It took a major catastrophe for me to realize just how important having a fail-proof backup system for your computer is. I'll spare you the gory details of my experience with a fried hard drive, but I will relay the important lesson that I learned: The cost of losing all of your data, ideas, photos and anything else you hold valuable on your computer is exponentially higher than that of any external hard drive. If you have a small business, odds are most of your business operations live on your computer as well. Losing any data on your machine could set your business back weeks or more. For small businesses, that is truly catastrophic.
To ensure you're not a hard drive crash away from major business and personal catastrophe, create a backup system for your computer. You can create a fail-proof, redundant system quickly and cheaply. Thanks to better technologies and cheaper hardware, setting up a backup system is pretty painless.
Redundancy is Key
What scares most people are the terms used in modern computer technology. For example, most people don't understand what "cloud computing" is. Don't worry, you won't need to. The most important key to creating a backup system is redundancy. You want to make sure you have multiple copies of your data in different places. If it helps, think of it like diversifying your investments. You're not going to place all of your money into a single stock, are you? The same is true with backing up your computer. A good method is to back up your computer via multiple sources.
Step 1: Buy an External Hard Drive
While most people think that storing data on third-party managed servers (or the "cloud") is all you need to be secure with a backup, I disagree. A physical hard drive that you can keep and maintain in your office is very important. You are in personal control of your data, and as long as the drive works, it will always hold your data. The latest version of Mac software added a built-in backup functionality called Time Machine that provides an intuitive interface for creating a backup system. Windows 7 also has a fairly straight-forward backup system as well. Having an external hard drive is a major step forward to a solid backup system. If your hard drive fails at this point, you're only losing an hour of your day to restore from the previous day's backup.
Step 2: Use a Remote Backup Service Too
As an added measure, it's a good idea to have another copy of your computer's files in case your primary backup (your external hard drive) crashes too. The chances of your hard drive and external hard drive crashing are very slim, but adding another layer of redundancy never hurts. If your office ever burned (heaven forbid!), odds are you'd lose both your computer and your external hard drive. A remote backup service can ensure that even in a rare scenario like an office fire, your data is safe. There are a few paid services that will automatically backup your core files to a remote server and only cost a few dollars each month. Think of it as cheap insurance for your business.
Backblaze is an excellent service for backing up a Mac file system. MobileMe is another "cloud" storage service provided by Apple. Windows users can use JungleDisk, a great service for personal or business storage. Mozy is another great backup option for Windows. Advanced computer users who are familiar with technologies like the command line can use Dropbox to automatically sync up to 2 GB worth of data for free by creating Symlinks outside of Dropbox's folder. For most users, though, this might be a bit too advanced. There are plenty of cloud-based storage services that could be included in this article. One only needs to do a quick search on Google to find other alternatives if none of these fit your needs.
My Backup Plan
For those wanting a real-life example of creating a multi-layered, redundant backup system, here's how I personally set up my backup system. (I tend to be a little be on the twitchy, paranoid side when it comes to losing data, and some might find this overkill. I'm OK with that.) For starters, I sync my computer to an external hard drive using Apple's Time Machine program. It syncs every hour, and runs in the background so that I don't even notice it. Secondly, I backup all of my data to MobileMe, Apple's storage and syncing service. I do this automatically, or when files change on my hard drive. And lastly, I add an extra layer of protection by using Symlinks and a free Dropbox account to backup my core personal files. Like I mentioned earlier, my setup may be a more than an average person will need. Even just syncing your computer with a remote service is much better than having no redundancy at all to your precious files. It's a great feeling knowing that no matter what happens to your computer, you'll always have your data safe somewhere.
Glen Stansberry is the co-founder of Howdy, a way for small business sites to improve site conversions. You can find more of Glen's business insights onWise Bread, the leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money.