How Will a Catastrophic Data Loss Affect You and Your Business?

Teli Adlam —  May 12, 2009

Over the last couple of months I’d been working on some video tutorials, a few books, and a couple web projects. I was making a lot of headway, too. Then something unimaginable happened: three young men broke into my home and stole my laptops (among other things).

Sony VAIO FE Series 15.4" Laptop Sony VAIO AR Series Multimedia Laptop

Software programs, saved emails, pictures, music, the files I’d been working on, all gone.

If you’ve read this blog for some length of time, you know how much emphasis I place on always backing up your website and files regularly, but I never actually stressed backing up your computer…until now.

external-hard-drive Personally, I have a 500GB external hard drive that I use for backing up my computer files and projects (which, thank goodness, the thieves did not take), but there was one small problem with my system. I wasn’t diligent with my backups. Even with the backups I did have, I hadn’t saved my installed software (to include my password manager) or my emails. To say I was distraught would be understatement of the year.

When my laptops were recovered, I was elated. Unfortunately, the thieves had already reformatted my hard drives (and set up shop—one was even making himself business cards and flyers). I ran file recovery software, however, some of the files were too far gone to be repaired and that meant I would need to start some things over from scratch.

As I went through each of my computers re-installing software, setting up folders, and getting myself back on track in general, a few lessons from the situation jumped out at me.

  • Have an organizational system
  • Keep your computer uncluttered
  • Back up all important files/software regularly

Have an Organizational System

While I was creating my folders all over again, I realized how unorganized my laptops were previous to the theft. Although I had some semblance of structure, there were still files floating around everywhere and I had quite a few duplicate files, too.

This time around, I decided to take the approach with all my files that I take with organizing my WordPress files.

Basically, I asked myself what I generally did from my laptops. From that, I created multiple folders: Business, Personal, and Web Dev. Under each of the primary folders, I created sub-folders.

Folder Organization

For instance, under Business, I have Affiliate Marketing, Downloads, and Products.

In the affiliate marketing folder I’ll store all information related to my affiliate marketing business, downloads are the files and products that I download that relate to my business, and products are the products I’m specifically creating.

Under Personal, I have Pictures, Music, Writing, and Miscellaneous. Everything of a personal nature that doesn’t specifically related to my business or web development will go in these folders.

Finally, under Web Dev, I have Tools, for my web development tools (i.e. WordPress), Clients and Websites where I have sub-folders for each of the websites I’m working on.

For the most part, this system is working quite well for me. I know exactly where everything is and it forces me to stay organized. This system may also work well for you, but it’s important to have and maintain some sort of organization to increase productivity.

Keep Your Computer Uncluttered

My Current Desktop

One thing I was notorious for doing was downloading a file directly to my desktop and just leaving it there. Eventually when my desktop became so cluttered that I couldn’t see my background, I’d scoop up all the files and stick them in a Temp folder. It was a band-aid method and not a very good one.

When downloading files to your computer, make sure to download it to the appropriate folder straight away and if it’s only a file you’ll need for a few moments (i.e. a browser plugin or add-on), then download it to the Temp folder, immediately take action and then delete it. If you can’t take action right away, at least make sure to go through your Temp folder once every few days and clean it out.

Not only will your productivity increase, you’ll have more space on your computer and it will make backing up much quicker when you don’t have to worry about unnecessary files.

Back Up All Important Data Regularly

When I say all, I mean all. If it’s important to you or your livelihood, then it needs to be backed up in a safe location (preferably two) and it needs to be done regularly. How regularly? Ask yourself, how much information would you be willing to lose if your computer was stolen or your hard drive crashed tomorrow?

Initially, you should back up the files that don’t change at least once, the files that rarely change about once a month, and the files that you continuously work on once a day. Of course, this is simply a rough guideline, but it’s one I now wish I’d followed.

Some of the files you should absolutely, without a doubt, have backed up include any installed software programs and their license keys. You should also make certain to back up your password manager file, important emails, and files that related directly to your business.

FolderMatch Backup Software Most external hard drives come with an automatic backup program that will handle the details for you, only backing up files which have changed since the last back up rather than you having to figure it out yourself.

Or, if you’d rather not use the software that came with the hard drive for whatever reason, there are some alternatives. Off the top of my head, Mozy provides online data back up and storage (free up to 2GB) and you can find a list of software options, with reviews, at Download.com.

So, to review, please avoid the same classes in the school of hard knocks because I’ve just taken them and while valuable lessons were learned, the process wasn’t entirely enjoyable. (In fact, I’m still recovering from it.)

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Teli Adlam

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20 responses to How Will a Catastrophic Data Loss Affect You and Your Business?

  1. I get panic attacks just thinking about being separated from my laptop. I’m a visual person so I save to my desktop too. A couple months ago I got a virus and luckily was able to save everything, but I still feel discombobulated by the whole thing.

  2. Hi Teli,

    Great advice there. One point you have not touched upon in this post (but you did in the one you linked to) is that of live data on your sites. It’s all very well having a backup of the *files* that your website has, but it’s also important to backup things like database content, so that your blog posts and settings are saved.

    Regards,
    Andy

  3. And so it goes. Your compelling story focuses the need for easy backup software and possibly even duplication both online and some kind of off-site storage such as a extra hard drive stored in a safe deposit box, or at the very least periodic backups to cd’s or dvd’s.

