Three ways to safer files

Howdy. That's how many people expect Texans to say hello. Sitting here in the Dallas area, I want to make sure Cyber-Texas covers as much or more ground than the real place. So expect me to push some boundaries in technology and Texas-talk. Since most of those boundaries will be ways to save small offices time and money, let's get started by looking at three ways to increase file safety.

For starters, let's not even touch your backup tape drive system. If you're a business, you certainly have one or you should feel really guilty now. Instead, let's focus on making it easier and quicker to find "lost" files and save the tape backup lecture for another time.

Most "lost" files are either:

1) misplaced 2) accidentally deleted 3) mangled by a mix of human error and software problems, or 4) garbled by your *&^$(% computer when you turn your back.

You need copies of your recent files close at hand for a quick copy back to your data directory. The trick? Making it easy to generate file copies and keeping them handy.

Where is handy? If you have a network file server, as I do, send a copy there. It doesn't matter, for our purposes, whether you have a NetWare, Linux or Windows file server, or even a Network Attached Storage (NAS) box. You can even copy files to another Windows computer on a peer-to-peer network, since you don't need the network to provide file locking for concurrent access like a normal shared data file.

Are you wondering why you need a tape backup system if you can copy all your data files on a server disk? Because server disks can die or your office can flood, so an off-site tape backup remains a good defense against catastrophe.

The second place to safely hide your files? A Zip disk or the equivalent. Any of the high-capacity floppy drives, such as the popular Zip disk from Iomega, works great. If your office is separate from your home, throw the disk into your briefcase (or pocket) before going home. For off-site storage peace of mind, leave a day-old backup disk at home each weekend. If your office is in your home, stash the disk in another room so you won't be tempted to use it for something not backup related.

A third great place to store files? Your hosted Web site. There used to be companies offering free storage room on remote Internet servers, but they're all gone. But if you use a hosted Web site, you almost certainly have some room left on that remote server for file backup.

Since we know where to store the files, let's talk about how to do it. You can make quick data-file copies either by using the Backup utility provided by Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP or by creating DOS batch files.

Rusty on DOS? It stands for Disk Operating System, that nongraphical window that Microsoft calls Command or MS-DOS Prompt. Windows 95/98/ME are just pretty covers over DOS, and NT/2000/XP support enough DOS to make the batch files run correctly (but they hide the Command Prompt icon inside Start > Programs > Accessories).

To create a batch file, use this command line: xcopy . f:\Docs-bkup\ /d /e /yStart this from the top level directory holding your data files. If all your documents reside in subfolders under a Docs folder, you want to run that batch command from there.

If you opt for Windows Backup, you'll find the Backup utilities hiding (usually) in the Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools folder. Next, configure your Backup Wizard to backup selected files, select the directories holding those files, then select "New and Changed Files" option when given the chance.

James E. Gaskin writes books (13 so far), articles, and jokes about technology and real life from his home office in the Dallas area. Gaskin has been helping small and medium sized businesses use technology intellingently since 1986.

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