You need to back up your data only once, they say: immediately before the hard disk crashes. But enough of my feeble humour. Backing up data is a serious business.
You can always buy another hard disk - unfortunately, it won't have your files on it. Networking should make backup less of a chore: with all your data on the server, there is only one location to back up, which makes life considerably easier.
And expense isn't a valid excuse - setting up a decent backup system for your valuable data won't cost you much at all. The software is free and all you need to do is provide a backup destination. And this hardware element won't break the bank either - your expenditure here can be less than $300.
The freebie backup software I refer to is, of course, Windows Backup (see Figure 1). It may be a bit plain - you might even call it "vanilla" - but it's good enough for most small network backups.
The Windows Backup utility will let you archive files and folders on the system or remote shared folders to a hard disk. You can then restore these files to any accessible disk in the future; create a copy of the system state, system/boot partition and any files needed to start your system in the event of a system failure; schedule automated backups; and create a log file and an ASR (Automated System Recovery) disc that will save system files and configuration settings. And you can use Backup remotely to back up Microsoft Exchange Server databases and information about other systems.
The Backup utility is installed by default in Windows Server 2003 and XP Professional. If you have a small peer network running XP Home, you'll need to install it manually. You'll find it in the Install CD-ROM's Valueadd folder.
If you're looking for something over and above simple data backup and protection - disaster recovery, for example - you may need to put your hand in your pocket. Windows Server 2003 and SBS 2003 include Automatic System Recovery, which lets you boot from floppies in the event of a system failure and restore straight from backup media.
I'm also a big fan of Acronis TrueImage (see Figure 2), which is a little more convenient in practice. TrueImage lets me take a complete backup image on a scheduled basis and save it to a separate hard disk. Should my main hard drive fail, I'm able to mount the Acronis image as a drive by the press of a function key during booting up. You can download the trial from www.acronis.com.