Industry studies indicate that many people are risking data loss by neglecting to back up their files at home. Home machines are being used for more and more tasks, both work-related and purely personal. Here are some home back-up tips you should pass along.


I was talking with a friend of mine recently, trying to console him through a computing tribulation. A year or so back, he had invested the effort to rip all his DVDs to a large external hard drive. This was so he could play them back through a home theater PC without having to hunt for the original discs or worry about getting them scratched. His problem was that the external drive he was using had failed, and it was the only place that the video files were stored. His original discs were still safe, thankfully, but the time he had spent babysitting all those disc extractions was gone for good.

My friend was most distraught over the fact that he should have known better. There are lots of devices and software on the market to help home users protect their data, but some sources indicate that even though most people know they should back up, many don’t bother. A 2006 survey conducted by Maxtor indicated that 46% of respondents do not make backups of their data.

Support pros have so much to worry about at work that it would be nice if we could wash our hands of what our users do at home. More work is being done from off-site, though, and VPNs and Web applications increase the chance that there is business data that has ended up on your users’ home computers. Backing up their data at home may not be your direct responsibility, but you can provide a better degree of support by reminding them how they can protect their files. So, ready for copy-pasting or hot-linking, here are home back-up tips you can pass on to your users.

Step One: Just start already!

The current versions of both Apple’s MacOS and Microsoft’s Windows have decent back-up software built right in. Pair the software you already have with an external USB hard drive and you have a basic back-up system. Remember, buy an external drive bigger than your computer’s internal disk (room to grow on, you know).

Single disks can fail.

There are external USB devices on the market now that can contain more than one hard disk. These storage systems can spread your data across all the drives in the device, protecting you in case a single drive should fail. These systems can be more expensive than single drive solutions, but they offer more comprehensive protection. Consider saving up for one of these more robust systems or simply buy a second single-disk back-up device and trade off every so often.

Look for another basket for your eggs.

Backups at home are a good start, but what if you have a fire or a natural disaster, and all your drives are trashed? The next level in back-up safety is storing a copy of your files in another location. If you have two external drives you are using for backup, you can accomplish this by keeping one of the drives elsewhere — at the office, with a friend, or in a safe deposit box. Make sure to bring it home again frequently so the data can be updated. You could also consider commercial back-up services that copy your files to a safe location over the Internet. Carbonite and Mozy are two companies that offer this capability.

Remember, you may have more to protect than your computer.

Now that your PC is safe, think about all the other places you might be storing data. Game consoles, camera memory cards, and digital video tapes all contain information that can be lost when a piece of hardware fails. If it is anything you would miss if it were gone, make a copy!