Backups Made Easy (even your mother-in-law can do it)

I realize that people like discussing computer backups about as much as they enjoy preparing for a colonoscopy (hey, at my age that’s a reality of life!).  Stay with me on this one because it’s a lot easier than it used to be and might even be free!

I frequently work with home users and small businesses that either have no backup policy or an ineffective one. Thus, their important photos, music and business documents are at risk in the event of a severe virus, hard drive crash or natural catastrophe.

I recently assisted the parents of a high school student whose PC had been infected by a nasty virus.  The infection’s bark was far worse than its bite:  To a casual user it appeared that all files and most programs had been deleted.  A look at the Start menu showed virtually no programs listed.  When the aspiring law student looked in her documents folders, years of academic writing were gone as were a variety of photos and other media. In a desperate attempt to rid the computer of malware, they restored the computer to factory settings.  In other words, the operating system was reinstalled and all user files were deleted.

The good news:  The malware was eliminated.

The bad news:  None of her data was backed up.

Fortunately, I was able to recover a majority of her documents and media files using a file recovery utility.  However, due to the destructive nature of a factory reset, many of her files were either overwritten or corrupted… A loss which could have been avoided by an automated backup.

Power supplies and hard drives are the two most common PC components to fail and are relatively inexpensive to replace:  A power supply runs about $30.  A hard drive costs about $65.  The photos, music, tax returns and other important documents on that same hard drive are often priceless.  Many users often don’t think about backing up until it’s too late.

Businesses have a lot more at stake.  According to a DTI/PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, 7 of 10 small businesses that suffer a major data loss go belly-up within one year of the crash. This is a sobering reminder of the need for some sort of backup strategy. That could be an automated tape or hard drive backup, a cloud-based backup or an employee that brings an external drive or tape into the office on a weekly basis.

The right backup solution for you or your organization depends on the amount of data you need to protect, the frequency of backups (how much data loss your home or business can tolerate) and how long you can be without your information following a meltdown.

For smaller data needs, my favorite solution is Dropbox.  Designed as a way to sync data across multiple computers, tablets and mobile devices, this app is a great solution for backing up your data. Once you create your DropBox folder and get in the habit of saving your files and folders there, you really don’t have to think about it.  Plus, if you regularly access your information on multiple devices (say, a home PC + a work PC) your Dropbox folder will automatically sync your files & folders on multiple machines, eliminating the need to email files to yourself. This last point was a life changer for me.  During the normal course of a day, I might work on one of about 3 computers.  I often grab one of two laptops as I run out the door to meetings.  Before Dropbox, I always had to pause for a second to make sure this particular laptop had all the files I needed. With Dropbox installed on all three PCs, the important files are always synced across all 3 machines. Plus, those files are accessible on other computers via Dropbox’s web interface. There are also Android and iPhone apps so that you can access your files on smart phones and tablets.

What about security? Dropbox uses the same encryption and security techniques used by banks.  All data is encrypted for transit across the web and it is also encrypted while parked on their servers.  However, it’s up to you to make sure your password is complex and difficult to guess. Accordingly, you should go to great links to come up with a long password or pass phrase that includes all of the elements discussed in my blog about passwords.

The entry-level Dropbox account provides 2GB of free storage.  Not enough?  Invite your friends through the website.  For every friend that accepts your invitation you each get an additional 500MB of space, up to a max of 16GB – that’s not too shabby!  If your storage needs are greater than a free account offers, you can purchase 50GB of cloud storage for $100/year or 100GB for $200/year.

So if you have not set up a backup strategy yet because it’s too much trouble, give Dropbox a try.  If it’s remote file access you want, you get that too. Dropbox brings you the best of both worlds in an easy-to-use application.  For most users it’s free too!

If you want to start off with an extra 500MB of storage space, leave a message here and I will send you an invite.

Need a little help understanding how it works?  Check out the tutorial videos on the Dropbox website. If you need even more assistance, drop me a note and I will help you set it up, create your folders and launch your space in the cloud.

Hello World!

Welcome to my corner of the web.  Over the coming months, I plan to write on a variety of technical topics from computer security, to “how to” tips, to reviews of products and services.

My goal is to present technical topics in layman’s terms – language that your mother-in-law can understand. If an entry is too technical, too basic or completely misses the point, feel free to comment on the post or shoot me an email, and I will do my best to fix things.

I’ve never been accused of being a good writer, so please bear with me.  I have a tendency to ramble on in a stream of consciousness and veer off topic.  I also commit the occasional never-ending sentence and overuse certain words like “occasional”. A buddy of mine who is a journalist, newspaper editor and sometimes novelist once told me the way to become a better writer is simply to write.  So in the same manner that some train for a marathon, I will strive to become a better blogger.

I will admit to a couple of biases in advance.  First off, I love free stuff. I will frequently review and promote free/open source alternatives to the software that you’ve paid tons of money for over the years.  This includes office suites, antivirus & security software, photo organizers and even operating systems.  I will also talk about how to save money on hardware.  Your wireless router got blown out by a thunderstorm recently?  I can help you replace it for about 1/3 of what you paid for your last one. Don’t want to buy a brand new computer for the kids to surf the web, check/send email, play games and compose theme papers?  I will show you ways to recycle that old Windows 2000 machine to serve all their needs – securely and reliably.

My second bias is all things Google.  I’m a major fan and promoter of many of their products, from the Chrome browser to Gmail/Google Apps to Picasa photo software. So expect a lot of love for Google. I’ve even had clients accuse me of being on Google’s payroll (I wish!)

I hope to inform and entertain you along the way.  My best days in this business are when I sit down with a frustrated user at his/her wit’s end with a tech problem.  After listening to their complaints and concerns and showing them a solution that makes life easier, the ensuing “Ah Ha!” or “Yahoo!” moment is pretty magical. I never get tired of helping folks work through life’s technical annoyances.

So if you have questions, are running into roadblocks or simply want to tell me this blog stinks, please feel free to post a comment here or on my Facebook page or shoot me an email. I promise to address your questions as quickly as possible or let you know that it requires additional research. If we need to meet face-to-face or I need some desktop time,   we can arrange that as well.

Thanks again for dropping by. I hope we can learn something here, save some time and maybe even save some money.


About the Company

While Partner Technology Solutions (“Partner Techs”) was founded in 2011, it is backed by over 2 decades of experience in all things techie, from securing your wireless network to selecting, connecting and using that new Android phone or tablet, Blue Ray Player or UltraBook laptop. If we cannot help you solve a problem, we have created strategic alliances with database administrators, programmers, web developers, CPAs and other partners with whom we like to work.