip drives:

-- Use CDs for archiving old data. CD-R disks are very cheap -- about $1 for each 650 MB disk. They're durable. And they can be read in any machine with a CD-ROM drive. These qualities make them uniquely well suited for archiving data that you don't need to change after it's been created. Photos and finished print publications are two great examples. Both generally involve large files that you need to keep around, but you're not likely to go back and change. Archiving old data files to CD-R is a great supplement to a tape-based backup strategy, because it lets you avoid wasting resources backing up big chunks of files that won't change. Plus, it makes your archives portable -- and easy to store a copy off-site.

-- Use Zip disks for transferring files, or as a secondary backup. Zip disks are great for making quick, easy redundant backups of super-critical files such as databases and accounting files. We think it's a great idea to use a Zip drive on your accounting and/or database machines to make an extra backup of your most critical files.

When making a CD-RW backup, it is a good idea to:

1) Avoid using the computer for other tasks when it is in the middle of making the CD. Just the simple act of opening up your e-mail software could cause the transfer of data to the CD to slow down, and render the resulting CD unusable. (This is known as "buffer underrun" in computer terminology.)

2) Verify the backup on a different computer from the one that made the recording. Although it is not that common, some CD burners have been known to produce CDs that only they can read. To properly verify a CD, it is necessary to actually open up some of the documents on the CD as it is quite common for a bad CD to list all the files and folders you tried to put on it, without giving you access to the data in the files!

Backup hardware compared
The table below summarizes some of the leading choices for backup hardware. Use it with the advice above to help you choose backup hardware that's appropriate for your organization.

Device Hardware Cost Media Type/ Capacity Media Cost Notes
Iomega Zip drive 250 MB
$170-SCSI or Internal IDE
$180 USB

100 MB
Magnetic disk/
250 MB

Magnetic disk/ 100MB

Small media. Adequate for 1-2 users' document backups or older system backups.

Recommend USB, SCSI or internal IDE models for better performance; parallel port drives are very slow.

CD-RW drives $50-100 CD-R or CD-RW media/ 650 MB per CD $<2 CD-R discs are write-once, but can be read in most CD drives. CD-RW are rewriteable but can only be read in CD-RW drives.
Relatively small capacity per disc, better suited to archiving data files than regular backups.

DVD/RW drives $150-350 4.7 GB per DVD $5 Lots of storage per disc. Faster than CD-RW. Relatively expensive drives. Two competing standards (DVD-RW & DVD+RW).
External FireWire hard drives $150 - $300 per drive 40 GB - 250 GB $50 - $150 Fast, cheap, high-capacity and easy to use. Preferred for most small/midsized organizations.
Travan TR-5 format tape drive $250-600
internal or external, SCSI or parallel models
Tape cartridge/
10-20 GB $40 Popular tape format. Slower than DAT, but inexpensive. Large capacity per tape.
DAT DDS-4 format tape drive $800-1100 internal or external SCSI 4mm DAT Tape/ 20/40 GB <$20 High-end DAT format. Relatively fast, affordable media. Good for big systems.
DLT format tape drive $1000-$1500 internal or external SCSI DLT IV tape (40/80 GB) ~$80 High-capacity tape format; can scale to very large auto-load units. Good for mission-critical servers in large organizations.

Backup software
Having the right backup hardware is only half of the answer. You also need appropriate backup software that can help you automatically backup the right files at the right time, and manage the process of restoring those files in the event of a disaster. There are several different backup software tools that are appropriate in small offices. Here's a quick rundown:

Backup software Cost Platform Notes

Windows Backup Free Windows Backup utility included with Windows 2000 and XP. Supports backing up to external hard drives and tape drives, but not to CD-R/RW or DVD. Reasonably powerful, and suitable for use by a single standalone user, or in small networks. Find it at Start Menu>Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Backup. We don't recommend Windows Backup under Windows 95/98/NT.
Stomp Backup MyPC $70 Windows Popular, easy-to-use backup software suitable for standalone Windows machines. Supports hard drives, tape drives and CD-R/RW. Not suitable for network use.
Dantz Retrospect 6.5 Professional $90 Windows Solid, flexible backup software. Includes support for up to 3 machines on a network, but no support for dedicated servers. Additional clients can be added at extra cost. Suitable for peer-to-peer networks.
Dantz Retrospect 6.5 Single Server $450 Windows Powerful network backup software that can back up an entire network. Supports Windows servers and both PC and Mac clients. Can be expanded to backup Exchange Server, SQL databases, etc. Suitable for larger networks
Dantz Retrospect Express 5.0 $50
Mac The Mac version of Retrospect. Express is suitable for standalone users. Supports external hard drives, CD-RW drives, but not tape drives. Suitable for standlone Mac users.
Dantz Retrospect Desktop Backup 5.0 $160 Mac Backup software for a single machine. Supports tape drives. Suitable for a Mac "power user" with a lot of data to back up.
Dantz Retrospect Workgroup Backup 5.0 $325 Mac Version of Retrospect that supports networked machines. Can back up both Mac and Windows clients. Suitable for Mac or mostly-Mac networks.
Synk X Free Mac Freeware Macintosh backup utility. Provides fairly basic backup functions, minimal automation. Only supports backing up to mountable drives (e.g. external hard drives, Zip disks, etc.).

