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A network administrator I know believes you can’t have too many backups. And while this is certainly true, it’s also important to keep your backups organized, so when you really need a particular file restored or are facing a crisis situation, you know exactly where everything is. But just what exactly should be backed up, how often and to what type of medium? These are questions that change with time, but here’s what I’ve found to be successful. Most solo practitioners or small-firm lawyers will find that they should take care of all situations. Data backups The best way to approach your backups is to copy your data, then back up your system settings. Data files consist of word-processing files, such as Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, Excel, any PDF files — basically any file created by a program, but not the program itself. By simply copying these files from one computer to another, you’ve made a backup that will protect you. But doing this manually can be problematic, as it often takes a while and is prone to forgetfulness. The better alternative is to use a program that will automatically do this for you. Windows XP comes with a built-in program for backups. Go to Start, Programs, Accessories, then System Tools, and you will see the backup icon. By walking through the options offered on this program, you can obtain a satisfactory backup. However, I’ve encountered problems with this program, both with the backup and restore functions, and I believe that a more comprehensive routine is necessary. A good program for creating backups is Dantz Retrospect Professional Edition. This program lists for $120 but can be purchased for closer to $90 from most software vendors. This is a small price to pay for a high-quality, reliable system. If you are away from the office frequently and use a laptop while on the road and a workstation at your office, a more complicated but thorough solution is offered through Veritas Backup Exec with workstation and laptop option. This is a much more expensive system, but it allows you to synchronize the data on your laptop with that on your workstation, so you always have the most current information. A lower level of Veritas backup software is included in Stomp Backup My PC, which sells for around $70. Backup My PC runs in a similar feature as Retrospect, but it may not contain quite as many features. Another reliable backup product is NovaStor’s NovaBackup software. NovaStor also has a product that allows you to back up your information to its server. Sold as a monthly subscription starting at $17.95, NovaStor offers a nice alternative to maintaining backup files yourself. System Backups Besides data backup, you need to get a system backup as well, which will enable you to restore your computer to its exact configuration, including all programs and settings. System backups are important to have in case the hard drive in your computer becomes inoperable or your system gets corrupted through virus intrusion or other disruption. A system backup creates an exact image of your hard drive; by restoring your hard drive from the image, you have an exact clone of your system. This is how the system recovery disks that arrive with most PCs work. A really nice, inexpensive product for system or file restore is GoBack. Once part of the Roxio CD/DVD creation software company but now part of the Symantec product line, GoBack creates an image of your system each time you start up or at scheduled times. If your computer gets corrupted through a failed software installation, virus attack or user error, GoBack can revert your system to a time when it was working properly. In addition, if you wish to obtain a file that was amended improperly, GoBack can retrieve the version that you want without reverting your entire drive. One of my favorite programs for cloning disks is another Symantec product, Norton Ghost. The current version, Ghost 2003, lists for $69.99 but can be purchased for less at software vendors. While Ghost is good for creating backups, what I prefer it for is creating a cloned image of your computer, which you can store on an external drive. Should your system horribly crash or your hard drive become damaged, you can recreate an exact image of your drive, with all files and settings intact. Retrospect can also create a clone as well, but I prefer Ghost for this process. Storing your Backups As with any process, your backups can be stored on a number of different media. Tape-drive backups are a pretty standard practice. With tape drives, you can store a large amount of data, and you can make a backup for each day of the week. The tapes can fit in to your pocket, so you can take them home on a rotating basis. That way, if your office would somehow become inaccessible through fire or other disaster, your backups won’t be lost as well. The problem with tapes, however, is that they can be slower, can become unusable over time, and the formats tend to change on a fairly frequent basis. What I would recommend that you also do is create a complete backup at least once a week using a disk-to-disk process. External USB drives holding up to 250 GB of data can be purchased for less than $300. By creating a duplicate backup on one of these drives at least once a week, you are assured of the redundancy, speed and accessibility you would need. Another media to use is either CD or DVD. While CDs can only hold 700 MB of data, DVDs can store slightly more than 4 GB. It is a good idea to store the clone or Ghost image of a machine on a DVD, in case that machine would need to be restored to its original state. DVDs or CDs are also a good place to store archival material for particular cases or clients. Unlike tapes, the CDs or DVDs are not likely to be replaced by an incompatible format anytime soon, and they also don’t suffer the degradation over time that tapes do. Once you begin your backup process, it’s important to practice a restore from time to time. That way you will know that should disaster strike, recovery is within reach.

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