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Protect Your Data

By: JOHN MOREN

I have been making money thanks to personal computers since way back in 1988. That was the year I first published the original NoteSmith loan servicing software and released it to the public. Since then I learned a lot about data.

If all my tangible assets were lost in a natural or unnatural disaster today, I’d buy a new laptop computer and my business would be fully functional tomorrow, almost as if nothing ever happened. But, if I lost my data today, I could not recover all of my business if I plugged away at it for the rest of my life.

How valuable is your data? More importantly, how safe is it? Here are some thoughts to help you safeguard your data and your business in this electronic age.

Bad things happen, but the worst things happen when two bad things happen together. I know you’ve experienced this. First you drop your toast. Of course it lands butter-side down. Next you drop your contact lens and the sink plug just happens to be up. Or, you discover your data is bad and it is now the identical data that appears on your only backup.

Keep two backups in place at once to guard against two things going wrong at the same time. Make two sets of backups at two different times. I always recommend an odd and even backup. Have an odd monthly backup done on the first of odd months and an even backup done on the first of even months. Also have odd and even daily backups done on odd and even days. You will probably do a full backup monthly, but might do a quick “incremental” backup daily of just the files you used today.

Get your data off site. Sometimes bad things happen in threes, and then it’s really bad. We’ve had three business associates tell us their offices burned down during the last three years. If your office burns down, you don’t want your computer and your backups to be five feet from each other. Give a copy to your neighbor, take one home from the office, mail one to your mom, or use one of the online services.

Test your backup. We get one call a year from someone who hired a consultant to install his or her NoteSmith CD. One consultant was unaware of the company’s backup routine, so he did nothing to include NoteSmith in it. A different consultant set up the backup routine long before the latest programs were added. NoteSmith periodically backs itself up but the user never grabs a diskette to get it off site because they know that someone else automates a full backup in their office. You know what happens next.

Forget the fireproof safe. Such things were invented to save paper. When they get hot, they emit water vapor to keep the paper inside from reaching flash point. A safe is not safe for electronic backups, which can be harmed easily from either water vapor or heat.

CDs do not last forever. The CDs that you make yourself (called “burning” but this isn’t the appropriate time to use that jargon) have about a 5-year shelf life. The silver program CDs that come from Microsoft will probably last a generation. The blue-green home use versions made with a laser will fail eventually, quicker in hot and humid sections of the country like Texas and Florida. Ditto for Zip Disks and diskettes, which can be subject to earlier failure.

Create a “MyData” folder on your computer and have all your programs store their data in that folder. Then you only have one folder, albeit large, to back up. There is no need to back up the operating system or your programs because you have those installation disks available. Your data: Priceless. For every other program disk, there’s MasterCard.

Digitize your paper. We all have important, original papers. Consider scanning them and saving the digital image. The paperless office is unlikely in the near future, but think paper-less (meaning less paper). Do your part to store electronically any paper that you receive. The UK is doing so with medical records and will save over a billion cubic feet of storage space. Modern scanners will save your images as compressed, ubiquitous PDF files that can be viewed with a free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Copy them to CDs to make them portable, then simply recopy them once every five years or so to get a fresh yet identical image. PDF may be the most popular format at the moment and is likely to remain that way for many years. TIF and JPG are other compressed formats that are likely to be usable far into the future. Do what you can to avoid creating paper in the first place. Email and fax-to-email services go a long way towards saving trees.

John Moren is President of Princeton Investments, Inc., publisher of NoteSmith software.

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