PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2017
by Geoff Habiger, Senior Partner, Artemesia Publishing LLC --
Several years ago, my business computer’s hard drive, where I kept all my important files, crashed. While I had some backups, they were mostly out of date because I was just too busy (or too lazy) to get them done. It was a painful experience—having to recreate many of my business files—and I pledged that I would be better at backing up my data. I purchased an external hard drive with a lot of storage space, and used it religiously. It was cheaper than any online backup service, which usually have monthly fees, and its presence on my office desk was a physical reminder that I needed to protect my files and back them up.
Over the years, I have been glad that I was using an external hard drive to protect my files, especially with so many news stories about data breaches and hackers. Even with a good anti-virus program, there is a constant threat to your computer from malware, ransomware, scams, trojans, worms, and other viruses. I felt that if something were to ever happen to my computer again, like a virus or attack, or just another hard drive death, I was protected. Besides, the external hard drive was great for storing all of my large image files. (What publisher doesn’t have gigabytes of hi-res cover files stored on their computer?)
My sense of security was its own complacency. Over the years, online storage has gotten better and cheaper, and offers better protection to users. I was blissfully happy in my system, and I never bothered to look at any of the newer options for data protection. That is until a fateful day this past July 4th. Like many small business owners, I was busy getting some work done on the holiday before cookouts and fireworks that night. I had been very productive until a slip of the hand turned my holiday into a business tragedy. I was moving some papers and bumped my external hard drive (which was connected to my computer at the time). It wasn’t much, but the drive slid off the desk and fell barely 12 inches. It didn’t even hit the floor or any other hard surface. I nervously plugged the drive in and waited. Nothing happened. My computer didn’t recognize the drive, couldn’t find it, and, worse, I could hear a slight noise coming from the drive. I had been so diligent with using my external drive that everything—past and ongoing projects, invoices and expenses, and everything else—was on the drive. Supposedly safe and secure from all threats … except from me.
I took my hard drive to a local computer shop where they confirmed that the drive was damaged. They got it to spin up long enough to recover a few files, but most of my data appeared to be lost. They said that I had one other option: a company that specializes in saving data from damaged hard drives. I shipped my drive off and waited. When the company contacted me, they said they could recover my data, but it would not be cheap and there was no guarantee they’d be able to save all the files. But what choice did I have? I told them to do their best, and I waited. A week later, I got my files back. They saved most of my files, but there were still many files that were corrupt and unrecoverable.
What can you do to keep a similar tragedy from befalling your important data? Here are three steps that a business owner can follow to prevent the same thing from happening, or help you recover should the unthinkable happen to you.
Backup, Backup, Backup!
The best way to prevent a similar tragedy from happening to you is to have a disaster recovery plan for your data. I spoke with the computer gurus at my local shop. They said that there is not much you can do to prevent damage from happening to your hard drive; even with special care, computers are complex machines, and they will break. But, while you can’t prevent damage from happening, you can prepare for it by backing up your data. They recommend that you have at least two ways of backing up and protecting your important files.
- External Storage: An external storage device—an external hard drive, thumb drive, or even burning a CD-ROM—are still good ways to back up data. External hard drives are small, lightweight, and, these days, you can purchase one that will hold a terabyte of data for less than $100. But it’s important to use the device and back up your data every time you make changes to documents, or on a regular schedule; otherwise, you may have out dated files when a disaster happens.
- Cloud Storage: Cloud storage is better and cheaper today than what it was even a couple of years ago. Cloud storage (the cloud is just somebody else’s computer where they give you space to store data) allows you to store individual files and folders on a separate computer. The storage site is accessed from the internet, and your files are encrypted when uploaded to the site. For a list of storage sites, click here.
- Online Data Backup: Do not confuse online storage with online backup, as they provide very different services. Online storage, like Dropbox, Google Drive, etc., allows you to store individual files and document folders online. They do no store or protect any of your computer’s system files or programs (like Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.). To be able to protect your computer’s system files and your programs, you will need to use a backup service. These services allow you to protect individual data files and the system files and programs you use to access your files. In the event of a computer crash, once the computer is repaired or replaced, you can then restore your files and programs using the most recent backup. As with online storage sites, there are many sites available for backup services, and I have highlighted four of them here.
