Disaster Recovery: 1,000 Miles from Home

By J. A. Hitchcock

Traveling is hectic enough, but when disaster strikes in the form of a hard drive crash, damage, or loss of your laptop, you need to have some sort of backup available. Whether it’s a complete backup of your hard drive, a few files, or that important presentation you’re about to make, recovery is possible. Depending on how much traveling you do and your budget, you can opt for an online, software or hardware solution for as little as $3.00.

Online Options
Placing your critical data files on a web site may be your best bet. As long as you have a connection to the Internet, your files are always available, no matter where you are in the world, as low as $3/month.

Mike Bittel is a financial and business development consultant in Florida who moves from client site to client site. “A few months ago my computer crashed - Windows would no longer load,” he says. “I called support at the manufacturer and they told me that I was going to have to reinstall everything and if I had any data files on the laptop, they would be lost. Even after spending two hours on the phone with Microsoft, they told me the same thing.”

But Mike’s story has a happy ending. Since he had all of his data files on the Filing Room web site at www.thefilingroom.com, he had no problem reinstalling everything. “In hours I was up and running. If I had not stored my files on the Filing Room site, I could have been out of business.” Web sites such as The Filing Room are a good resource, but experts differ on their views of using such a service.

Dan Tanner, the director of storage and management at the Aberdeen Group, isn’t sold on Web sites that offer disk storage space. “It requires high-speed access and persistence,” he notes. If you’re stuck using a dialup modem and your files are large, it becomes a problem.

Dick Harper from Harper Company-Engineering Solutions for Small Business agrees and adds, “Online storage fails if the Internet connection is down or you are in a meeting without one and can’t excuse yourself to find a connection and download the files. What if the online storage server is down when you need it? Then there’s the concern about data security.”

However, Remi Deveau, national manager of business operations continuity for Telus Enterprise Solutions, thinks otherwise. “This is actually a good economic alternative for small companies (less than ten people) or individuals. The only precaution you do need to take is to make sure the company is reputable and secure, since after all they will be hosting your information.”

Software Solutions
Another inexpensive choice is software. For as little as $24, you can backup, make copies of critical files or create an exact image of your hard drive for easy reinstallation, if disaster does strike. Andreas Lenné of Germany was frustrated with the available backup software and needed a products that was “bug-free,” easy, and quick. “Don't ask me how, but I extracted NovaStor’s Instant Recovery out of the jungle of backup solutions available,” he said.

He installed the software easily without studying any cumbersome manuals and was overjoyed at the ease and simplicity of the program. Lenne quickly had his laptop hard drive backed up on a CD-R. Then disaster struck. “A week later, there was a big presentation at 4:00 p.m. At 3:00 p.m., the hard drive on my laptop did its last spins and a second later the computer seemed to die. I could have died right then and there myself,” Lenne remembers. “For a moment I was shocked, but got a little screwdriver out and unmounted the hard drive from the laptop, and then replaced it with a new blank one.”
Within minutes Andreas booted the laptop with Instant Recovery, popped the CD-R in the laptop’s CD drive and made his presentation on time and with kudos. “To put it mildly, Instant Recovery has helped me several times and prevented me from losing time, money, and nerves,” he notes.

Another fan of the software approach to disaster recovery is Cullin J. Wible of Algorim Technologies. “We began deploying Windows 2000 to a number of our clients and had evaluated several imaging solutions including Microsoft's RIZ and Powerquest's Deploycenter,” Cullin said. “We found that RIZ required network cards and the setup was more complex then we wanted; Deploycenter was too expensive and extremely top-heavy.”
Cullin did some research and chose on TrueImage from Acronis. He hasn’t regretted his decision. “We were upgrading many [laptops and desktops], and found that by imaging the machines first, we could perform upgrades without any risk of data loss,” he added. “If an upgrade went totally wrong, we could easily restore the original image in about an hour. Now we have images of each user's PC so if anything ever happens we can easily restore it to the way it was on the day we installed Windows 2000.”