Sample backup scenarios
Here are three sample backup scenarios appropriate to single or several standalone users, a small (3-7 person) network, and a larger office network.

Standalone user(s)
Who: A single user, or several people who are in the same office, but do not have a local area network (LAN) connecting their machines.


A single user with only a small amount of data to back up (<700 MB) might consider backing up to a CD-RW drive. CD-RW drives are inexpensive, and handy for archiving old data. The low cost and high portability of CD-RW drives make it easy to store copies of your data offsite, which is particularly nice for home offices. CD-RW drives can be a bit finicky, though, and each CD only holds a limited amount of data -- about 700 MB -- which can make backing up large amounts of data a hassle. A DVD-RW drive would be a good choice as well.

A single user with a larger amount of critical data to back up (such as someone doing intensive database or GIS work) might consider an external FireWire hard drive, which is fast and has a large capacity.


Macintosh: We recommend that you store all of your personal files in a single master folder and back that entire folder up each week by simply copying the file to your Zip drive. If you’d prefer to automate the process, or want the added security of backing up your entire hard disk, we recommend Retrospect Express ($50), from Dantz. Retrospect Express is a simple, inexpensive and powerful backup program that should meet all the needs of a single user or small office network. Synk X is an easy-to-use shareware product that can back up to most mountable drives.

PC: We recommend using Stomp Backup MyPC ($70). Backup MyPC is a powerful and easy to use backup program that will help you manage your backups quite effectively. If you're not using a CD-RW drive, then you may be able to get by with the built-in Windows Backup software. It's not as easy to use as Backup MyPC, but it's free and already installed on your machine.

Small office
Who: A 3-10 person office with computers that are connected by an Ethernet LAN, but no Windows 2000 Server.


We increasingly recommend external FireWire hard drives for small office backup systems. Typically this will require a ~$30 FireWire PCI card to put into your main backup machine (most PCs don't have built-in FireWire yet). Then, you'll need to purchase an external FireWire hard drive enclosure such as the Addonics Combo Hard Drive ($105), an extra enclosure ($30), and two ordinary 3.5" IDE hard drive (~$70 each for 40 GB drives). This will allow you to swap two drives in and out of an external FireWire adapter

Networks that need to store many sets of backup data might choose to use DAT DDS-4 or DLT tape drives. The hardware cost is substantially higher, but because tapes are so cheap, it is practical to store and archive many redundant sets of backup data.

In addition, small offices may also consider purchasing a CD-RW or DVD/RW drive. It can supplement your primary backup system by providing a means to inexpensively archive old data. CDs and DVDs are particularly well-suited for archiving data that doesn't change after it's created, such as newsletters and photos. CDs adn DVDs offer very low cost-per-megabyte archival storage, and CDs and DVDs are both durable and easy to use..


Macintosh: Retrospect Workgroup Backup ($300) is an appropriate choice for backing up a network of machines.

PC: Retrospect Pro 6.5 ($180 for 3 machines plus $90 per additional 5 users) is a good choice. In some cases, Windows' built-in backup routines will suffice, but this generally require more manual configuration than Retrospect.

Larger office
Who: Offices with more than 10 workstations, or with a Windows NT/2000 server, connected via an Ethernet LAN


We increasingly recommend external FireWire hard drives for small office backup systems. Typically this will require a ~$30 FireWire PCI card to put into your main backup machine (most PCs don't have built-in FireWire yet). Then, you'll need to purchase an external FireWire hard drive enclosure such as the Addonics Combo Hard Drive ($105), an extra enclosure ($30), and two ordinary 3.5" IDE hard drive (~$70 each for 40 GB drives). This will allow you to swap two drives in and out of an external FireWire adapter

Networks that need to store many sets of backup data might choose to use DAT DDS-4 or DLT tape drives. The hardware cost is substantially higher, but because tapes are so cheap, it is practical to store and archive many redundant sets of backup data.


Macintosh: Retrospect Workgroup Backup ($300), which is sometimes bundled with some tape drives.

PC: Retrospect Single Server 6.5 ($410) is probably the best choice for a midsize office, as it offers highly manageable network backups. There is an add-on module that supports Exchange servers. In some cases, Windows 2000 Server's built-in backup routines will suffice, but this requires more manual configuration.






























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