Sorting out small office, home office backup

Portable devices can be cheap and easy, but also risky

There are many techniques and technologies for implementing a regular and sound backup regime at a small office or home office (SOHO) and while on the road. But there are also many hazards. Small devices, such as portable disk drives, are exposed to conditions that cause failures far more often than business-class systems, and while portable units are convenient, they sometimes lack security features such as password protection or encryption that could leave your data open to theft.

But with a little investigation, you'll find a number of suitable choices for your SOHO environment that will vastly reduce the chances that important information will be lost because of a single disk drive failure.

There are several approaches to backup. One method is to back up all data for a complete copy to support reformatting a computer from scratch, known as a bare-metal restore. Another approach is to back up only those files that have changed since the previous backup, reducing the amount of data that needs to be copied.

Replication or data mirroring to a remote location is another option for protecting data when connected to a network. A hybrid solution involves synchronization software, such as SoHo Organizer from Chronos and CrashPlan from Code 42 Software which captures and caches data on a laptop and then replicates it to some other PC, laptop, server or storage service provider when connected to a network.

Universal Serial Bus 2.0 devices are a popular option for moving and sharing data as well as for quick backups of files while traveling or in place of floppy disks and tapes. Small USB thumb drives based on flash memory with capacities of up to 8GB are available for under US$250. Vendors including Kingston Technology have added encryption along with plug-and-play support for Windows-based computers.

For storage capacity needs beyond thumb drives, small portable storage devices based on 2.5-in. mobile hard disk drives that attach to computers via USB ports or FireWire are a good option. SimpleTech, Polaroid and other vendors offer pocket drives with anywhere from 40GB to 120GB capacity for US$129 to US$150. These pocket devices are great when you're traveling and working on large projects where you need to clone or back up for rapid recovery. Portable MP3 players including Apple iPods can also be used as data storage devices, eliminating the need to carry a separate portable drive. The drawback to most of these products is that they can be lost or stolen, and they offer little to no protection for your data.

For SOHO or larger-capacity applications, 3.5-in. external Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) disk drives with capacities of 500GB are available for around US$250; they connect via USB but use an external power source. Many USB devices, particularly larger-capacity devices, come with some form of basic backup or file-synchronization software, password protection and encryption.

Network-based backups are becoming more popular; however, suitable network bandwidth or a backup service provider may not always be available. Another challenge for network-based backups is that some broadband networks in remote locations have slower upload speeds than download speeds. The faster download speed will be helpful when you need to recover files; however, slow network-upload speeds can result in backup performance bottlenecks. If you don't know what your network upload and download speeds are, check out the tools at the DSL Reports Web site.

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Greg Schulz

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