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Backing Up Your Data, Part II

Backing Up Your Data, Part II
Back UpI previously wrote about the importance of backing up your data, so I thought it might be useful to look at some of the backup options available. Throughout this article, I refer to two different types of files: data files and system files. Data files refer to individual tax returns (for the Drake client) or documents, while system files refer to programs and operating systems. As you’ll read below, some options are better for data-file storage, while others are better for system archives.

Please keep in mind that none of these are necessarily Drake-recommended products, and that no one technology will be right for every office.

Floppy Disks
Pros: A wonderful backup tool, if you’re living in 1989

Cons: Obsolete
The traditional backup media, especially for data files, was the floppy disk. Commodore may have been ahead of its time in 1991 when it introduced a computer without a floppy disk drive; however, the decline of the floppy disk started when Apple introduced the iMac in 1998. The Era of Floppy Disks ended last year when Sony stopped making them after 30 years of production. If you’ve stored data on floppy disk and still have a functional drive, this year might be a great time to move that important data to some other medium.


Tape Drive
Pros: Affordable, with a long archival life
Cons: Clunky; backups can be unreliable

Compact and easy to store, tape drives write data to magnetic tapes similar to audio cassette tapes. In the past, their affordability and longevity made tape drives an ideal way to archive system files. Tape drives do have their drawbacks, though. Unlike hard drives that can quickly fetch data stored on different parts of the drive, you must rewind or forward the tape to find different files. As a result, finding and restoring individual files can take awhile. In addition, if you’re using a tape drive, it’s important to test the reliability of the backups regularly; as many as 15% of all tape backups fail, and anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of tape restores fail.

Optical Disk
Pros: Cheap; easy to store

Cons: Slow; not ideal for system archives or long-term storage

When bought in bulk, single-write DVDs with 4.7 gigabytes of storage can be found for 20 cents a disk, and a small shoebox can hold hundreds of disks. While that seems like a good reason to use optical disks, be aware that the write process is slower than that of most hard drives, flash storage devices, and other options for data-file archiving. In addition, optical disks generally don’t have enough capacity to be useful for system archives.

Optical disks can also have a high error rate when writing to the disk, so consider enabling your disk writing software’s verification function. Included with most disk writing software, verification will ensure that the data was accurately written to the optical disk and will inform you if an error was found. Optical disks can also degrade over time. If you’re using this option for long-term storage, consider purchasing a more expensive archival-grade disk.

USB Flash Drives
Pros: Great for data files

Cons: Not so great for system archives

While most flash drives still don’t have the capacity for system archives, they are an extremely versatile tool for backing up data files. (For Drake users, data files include tax returns, Document Manager, and Client Write-Up data.) USB flash drives are portable, reliable, and durable, and it is easy to restore data from USB drives in case of accidental deletion or file corruption. When looking for the right brand and model of USB flash drive for you, check out sites such as Newegg.com or Amazon.com, that allow customer comments. Note that on some USB flash drives, information can be encrypted; if a drive is lost or stolen; the encryption can help protect your client’s sensitive personal information.

External Drives
Pros: Large enough capacity for system backups

Cons: Larger than flash drives, and not as resilient
Where the capacity of USB flash drives is often too small for system backups, the capacity of an external hard drive is not. High-capacity external hard drives are now both affordable and reliable. There are two basic types of external hard drives: those that require an external power source, and those that do not.


External Power Source Not Required: “Bus-powered” drives require only a connection to a computer in order to operate, making it quick and easy to move data from one computer to another. Bus-powered drives also often come in smaller sizes—both physically and in terms of data capacity—than drives that require an external power source.

External Power Source Required: External-powered drives require both a connection to the computer and an external power connection. External-powered drives often come with some form of software designed for complete or incremental backups. If you are using an external-powered drive, consider purchasing more than one drive of the same model. This allows you to have an offsite backup setup, complete with its own set of cables, that can be rotated out with the onsite backup drive.

Take care when using external drives. Avoid moving them while in use, and remember to properly shut down all external drives before disconnecting them.

Cloud Storage
Pros: Convenient; data stored on multiple virtual servers

Cons: Data available only as long as cloud-storage company is in business

As with different types of physical backup media, some types of Internet-based “cloud storage” media are better suited for data backups, while some are better for system backups.

Dropbox syncs the contents of a folder on your local computer to both cloud storage and any other computer setup in your Dropbox account. Cloud-stored data can be easily and securely accessed online. You can store up to two gigabytes of online space for free with Dropbox; more storage is available for a fee. The free Dropbox service is ideal for data backups.

Carbonite, another online backup service, offers a product closer to a system archive. While you cannot back up programs or temporary files using Carbonite, you can back up an unlimited amount of data, as long as it is stored on internal drives only. Be aware that initial backups can take several hours—or days, depending on your available upload speed.

by Jared Byer



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