Instant Recovery and TrueImage are just a couple of choices of software. Whether you’re looking for protection for one laptop or several, one is sure to fit your needs.

Hardware That Helps
Sometimes hardware is the preferred method for laptop users, because of the variety of sizes available for better portability, from as small as a credit card to an external unit that fits in a briefcase. Plus, the knowledge that you have your backup with you, just in case, may make you sleep better at night when you’re on the road.

Mike Vander of Indianapolis realized that his laptop hard drive was failing, so he backed it up to Apricorn's 20GB EZ Backit Pro before sending it off to be repaired. “When my laptop came back from the shop, I did a restore from my EZ Backit Pro,” he enthused. “Everything was back just the way I left it. It saved me a week of rebuilding my laptop!”

Exhibitree in Irvine, California designs conference exhibit booths for its customers. They use portable USB backup solutions for the 25 Apple iBook, iMac, G3, and G4 systems for conceptual design, renderings, cost estimating, production drawings, and graphic layouts, as well as maintaining communications within the company and with suppliers. They decided that Seagate’s Travan TapeStor external USB drives were their best bet to backup critical data files on a regular basis. These have saved the day on more than one occasion. "We had to restore Word files that got deleted by our sales group a few times and the Retrospect Backup software that comes with the Travan drives makes that easy to do," says Kevin O'Connor, a production designer at Exhibitree.

    Top 5 Tips from the Experts
  1. Make sure your laptop is backed up. “Find out whether or not your laptop is included in the regular backups that are done in companies,” recommends Dexada Jorgensen, manager of emergency planning at TELUS. “Often, these backups are done at night when the staff is off--and usually laptop owners have their device at home, not docked. I would advise manually backing up the data either to the file server or to their own CDs, JAZ, ZIP or other drive.”
  2. Make backing up simple. “Keep all data files in a separate, easily backed-up location on your laptop,” advises Dick Harper from Harper Company-Engineering Solutions for Small Business. “I always set drives up with separate partitions for that, but even My Documents works in a pinch if all the data files are there.”
  3. Make sure your backup worked. Test the CD, Zip disk, or whichever media you use right after doing the copy, then re-verify that it works. “The cost of an unrecoverable system crash or loss far outweighs the cost of a good backup solution,” reminds Mike Lakowicz, Seagate RSS VP of Product Strategy and Business Development.
  4. Perform backups as often as necessary. For some, once a month is fine, but for others it’s every night. If your data changes constantly, nightly backups are highly recommended. Gauge how often your data changes and decide from there.
  5. Know what you’re using. If you use backup software, note the name of the program, its version, license numbers, and vendors--and keep this with the data backups.

ONLINE If you travel frequently and want to keep your carryon and checked luggage as light as possible, an online solution may be best for you. One precaution to take is making sure the Web site is secure from hackers.

DataVault Plans start at $19.95/month for 3GB to 159.95/month for 30GB
DataVault sends copies of your critical data files to their secure offsite data storage facility every night by determining which files need backing up, and what kind of backup is needed (Full or Incremental). The files are then compressed and encrypted.

The Filing Room Plans start at $4.99/month for 10 users to $39.99/month for 100 users
Store, retrieve or share your files online at The Filing Room web site. A bonus – it’s compatible with all operating systems, PCs and Macs.

Remote Backup Begins at $499 for five users up to $2999 for 100 users.
This Web site works like regular data backup software, except it doesn’t send backups to a tape drive or other media attached to the computer. It instead sends the backup over the Internet, regular telephone lines, or other network connections to your backup server offsite. It does require a maintenance subscription of around $100/year for the online storage of your files. (20-day free trial available)

IBackup.com Plans start at $3/month for 50MB to $800/month for 100GB
You’ll find several choices here for online backup: IBDrive maps your online storage account as a local drive on your computer so that you can drag-and-drop, open, edit and save files directly from office applications; IBackup for Windows allows you to schedule online backup for any date, time, drag-and-drop, encryption, compression and incremental options; Smart IB provides folder level backups and restores operations using any leading Web browser; QManager lets you share files and folders securely using a shareable links feature; FTP/WEBDAV allows you to access your account from any FTP or WEBDAV client on any platform; Wireless lets you view or share files from a Palm VII or a WAP-enabled phone.