If, like me, you have not backed up your files or system and a tragic event does happen, it is not the end of the world. In my case, after my local computer experts looked at my drive, they suggested that I contact a company called DriveSavers. DriveSavers has been in business since 1985, and they specialize in data recovery from hard drives and other storage media that have crashed, become infected with viruses, or been otherwise damaged. DriveSavers can recover data even when you think it is unrecoverable. They offer a free estimate of the device to determine if they will be able to recover any data, and then provide a written quote for the service prior to recovering the data. But while this option is available, you should not rely on the ability to recover data as your disaster recovery plan. For one thing, there is always the possibility that some of the files will still be corrupted and damaged so that they can’t be recovered. In my case, DriveSavers was only able to recover about 90 percent of the files from my hard drive. The other reason is the cost involved. It cost me around $2,000 to have my files recovered. It was worth it for me, but many businesses may not be able to afford the cost of recovering their lost data.
Business insurance is a good thing to have even when you aren’t considering the tragic loss of your business’s computer files. There are many types of business insurance that can be purchased that offer coverage for your staff or visitors to your business, claims of professional malpractice, or property loss and damage. Before you purchase any insurance, you should speak to an insurance agent to determine the right policy for your business. In my case, I have a policy that is for property and general liability, and it provides coverage for damage and loss to property and equipment. I filed a claim for the damage to my hard drive and the cost to recover the data. So, instead of having to cover all of the cost to recover my data out of pocket, I only had to cover the cost of my deductible and the insurance company covered the rest.
The protection of your company’s important business data should be one of the top items you consider along with the other areas important to your business such as marketing, sales, new releases, and improving your social media presence. While it is possible to recover most of your data from a damaged hard drive, and you can lessen the financial cost of recovering your data with business insurance, that is not a substitute for preparing for the disaster in the first place. A good disaster recovery plan may not prevent the tragic loss of a computer, but it will make recovery simpler and faster. A disaster recovery plan that protects your data, either through an external storage device, online storage, online system backup, or a combination of these methods, will keep you from experiencing my tragedy. Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go run the backup on my files.
Geoff Habiger is a senior partner for Artemesia Publishing LLC, a small, independent publishing company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that publishes quality books from select authors that educate, inform, and entertain the reader. He is also the co-author for two upcoming novels: Unremarkable and The Wrath of the Fury Blade.
Online Storage Websites
Microsoft’s storage is available for free if you have a Microsoft account (such as Outlook or Hotmail). However, the free account only offers 5 GB of storage, and that’s hardly enough to store a couple of book cover files. You can purchase a storage plan starting at $5 a month that will allow you to have access to 1 TB or more of space. One Drive is also useful if you are looking for a way to collaborate with others online without having to e-mail large files back and forth. (onedrive.live.com)
Google’s cloud storage is very similar to Microsoft’s One Drive. If you have a Google account (such as Gmail), you already have access to 15 GB of free storage. That’s a better than One Drive, but still not a lot. Google offers accounts for online storage starting at $1.99 a month for 100 GB, or you can get 1 TB for $9.99 a month. Google Drive is also a good platform for doing collaboration and sharing of files. (google.com/drive)
Not to be outdone, Apple offers its users access to iCloud. Anybody with an Apple ID has access to 5 GB of free storage. Apple also offers paid accounts that give you access to more storage. $2.99 a month will give you 200 GB of storage, while Apple doubles Googles offer and will give you 2 TB of storage for $9.99 a month. iCloud is good for storage but is not designed for online collaboration. (icloud.com)
You may have heard about Dropbox from the news when they had a data breach that affected millions of their customers. This was one of the reasons I told myself to be careful about using cloud storage options. However, since that event, they have made significant strides in improving their security and data protection, offering two-step verification and other improved features. Their standard account is $12.50 per user per month and gives you 2 TB of space. They also allow file sharing and have tools to use if you are administrating several user accounts. (dropbox.com)
Backup Service Websites
Carbonite is the lowest priced among the backup options, and their basic service is limited compared to the others. Their basic plan starts at $59.99 per year and allows for unlimited storage for one computer. They only offer 90-day version retention for files, though they do offer continuous backup and folder syncing. (carbonite.com)
They offer services for personal and business use. The business plan costs $10 per month per device, and they offer unlimited storage, unlimited version retention, continuous backup, and they are compatible with Linux operating systems. (crashplan.com)
This site is one of the least expensive and offers many features. The basic plan is $69.50 per year and offers 2 TB of space to be able to back up an unlimited number of computers. It offers unlimited version retention, continuous or scheduled backup, and folder syncing. (idrive.com)
SOS Online Backup
This service offers similar features as the others, including unlimited storage and versioning for unlimited computers and devices. They offer scheduled backup service and folder syncing, and they allow you to set up a private encryption key if you want to better protect your files. A business plan starts at $29.99 per month. (sosonlinebackup.com)