A number of associations have recently been in the unfortunate position of losing vital data as a result of inadvertently erased files or hard drive crashes. The cost involved in recreating all the important files on your computer can be quite high, as well as being quite time consuming. To ensure that you do not find yourself in the same predicament I recommend that you establish a backup procedure that makes copies of your vital files on a regular basis.

Ideally, you should work with two backup media, one onsite and one offsite. Each week, say Thursday evening, you should copy your files to your backup device. You can leave this running when you leave, and the files will have been saved by the time you arrive the following morning. It doesn't hurt to leave your computer running overnight, in fact you might extend the life of the machine if you left it on all the time! On Friday, take the backed up files home, and then on Monday morning bring the other backup media to work. This way you will always have a copy of your files at work which will be at worst two weeks old, and a copy at home which will be at worst one week old. Should there be fire, theft, or simply a well-aimed deluge courtesy of our resident possums, most of your data will be safely stored elsewhere, with a copy at work to retrieve files from if necessary. When working with critical files I suggest you carry out this procedure more frequently, possibly every night. Always confirm that your files have been copied to the backup media before removing it.

Choosing a Backup Device

There are several alternatives when it comes to deciding on which mass storage device to use for backing up your files. Your choice will be determined by the volume of files you wish to backup. If you want to be able to use your files on a variety of machines I suggest either a Zip drive or a CD burner. The CD burner is somewhat more expensive, but can store the equivalent of six or seven Zip disks on a single CD-ROM, for about 3% of the cost. This makes a relatively permanent record, and is cheap enough to justify creating one every week or two, allowing access to previous versions of a file. This is useful if you discover that you have backed up a file with errors in it and you want to revert to an earlier version. A CD-ROM should last 100 years and, when stored in a case, can be dropped from great heights without damage. Iomega claims that their Zip disks may be dropped from at least a metre without damage. Most computers now have CD-ROM drives and Zip drives are also commonly used in home computers at the moment, making both of these formats attractive. Jaz drives are fast, DAT drives are compact, and the Imation Superdisk can read 120MB disks as well as conventional.floppy diskettes. Don't ignore the humble floppy diskette either! 1.4MB isn't much by today's standards, but a single diskette will hold much of your email, your membership database, or your Word documents quite easily. Consider your needs and then look at what is available at a price you are prepared to pay.

Here are some of the mass storage devices associations use. Most will work on Macintosh and IBM compatible computers. Prices were current in 2001. Some devices may have been superseded or (as is the case with the Imation LS-120) discontinued . Other devices, such as DVD burners may now be a better option for day to day backups.

  • Zip drive - 95MB - under $250, discs $20
  • CD burner - 500MB - 660MB - $400 - $800, discs - $3 for write once, $35 for rewriteable
  • Jaz drive - $500 (1GB), $700 (2 GB). Cartridges $160 (1 GB), $180 (2 GB)
  • Imation LS-120 SuperDisk 120Mb - $280. Disks $17 (
  • Syquest drive - 1 GB - $530. Cartridges $90
  • DAT drive - $600 - $1500. Tapes in a variety of sizes, $20 - $100
  • Floppy drive - 1.4 MB. Diskettes $8 per box of 10

Useful software

Software for creating one step backups often comes with devices listed above. For Macintosh users the software I recommend is Retrospect Remote, by Dantz. A single user version costs approximately $75, while a version that will backup 10 machines across a network will cost approximately $700.

Norton Utilities is a program that every association should own. The program contains a number of useful tools, including the ability to recover files that have been accidentally erased and to fix disk errors. Norton Utilities is available for both Macintosh and PCs. Virus software is another good investment, particularly if you receive email with attachments, or if you are sent files on floppy diskettes. Software like McAffee, Vet, or Virex can prevent viruses spreading to your machine and corrupting your data.

Disaster Recovery

If your computer's hard drive crashes and you cannot recover files using Norton Utilities, you may be able to retrieve some or all or your files by sending the drive to a recovery specialist like Doctor Disk. They will probably charge between $100 and $700 to attempt to copy files from the drive, but the cost may well be worth it if the drive contains critical files that are not backed up. Other companies offer similar services, so if you have time you should shop around for competitive quotes. Disk Doctor's contact details are: 101-103 York Street, South Melbourne 3205. Phone: (03) 9690 9100.