The way Lee Highsmith sees it; the numbers alone ought to be enough to send a chill down the spine of small-business owners. By the most recent estimates there 50 million laptops in use today. Fewer than five percent of those are protected by any kind of backup strategy, and yet about one-third of laptop users will experience data loss in any give year. The desktop ratios reflect the same issue: Little protection, high loss rates.
For small businesses, data loss is a serious phenomenon. "In a small business, each employee has a much greater significance to that business, the cost of IT can be much more significant for the business, and the data that is on these PCs can be of much greater intrinsic value," said Highsmith, a worldwide program manager at IBM. "Very often the data in these systems is fundamental. It is things like customer lists, proposals, financial books."
The world is rife with data-recovery and data-backup solutions, many of them targeted at the small businesses user. Why don't people make use of these solutions? Often, experts say, it comes down to time and expertise. People don't know how to protect their data, or they don't have the time to do it properly. That's why many of today's cutting edge solutions are touting ease of use as their chief virtue.
Take for instance IBM's own data protection solution, called Rapid Restore PC. "If you ever had the dreaded 'blue screen of death,' if you ever had a destructive virus, this product gives you the ability to bring back everything you had up to your last backup," said Highsmith.
The application creates a hidden service partition within the hard drive that is inaccessible to the user. Behind this partition the application backs up the entire system, including all data files, software applications, registry settings and fix packs, along with user data and network settings.
The program is set to default to a weekly backup, but it can image the system more or less frequently as required. The backup process runs invisibly in the background. If the system should go down, a user can bring back the system exactly as it stood at the time of the last backup, through the press of a single button at boot time.
IBM is making the program available to all users of its systems retroactive to October 1999. Users of non-IBM PCs can buy Rapid Restore for $60 from IBM partner X Point Technologies.
While the IBM solution uses a hard drive partition to safeguard the backup copy, others have sought protections that put physical distance between the user's machine and the backup copy.
For years this meant backing up onto tape a technologically sound notion, but one that tended to be less than helpful to small-business owners with limited time and expertise. "In small businesses everybody goes out and buys a tape drive and then never uses it. First, it takes forever to figure it out. Then if you do figure it out, there actually is work involved in doing something with it," said Paul Marsala, president of Peer Software.
In his firm's Save-N-Sync product, Marsala has tried to catch hold of the virtues of tape, without all the complications. In this model, the user's entire system is first backed up onto an external hard drive. From then on, scheduled backup sessions run invisibly in the background, looking over the computer for changes and updating the backup copy accordingly.
"Ten years ago hard drives were expensive and tapes were cheap," said Marsala. Today, with the falling cost of hard drives, "you could literally drag and drop the entire contents off your primary drive onto another drive" and thus protect your data cheaply and easily.
In fact, Marsala suggests that small-business owners might want to do just that.
For a data protection program that gets the job done at a low cost, albeit without any bells and whistles, a business owner today need simply buy a hard drive and plug it into the USB port. Put a folder on that drive to hold all sensitive data, and then simply drag and drop from time to time. In a networked setting, others too can have backup folders on the same drive.
It is not perfect, but it is cheap and it takes care of your most sensitive data. Plus it's better than what you are using now, which is, most likely ... nothing.