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Back Up Data Now or Recovery Could be Eternal


By Rob Kay & Jeff Bloom

It can happen to anyone at anytime. There may be a sudden outage or a spike in your electrical power supply. Your computer responds by making an unusual wheezing sound and perhaps a clunk. When the power returns your monitor displays a blue colored screen with an error message reading "System Failure" or something equally puzzling. At this point you’d better cross your fingers. Your hard drive may have crashed and, if your data isn’t backed up you could be in big trouble.

If your drive goes down you could lose business records, correspondence, proposals and all your applications. Re-installing the programs without a backup program could take hours or days. Much of your data would have be re-entered by hand and some might be irreplaceable. We believe that not backing up your hard drive is a form of Russian roulette. The solution is to backup your data on a regular basis.

Storage technology is advancing rapidly and systems such as rewritable CD ROMs, which are worth taking a look at, are dropping in price. However, the most popular medium is the venerable tape backup and that’s what we’re going to concentrate on for this article.

Backing up is not all that hard to do

We like the tape backup system for several reasons: The medium (the tape) is cheap and dependable. Your data can be backed up for as little as a penny a megabyte and it’s durable-- your data's protected for as long 30 years. A "Travan" style tape cartridge the size of a cigarette pack allows you to conveniently store all your information on your hard drive.

We looked at several highly rated backup systems from Hewlett-Packard and Seagate that we thought would be appropriate for a home office or an office network environment. Going into the review process we had several criteria:

  • They had to be easy to use and preferably, fast.
  • The systems had to have a large enough capacity to handle the inevitable increase in data storage over the next few years that we can confidently predict would be coming your way in the way of bloated programs, digital photos or graphics storage and other information.
  • We wanted to purchase a system by a manufacturer that had solid customer support.

We decided to test Hewlett-Packard’s 4-8 gigabyte external tape back up system on our 200Mhz PC clone office computer. Why H-P? Hewlett-Packard has always received high marks from the computer magazine reviews and their 8 gigabyte model seemed ideal for most home offices. We wanted to look at something that could store a mirror image of our hard drive on one tape.

Installing the 8 gigabyte system was not quite "plug and play". After loading the software from a CD the unit just didn’t want to respond. We scratched our heads and called up H-P’s customer support. They sensed a compatibility problem and helped us download the latest "firmware" directly off the Internet in order to alleviate the problem. After installation, the unit performed flawlessly. It took about 1.6 hours to back up my entire system which was well within our allotted time frame. The 8 gigabyte external unit sells on the street for under $250 whereas you can get their internal drive version for closer to $225.

The heavy duty business-quality backup units from H-P and Seagate were actually easier to install than the home system. The new T20 from H-P is designed to supercede the T4 model. It actually uses the same software as the T4 so if you’re upgrading from the older model (as we did) the whole process is a snap. To use the T20 you must also install a SCSI card which allows faster data transfer. The result is very fast backups which is especially advantageous in an office environment. We really liked this external unit and recommend it for any small business—particularly one with a network. At around $450, it is however pricey.

The Seagate TapeStor Travan 20 was an internal unit that did not necessitate a SCSI card. Because it was an internal unit installing it was a bit trickier and took about an hour of our time. The software (which had the same interface as the H-P models) was easy to use and installed easily. Despite the fact that it didn’t necessitate the use of a SCSI card, it was very fast, backing up 1.8 gigs in less than 1 hour and 15 minutes. The Seagate unit sells for as low as $300.

Should you consider an external or an internal unit? Earl Ford, President of Pacific Interactive, a Honolulu network integration company and a hardware expert, explained that the external units are much easier to install and because they are easily transportable, can be used to back up multiple machines including laptops. The downside is that they are always more expensive. The internal units, though generally less expensive and harder to install and replace.

Which unit should you purchase? The 20 gig H-P unit we looked at might be better for a network whereas the internal Seagate model is primarily designed for an office or home workstation. We found both companies offered great technical support.

Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who works with technology companies in Hawaii and Silicon Valley. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839- 1200.

Pacific Business News - Friday July 9, 1999

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