Ask an Expert

Q: A friend’s business suffered a fire, destroying his office. Nobody was hurt, but it got me thinking – what would happen if my shop experienced a disaster? Equipment is covered by insurance, but it’s our data we’d miss the most if our office burned. The designs for our core customers would be costly to replace. I know I should back up my files, but where do I start?

I have first-hand experience here, having lost my own digitizing station to a flood last year. Luckily, my files were backed up and I managed to salvage my hard drive to boot. With so much on the line, however, don’t rely on luck.

Before discussing your options, I’d stress that it’s more than your designs that need protection. You have a host of customer and job data to secure. Locally stored e-mail, customer resource management systems and shop management software all carry databases and files critical to your operation. Safeguard all valuable data when setting up your backup solution. Three popular solutions include:

1. Local backup: This is as low-tech as it gets. Copy files to a drive, take it home with you, swap drives every other day and sync them up (one should always be off-site). This can save most of your files (except those created the day of a crash), but it’s not convenient and easy to let lapse. If you experience a rare problem at your home and work, all may be lost. Find solid software (I use Cobian) to automate the process.

2. Cloud storage services: Not necessarily designed for backups, services like Owncloud, Google Drive, Microsoft’s Skydrive and Dropbox do provide tiered amounts of free and paid online storage. These services are meant for hosting shared folders rather than for mass backups. Simple file collections are easily synced between machines and their cloud-based nature means that your files are available via the Internet and stored off-site. They include file versioning, which helps you avoid that accidental overwrite of a good file with a damaged/compromised version. That said, they don’t have tools geared for backup and the easy path to restoration you’d find in a backup service. If you’re only concerned with having an always Internet-available collection of your designs and art, this may be enough.

3. Cloud backup services: Services like Carbonite and Crashplan fall into this category. They have constantly updated offsite storage, with easy automation tools for backup and restoration. Their full-featured software and services like hardware drives that can be shipped to your destination make them the most complete of the user-friendly solutions. They’re the most expensive, but they offer the best tools and highest reliability. Like their cloud-storage cousins, most allow for Internet-based access of your files and versioning.

So, which should you use? For business I choose a hybrid of local hardware and proper cloud backups. Swapped local drives make for easy retrieval of large amounts of data when necessary and require no Internet connection. Add the immediacy of the constantly synchronized cloud backup and tools for easy restoration of files when you do have connectivity for the best of both worlds. You can get by with a rigged combination of cloud e-mail services and client files in cloud storage folders, but after a certain amount of data has been reached, the plans from proper backup services become more analogous in cost, and the features they provide make them the best choice for businesses.

There are three steps to any good backup routine:

1. Stay organized. Keeping files organized makes them easier to find on a daily basis, and easier to recover in an emergency, especially when individual files have been deleted/corrupted and a full recovery isn’t needed.

2. Automate. Take as much of the responsibility of backing up off of yourself; you don’t want to miss a critical backup because you had rush jobs.

3. Check in. Though automated, be certain that the process is working. Regularly check your backup drives, log into your accounts and make sure your backups are current.

There’s the possibility a service will falter, your backup drives fail or that you’ll do something to accidentally compromise your backup, but any solution is more likely to pay off than a wait-and-see approach. If price is an issue, start with what you can afford, but start today.