Inexpensive and easy to install, software is often used by individual and small business users, although a software-only backup/recovery system works only if you have a CD-R(W), DVD-R(W), DVD+R(W), ZIP, Jazz or other removable media.
NovaStor Instant Recovery $44/$24 as an upgrade
You can quickly perform a "physical disk" image backup of any hard drive or partition directly to CD-R/CD-RW, hard disk, removable drives, or tape drive with NovaStor Instant Recovery. (805) 579-6700

Acronis TrueImage $44/$29 as an upgrade
Capture and restore disk images in Windows without rebooting to DOS, even when backing up your system partition. TrueImage allows you to work in Windows while the backup is in progress, then store the files on hard disk drives, network drives, CD-R(W), DVD-R(W), DVD+R(W), ZIP, Jazz or other removable media; supports hardware with IDE, SCSI, IEEE 1394 (FireWire), USB 1.0 / 2.0, PC cards interfaces. (free 30-day trial available)

Symantec’s Norton Ghost $69/$49 as an upgrade
Popular PC backup and recovery software, Ghost backs up to a USB 1.1, 2.0, DVD, FireWire or other performance storage device and backs up, saves and restores images from network drives to CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RW drives. (30-day free trial available)

Storactive LiveBackup $99 per user
Automatically backup data in real-time with LiveBackup for reliable end-user file recovery and easy disaster recovery for distributed laptops and desktops. The data is protected from loss on laptop and mobile computers even while roaming. (30-day free trial available)

PowerQuest DriveImage $69
Create an exact copy of your entire hard drive or partition in minutes with DriveImage onto a Zip®, Jaz®, CD-R/W, network drive, or another partition.

Portability is the key to hardware solutions, with some literally fitting your pocket and pocketbook. The only downside is if your hardware choice becomes damaged, lost or stolen.

Apricorn EZ-Backit Pro $179-$429
EZ-Backit Pro uses the PCMCIA slot in your laptop to create an exact mirror-image of all of your applications, files and operating systems. The 2.5” units range from 10GB-60GB.

Seagate Travan Portable USB Drive $405-$585
This is the largest of the choices, at 5.5” wide, 1.8” high, 8.92” long, and 5.0 pounds, but easily fits in a briefcase or carry-on luggage. Made specifically for laptops, it provides complete external data protection for laptop and desktop PC's, workstations, and Apple systems. Units range from 20GB-40GB USB 2.0

Amacom Technologies Flip2Disk $189-$557
Store or archive data, digital video, graphics, presentations, MP3 libraries, multimedia, Cad/Cam and data-intensive applications on the unique-looking credit-card sized Flip2Disk. Units range from 20GB-60GB USB 2.0; includes padded carry case.

Pockey DataStor $179-$349
The credit-card sized DataStor is Plug-N-Play capable, hot-swappable, hot-pluggable; USB 2.0; plus, no power source is needed and it’s stackable Units range from 20GB-60GB

WiebeTech Micro GB+ $199-$349
Compact and compatible with any FireWire-equipped laptop, the Micro GB+ comes with its own carrying case and weighs just 6.9 ounces. Units range from 20GB-60GB.

CMS Peripherals ABSPlus $299-$499
ABSPlus is an automatic backup system in a compact size. Just plug it into your laptop’s USB or FireWire port or PCMCIA slot and it takes it from there. Units range from 20GB-60GB.

Easy Disk $399
This portable USB hard drive lets you store and transport data safely and easily. Very small, Easy Disk is the size of a mini pen flashlight. It comes with a keychain holder, pen clip, and leather carrying case. Units range in size from 16MB-1GB.

J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at jahitchcock.com.

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