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I’m an evangelist for backing up computer files. I constantly preach the need for legal professionals to insure themselves against the inevitable computer crash by making and keeping additional copies of their work. And while there are numerous ways to guarantee your data salvation these days, it’s remarkable how many people don’t practice them. HOW CAN I BACK UP? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS When I mention “backup,” you may imagine the ultratraditional tape backup that many big law firms and companies still use. Or perhaps you think of a more recent trend, such as backing up files on optical media, like CDs or DVDs. And let’s not forget the plethora of external hard drives and USB memory keys that are available on the market today. But there’s another way: remote backup through the Internet. Online services will rent you digital storage space on their servers, where you can upload and store your files. THIS COMPUTER WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN ONE MINUTE Take a minute and make a mental list of everything you’ve stored on your computer. Consider all of your client correspondence in Word documents and e-mail. Where are your briefs stored? Have you downloaded any research from Lexis or Westlaw to your hard drive? Do you have any digital pictures? Where is your client address book stored? Now consider what would happen to all of those essential files if your computer suddenly refused to turn on one day? What if you came face-to-face with Windows’ dreaded “blue screen of death” (BSOD)? Your life is stressful enough already. You don’t need to waste time worrying about how you’ll never see your most important files again. As far as technology has come over the past several years, nothing is guaranteed to work 100 percent of the time. And as much as computers have improved our work lives in word processing and e-mail communication, they fail us. Regarding catastrophic data loss, it’s not a question of “if” — it’s a question of “when.” HOW MUCH IS THAT GIGABYTE IN THE WINDOW? Enough fire and brimstone. Let’s look at solutions. I’m not going to spend any time on tape backups because most of those systems must be set up and pampered by dedicated technical professionals. The “traditional” side of backups cover external hard drives and optical media (CDs and DVDs). Probably the easiest, cheapest and most popular way to back up your computer files is to purchase an external hard drive. You can roughly calculate a dollar for every gigabyte (GB) of storage. External hard drives store data just like the hard drive inside your PC does, except external drives are housed in a plastic case and are portable. One of the better known brands of external drives is Maxtor. Its external hard drives are affordable and come with an automatic backup option called “OneTouch.” You can expect to pay just over $250 for a 250GB Maxtor hard drive, which is a great deal. It even offers a 300GB model for just over $300. A quick word of caution mixed with a firm recommendation: Buy the most amount of space you can afford. I know the numbers above (250GB-300GB) may seem almost limitless in the amount of space they offer, but trust me, you can never have too much space. People are always asking me what they can purchase that will last them for the next five years. Another external hard drive I’ve used frequently is the ABSplus drive from CMS Products. These small, hand-sized hard drives are quite a bit more expensive, but they ship with an extremely intuitive backup software package called BounceBack. The ABSplus comes in sizes ranging from 20GB ($229) to 80GB ($399). I highly recommend the ABSplus if you plan to travel with your files. Other popular brands of external hard drives include LaCie, Iomega, and IOGear. THE CURE FOR THE COMMON FLOPPY DISK Floppy disks are dead. They just don’t hold enough data anymore. Today, you can purchase flash memory encased in devices that are about the size of a pack of gum. These USB memory keys, as they’re commonly known, can hold anywhere from eight megabytes (MB) to 512MB, and even 1GB today. In comparison, floppies max out at a scant 1.4MB. There are hundreds of companies that sell USB memory keys. One of my favorite models is the TravelDrive from Memorex. You can buy a 512MB model for around $45. While USB memory keys are absolutely perfect for moving images, movies, documents and presentations from one computer to another, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for your official backups. Your e-mail file alone could be bigger than 512MB. Plus the darn things are so small that they get lost very easily. CDs and DVDs offer another popular way to back up your files. Most computers sold today — laptops and desktops — have a CD-burner built-in. Many today are even starting to flaunt DVD burners. These “burners” allow you to record data on blank CD and DVD media that you can buy almost anywhere today (e.g., Wal-Mart). Blank CDs max out at 700MB while recordable DVDs up the ante to 4.7GB. Pay attention to the alphabet soup when you purchase optical media — some blank CDs will only record once (CD-R) while others can be re-written (CD-RW). Blank DVDs are even more confusing, so you’ll need to be sure what format your DVD-burner can take. To effectively back up your files to a CD or DVD, I would highly recommend purchasing a backup software package. One of the easiest applications to use is called Backup Now, for which New Tech Infosystems charges $69.99. The interface is intuitive and it backs up exactly what I tell it to. Restoring those files is a piece of cake, although everything is stored in a proprietary, compressed format, which means you must have the same software to get your files back out. Another product called Retrospect comes from Dantz, a well-respected company in the world of backups. It develops high-powered software for big-business backup needs, plus a home-user version for around $100. MERGE YOUR DATA ONLINE Online backup services offer yet another alternative for making sure your data is safe and secure. Several companies, including iBackup and Xdrive, charge a monthly fee for storing your files on their servers. And while you may be a little hesitant to store confidential material on remote servers like this, these companies password-protect your files and offer excellent customer service. A broadband, always-on connection to the Internet is highly recommended for these services. You can either manually upload your files to these services using an online interface systems or download software that will allow you to schedule automatic backups. Both iBackup and Xdrive offer a basic 5GB of space for $9.95 per month, but you can pile on all kinds of bells and whistles and extra space for a little more money. Online backup services are also an excellent way to access your files while you’re out of the office. Just like you can log on to an online backup service from your computer at your desk, you can do the same thing from just about any computer connected to the Internet. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, at a Kinko’s or at a client’s office. In that vein, I regularly use the Yahoo Briefcase to store files that I need to access while I travel. This service is free when you store a measly 30MB, which is enough space for a pile of Word documents. You can upgrade to 50MB for $2.95 per month (or $24.95 per year) or 100MB for $4.95 per month (or $34.95 per year). The only issue I’ve found with Yahoo Briefcase online backups is that I have to make sure the file on the remote server is the same as the file on my work computer. In other words, I have to make sure that they are “synchronized” with each other so I don’t have a bunch of different versions of the same file floating around. Fortunately, the other backup services mentioned above will “synchronize” the files automatically for you. KEEP A BACKUP OFF-SITE While the “traditional” methods of backing up your files are a little cheaper than the online services, you need to make sure you don’t overlook some serious considerations. If you backup your entire computer on to an external hard drive on your desk, and your office burns down, chances are your external drive is going up in flames, as well. Because online backup services store your data on their own servers, this isn’t a problem. The added expense of an online backup service would be worth it if it saved your data from a catastrophe like the one described above — even once. If you choose to regularly make backups on to an external hard drive, or onto a CD or DVD, then make arrangements to store the completed backups off-site somewhere. One person I read about says he keeps them in the trunk of his car. A bank safe deposit box wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Or you could simply store your office backup at home, and your home backup at your office. TOO MANY BACKUPS? NO SUCH THING The best recommendation I could give you would be to use some combination of the backup methods discussed above. It’s a good idea to have a full backup of your computer system at your office, in whatever form. But you should also consider storing at least your most important, critical files on a remote server somewhere, using an online service. It’s almost like putting your most valuable files into a digital safe deposit box. However you choose to do it, it’s imperative that you back up your computer files frequently. Just remember, most people don’t think about making backups until it’s too late. Brett Burney is the legal practice support coordinator at Thompson Hine, in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Law Technology News, and a frequent contributor to the magazine. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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