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BACK UP EARLY AND OFTEN

Making sure your data survives when your hard drive bites the dust

If you think all hard-drive meltdowns end in chaos, compare Karen Hochman's desperate scramble with the unruffled recovery of David Emblidge.

Hochman, a member of Loyalty Partnership Ltd., a 15-person management-consulting firm in New York, knew that her Apple PowerMacintosh 8500 was limping badly, but she decided to forge ahead with pressing work anyway. When the hard drive died the following day, she was completely stuck: no contact manager, no invoices, no client work--and no copies of anything. It took two weeks (and $1,500) for a data-recovery specialist in California to restore her files. But no one could replace her lost time. ''When you have a small business, you have to be an octopus,'' she says. ''[Otherwise,] you drop things.'' Like backups.

Emblidge, on the other hand, made daily tape backups of his work but wanted even more protection. So the Great Barrington (Mass.) book producer, who gets manuscripts ready for printing, bought an internal Zip drive. Ironically, his attempt to install it caused a crash, and he was unable to reboot. Within a few hours, however, he and his computer consultant retrieved the most recent backup tape from his home and installed the backup software. Emblidge was back in business--with all his files intact.

Face it. Chances are, there's a hard drive somewhere in your business that will self-destruct. And when that day comes, who will you be: Hochman or Emblidge?

These days, ''not buying a backup solution is inexcusable,'' says Mark DiBiasio, sales manager at Data Design Systems Inc., a computer-consulting firm in Gaithersburg, Md. In the past few years, systems that used to be complicated and burdensome have become user-friendly and affordable. And now, you have many more backup systems to choose from. All you need to do is figure out which one suits your needs best.

The options fall into three categories: tape systems, removable drives, and Internet-based services. Tape-drive backups get the most votes from computer consultants, and they're particularly recommended for businesses that use central file servers. Tape drives, which resemble small cassette recorders, will store all your data automatically on tape cartridges, which come in varying sizes. All you need to do is set the drives to back up at designated times each day.

There are two main types of tape drives and cartridges: those that use quarter-inch tape and those that employ 8-mm digital audio tape (DAT). Quarter-inch drives, such as Iomega Corp.'s Ditto Max or Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Colorado, are cheaper than DAT, and they're sufficient for most small businesses. Count on spending $200 to $270, depending on the model, at your local computer store for the tape drive and software. Depending on the type of drive, tapes cost from $7 for the bare minimum to $40 for high-capacity varieties.

Make sure you buy tapes with enough capacity to back up your entire hard drive. Buy at least five, one for each business day, so you can do daily backups. Then, you can reuse the tapes the following week.

Tape drives are generally designed for easy installation. But if you would rather not do it yourself, a consultant can do the job for you in a few hours, generally for around $75 an hour. After that, maintenance is simple but crucial. You'll need to replace worn-out tapes every few months, and you should clean drive heads with tape cleaner according to the manufacturer's instructions. To protect yourself against disasters such as flood and fire, don't store backups at the office. Designate someone to take the latest tape home every night.

FASTER, TOUGHER. Another worthwhile alternative for businesses where people don't share a lot of files are the so-called removable backup media. There are two types of removable drives. Zip drives, for example, use disks that resemble floppies but are a bit thicker and cost around $20 for 100 megabytes of storage space; others, such as SyQuest Technology Inc.'s SparQ, use removable cartridges that contain little hard drives. Removable drives can either sit alongside your computer or be installed internally. In fact, if you're planning to buy a new PC, you may as well get one with a built-in Zip drive. It's included on some newer models from Apple, Dell, Gateway 2000, and Hewlett-Packard, as well as other manufacturers.

What's the advantage over tape? The cartridges and their removable drives are faster and more durable, although more expensive on a per-megabyte basis. Also, they're easier to scan quickly for the files you've backed up. Plus, you can use these drives to archive files and free up space on your hard drive.

There are many removable drives on the market, but one of the most widely used is Iomega's Zip Drive Plus, available at computer stores for about $200. Each cartridge holds as much as 100 megabytes--enough for a big database and some graphics files. You simply install the accompanying software, connect the Zip drive to the parallel port, and you're ready.

If you're backing up a lot of data, 100 MB probably won't be enough. Consider buying SyQuest's SparQ drive, which costs around $200 and whose 1-gigabyte cartridges go for around $100 for a three-pack.

Rather not mess with hardware at all? Store your data off-site with one of the newer Internet-based backup services. For $15 to $30 a month, you can automatically send your data by modem to online-backup companies such as @Backup Corp. in San Diego and Atrieva Corp. in Seattle. First, you follow directions to download software from a Website and register with the service. Then, you set up the software so your computer automatically dials up and sends the data (typically at night). By simply pointing and clicking, you specify which files and folders you want backed up. The first upload could take hours or even a couple of nights, but afterward, only updated files are sent.

WARINESS. George Savage, president of Savage Precision Dental Laboratory Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., turned to @Backup after he had trouble recovering some accounting data from his tape backup system. The new system feels more secure, he says. And it's just plain easier. ''I don't have to worry about taking tapes home every night,'' he says. If your system crashes, you'll get disks shipped overnight.

But these services, which have been around for only a year and a half, aren't for everybody. For one thing, they require a reliable Internet link to avoid broken connections and delays. Then, too, many people still are nervous about entrusting sensitive data to someone else--worrying about theft, confidentiality, and file loss. If you're wary, ask the service about its own backup procedures. They should have built-in redundancy, meaning your data will be copied to more than one disk drive. For further assurance, ask the company for a client list, or seek advice on the Net in one of Usenet's computer discussion groups, such as comp.sys.ibm.pc. hardware.

No matter which way you decide to back up, it's a bit of a pain. But so is paying for insurance. If you must take risks, do it with something that could conceivably pay off--such as investing in your business.

By Anthony Paonita in New York



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