If you answered never, or better yet if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about you need to read on. As reliable as computers are, they are just as unreliable. With the cost of media storage decreasing as new technology becomes available there is no reason not to backup your data on a regular basis.   Whether your computer is used as a hybrid for personal and business use or only one or the other you cannot afford not to backup your data.   

There are backup solutions that meet the needs of virtually every computer user. More often than not backup routines should be customized based on your specific needs and the configuration of your hardware.  The backup solution for a college student will vary from that of a business professional who travels half the week with a laptop and the other half is spent in the office on a desktop.   When creating a custom backup solution I look for a few things. I look for ease of recovery, speed of the backup, automation, cost, reliability and mobility.  

My specific practices need to include the ability to perform backups and sync multiple computers while traveling. My hardware setup includes a Blackberry, iPod Touch, Apple MacBook and an Apple iMac. While in the office I will use my desktop computer, the iMac. When I use the iMac I store entries in my address book, send, receive and store emails, schedule to do items and calendar events, create and modify files and change preferences like bookmarks or email signatures. Because I travel so often, it is important for me to have my files available so I can be efficient while on the road.   

To backup my main computer (iMac) I use Time Machine along with a 300 GB external hard drive. Time Machine is software that comes with Apple’s latest operating system. Time Machine automatically stores hourly backups for 24 hours, daily backups for a month and weekly backups until the backup disk is full. Time Machine makes a complete backup of my system. In the event my system crashes I have all my files on a portable device that I can connect to any other Apple computer and retrieve my files within minutes. Moreover, because the software automatically backs up my files each hour I have been able to retrieve files from earlier in the day or week when I make a mistake. Time Machine lets me browse my files in real-time  over the past 24 hours, days, and weeks, giving me the ability to recover any file right on the spot.  

In addition to Time Machine I use Apple’s MobileMe. Although MobileMe offers a great deal more features than what I take advantage of, I use it for 2 reasons; to back  up my calendar and to do list, and to backup my address book. Not only to back them up but to sync them in real-time between my desktop computer and my portable computer. The best part is, even when I’m on the road as long as I have Internet access the synchronization and backup of my address book and calendar entries are running.   Because I don’t use the MobileMe email and I use my company email I elected to use an email protocol called IMAP.  Basically, when you use IMAP anything you do that pertains to your email stays on the server. If you read a message it will show as read in your webmail interface as well as in your email client. If you create a new folder to store messages it will show in both places. The primary benefit to using IMAP email protocol is that all data is stored on the server and chances are your server is less likely to crash or be rendered inoperable than your personal computer. Should something happen to your computer you simple setup your IMAP account on another computer and you have all your messages just as you left them.  

The last ingredient to my backup solution involves an online service called SugarSync. I read about the service while reading an article on the most efficient workflows and the tools that allow us to achieve more as business owners. SugarSync is an online backup and synchronization utility. The software runs on both Mac OS X and Windows Operating Systems, they even have a version for your Blackberry and iPhone/iPod Touch.  

The way SugarSync works is by scanning your computer for modified files. When it finds modified files it uploads them to the SugarSync server. Their server is actually taking advantage of Cloud Computing which, I wrote about in previous blogs. After you sign up for the service you download and install their software, which guides you through adding folders and files to be backed up and sync’d. Upon selecting the data you want to backup (i.e. My Documents, your Quickbooks database, photos, music, spreadsheets, etc.) it will upload all the data to the server to create a duplicate copy. After all the data has been uploaded to the server anytime you make a change on your computer the modified file is re-uploaded so you always have a recent version backed up in the event of a crash. 

Not only does SugarSync backup the files but it will sync two or more computers so the files are always the same on both computers. So if your like me and use two computers equally as much you’ll want access to all your important files – regardless of the computer you’re using. When SugarSync is setup and operational, when you make a change on one computer the modified file is uploaded to the server and then automatically downloaded to the other computer.   SugarSync also offers a browser-based file manager so you can safely view your files even when your not at your own computer. A few other feature highlights include the ability to send large files, save files on the server and not on your system (saves space on your computer while allowing you to keep the data), create photo albums and share photos online, retrieve files that you deleted on your computer as long as they were backed up previously, and even go back to a previous version of a file.   SugarSync is relatively new and the Mac version is still in beta, however, I consider myself a power user and have genuinely put the software to the test and I have had little to no trouble using the service for over 30 days. I use two computers and sync nearly 15 GB between the two including my Quickbooks file, personal finance software, client files, word documents, PDF’s, images, and more. It has been great.   Before I go I also want to add that SugarSync support has been a pleasure to work with. And best of all the pricing is affordable and scalable for almost any type of user – including basic home users to business professionals.