    Hope you are soon back up to a 100% and that 2009 is a prosperous year for you

  4. Hey Teli,

    Here’s a few online solutions that I use:

    1. DropBox (www.getdropbox.com). It’s free … although a paid account allows for 50GB of online storage synchronization.

    I pop stuff into my “local” DropBox file store on my desktop. It automatically get synced online. When I open my laptop, all those changed are synced down again.

    So no matter which device I’m working on – the data within my local DropBox is always current (and backed up).

    2. Box.net (www.box.net). Another brilliant online service. I use it as my virtual desktop for all of my important files and docs.

    Andre

  5. Great tips!
    I have a different system for my files: I have three hard disks one with the SO, another with my clients files and another for my downloads (personal), then each hard disk is clearly organized.
    You’re right about the backups, I wish I have a 500 GB external drive! 🙂

  6. @Magali: Then you can imagine the panic attack I had when I walked into my home and saw that both of my laptops were gone. LOL 🙂

    @Andrew: The reason why I didn’t mention backing up DBs is because this article is specifically about backing up your local files as opposed to backing up your online/website files (which, as you noted, I explained in the linked to article). Chances are, if you did a proper web back up to begin with, your website files & DBs will end up being backed up when you back up your local hard drive. But again, it is an important reminder.

    @Robert: I wouldn’t go so far as a safe deposit box, but a fireproof safe would do well. 🙂 Then again, you can’t be too careful when it comes to sensitive data. Thank you so much for the well wishes and I’m confident I can get myself back on track, it’s only a matter of time.

    @Camilo: That’s a great system and even if someone doesn’t physically have three hard drives installed, they can be partitioned. Nice.

    As for the external hard drive, if you run any sort of web business, I recommend that you invest in one ASAP. There’s nothing quite like losing client files to throw a bucket of ice water in your face.

    Had it not been for my external drive, I would have completely lost everything. Luckily I did have a majority of my important files (though outdated) backed up and that has already saved my tail feathers a couple of times.

    For the amount of storage you get, the prices are quite reasonable. (I picked mine up at Wal-Mart for about $60.)

  7. @Andre: Yikes, I had to finish your comment out of the Akismet spam queue, but I’m glad I caught it in time.

    Thanks for the websites and links. I’d heard of Box.net, but never tried it. May have to look into both of them.

    On another note, long time no see, I hope that you and Anita are doing well. 🙂

  8. Teli, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I suppose a good reminder to us that anything can happen to anyone at any time. I do need to be better about backing up my websites and my computers!

    I hope you’re recovering well from the incident. Home invasion is not easy to get out of your head once it’s happened to you. Stay safe.

  9. I noticed that Andre mentioned using DropBox… I’ve been using that a lot lately as well so that I can grab my files from anywhere, any computer.

    I also use Mozy to do automatic backups. They offer a free level and you can upgrade to have more space if you need it. I love that I don’t have think about it, it just runs quietly in the background once every 24 hours for me and I’m backed up! If I had to remember it would never get done -lol-

  10. I totally agree with using an online backup since I lost all my files I saved on my external HDD. After doing so many researches, I finally found SafeCopy backup, http://www.safecopybackup.com.

    For me SafeCopy is a perfect fit. I can backup USB drives, share files and backup both my Mac and PC with one account. I’m very happy with it and it may be worth checking out. Good Luck!!

  11. I had a catastrophic data loss within my company aobut 2 years ago, I almost had a heart attack over it. I think it is a VERY good idea to back everything up at least bi-monthly.

  12. I’ve had some issues with backup software that came on external hard drives

    I had a virus on my computer and the backup software copied the virus infected files to the external drive
    as well as overwritten some “older” files that were actually the newer version, but were modified earlier because they came from 2 different computers.

    So when choosing a backup software, don’t go with the default on the backup drives. Test it first, you may lose your important data anyway for lack of testing.

  13. owh.. I get the same feeling with you right now.. I just lose my cell phone today.. don’t know where it put..

    Well thanks for the tips.. it’s really useful.. and some program I normally download from warez site.. its comes with keygen actually.. so loosing application is not big problem for me but the data is all important..

  14. The best solution to avoid data loss is to make multiple backups on external hard drives, DVDs, etc. I do not trust online backup services.

  15. I really enjoyed the practical value of your post. I have the exact same challenge you had. I have so many downloaded files stored in my temp folder. I appreciate your advice on how to organize my folders. I have also been looking for a online service to back up the files on my computer. You have saved me a lot of time trying to research and assess different options. I am going to use the service your recommended at mozy.

  16. juliet rawson May 25, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Online backups are indeed useful but not that safe.
    I always burn DVD or CD copy of all the files that I have.

    Much better to have more options.

  17. Thanks for the reminder.

    It’s real easy to get lax about these things and since my business database is on my cumputer, it would be all gone. I have just done something about that besides putting it on my thumb drive.

  18. free business advertising May 26, 2009 at 9:51 am

    i got virus on my computer few days ago and i lost all data on hardrive, then i try recover it using easyreco*** but i only got 80% files, any suggestion to get all my data back?

  19. The best solution to avoid data loss is online backups and make multiple backups on CDs, DVDs, etc.i always store my data in CDs and DVDs its a better way to save our data.

  20. Accounting Teacher June 16, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I (would suggest to) use both, online backups, and Burned DVDs to save from such a problem. Even if your DVDs are stolen, you can still have your data restored from online backup.