It's Okay if your small business can't afford a dedicated IT expert, but most small shops, without fail, make the same mistake — they don't perform frequent and reliable backups. No one really takes responsibility for backing up data and it's every soul for oneself.
You might think that the cost and labor are prohibitive, but that's false economy. You can't afford not to backup your data. Besides, it just isn't true. If I told you that backing up data would require about five minutes per PC, would you be interested? You might be surprised just how easy it is to back up your data regularly (using Windows).
First, you must determine where you're going to store backups. The average PC user with small IT resources, has more options than you might think:
- Purchase an external hard drive for each PC. They're less than $100 now — totally within reach of any small business.
- Purchase a USB flash drive for each PC. They're even cheaper (usually) than an external hard drive.
Once you have the storage medium, decide whether to backup the entire system or just the data. A full system backup, initially, isn't a bad idea, but it might be unnecessary. In this area, you can bend a little. At the worst, you might have to reinstall software. If a PC has a dedicated purpose and has very little software on it, reinstalling the software won't take any longer than restoring it. In addition, Windows System Restore feature lets you turn back the clock to recover from some problems.
When you're ready to define a backup job, launch Windows Backup feature (using Windows XP, but instructions will be similar for earlier versions). From the Start menu, choose All Programs. Then, select Accessories, System Tools, and finally Backup to launch the wizard that will walk you through the following process:
- Read the opening pane, but don't switch to Advanced Mode just yet, and then click Next.
- In the next pane, select Backup Files and Settings (if necessary) and click Next.
- Unless you use My Documents and Favorites, choose Click All Information on This Computer or Let Me Choose What to Backup and then click Next.
- When you select to choose files, the next pane lets you select folders and specific files. Click the + signs to expand folders. Check folders and files that you want to back up. Click Next when you're ready to continue.
- Now you're ready to identify your backup storage. You can click Browse for a full system scan or choose an existing target. Then, click Next.
- At this point, you can execute the backup by clicking Finish, but don't. Instead, click Advanced so you can schedule regular backups.
- The default, Normal, is adequate for most users, so click Next. You can learn more about backup types from Windows Help and Support.
- In the next pane, check Verify Data After Backup if you're backing up critical data. It will take a little more time, but it's worth it. In addition, unless you have a good reason not to, don't check Disable Volume Shadow Copy. This setting allows the system to backup data while users are writing to it. Click Next to continue.
- Choose whether you want to append or replace the existing backup file, and click Next. Most likely you'll just replace the last backup file.
- Now you're ready to set up a schedule for backups. Click the Later option, give the backup a name, and then click Set Schedule. Specify a Schedule Task and Start Time (usually at night when nobody's around). You might want to check out the Advanced options, but the Schedule tab options are adequate for most users. Click OK and confirm your account by entering and confirming a password for the backup task. Be sure to memorize it or write it down and store it in a safe and secure place. When Windows returns you to the wizard, click Next and then Finish.
Users should backup their work regularly — every day isn't too often, even for the smallest business. Critical data should be backed up even more frequently. Windows will even let you define more than one backup job. For instance, you might backup accounting worksheets once a day while backing up an ongoing development project every 30 minutes. After you define each backup job, users won't have to do anything, except insert the USB flash drive, if necessary. Windows will do all the work for them (I mean... you).
You don't need a high-priced consultant (if you still think you do, please call me) or pricey hardware. You need an inexpensive and external storage medium and a little time to set up the schedule. In addition, spend a little time with each user so you know what folders and files need to be included in the backup.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.