Technology is a double-edged sword in many ways. It allows us to get more done, gather larger amounts of information, and lose that data just as quickly. Backups aren’t just a data storage principle, but a good practice to implement in virtually any technical situation related to business.
As an example, I work from home. My income depends entirely on my having a consistent connection to the Web, access to video editing software, the ability to write and submit written work to the Web, and the practice of keeping data backed up should any of it be required later on.
In this article, I’ll outline some of the ways in which I double-up in order to avoid costly issues that could have a negative impact on whatever it is I may be working on. Each one of these solutions spawns from a failure of technology on either my part or the part of others I’ve worked with in the past. Needless to say, if something can go wrong, it probably will. This can be especially costly in a business setting where failing to get the job done matters more to the client than your own setbacks.
Why It’s Important
When you work from home, your ability to be productive is almost directly connected to your ability to be available via email, VoIP, chat, social media, or all of the above. Having the ability to stay connected even when your primary link to the Web is down is important.
By day I am a blogger, video editor, and content coordinator. These things require me to be actively connected to the Internet at all times. Whether I’m researching for a blog post or uploading videos to YouTube, everything I get paid for is in some way associated with the Internet. Should my primary residential connection go down, it’s up to me to either rush to the coffee shop and spend countless dollars on coffee or provide a reasonable backup plan to keep me connected while repairs are made.
What I Do
Currently, my apartment has three primary Internet connections in addition to my iPhone. My primary connection is delivered by AT&T U-Verse at a speed of 18 Mbps. I’ve also signed up for a relatively cheap unlimited broadband deal through Clear that enables me to have both a primary home modem and a mobile hotspot. This connection isn’t exactly reliable, but it is capable of handling most of my day-to-day needs during any downtime I might experience during AT&T maintenance or storm repairs. Clear is also a wireless provider, giving me the ability to take the broadband modems with me wherever I go as long as I stay within Clear’s service area.
This also allows me to stay online and productive in the event of a power outage, which happens very often here in the hill country. My laptop and Clear hotspot are both capable of operating for hours off of battery power, allowing me to finish out my work day without any considerable downtime.
My total costs are about $120/month for all three connections. Each Clear modem runs $30/month, which is a small price to pay when your Internet connection is vital for 100% of your income.
Living in a community with freely accessible Wi-Fi can be a great thing. A stone’s throw from my apartment, there is an open Wi-Fi connection available to residents that I could use in case of emergency.
Coffee shops, friends’ houses, and diners make great emergency outlets for Internet access when you’re in need. Libraries are also an option, and are generally great, quiet places to get things done as long as your job doesn’t require you to do a lot of talking.
One solution I’m quite fond of is coworking spaces (or virtual offices) where you can rent access to a shared office so that you can get out of the house and into a space where you can be productive without the distractions of the home. These places usually come at a cost, but the Internet connection and facilities are generally quite good.
Media Capture and Production
Why It’s Important
It doesn’t take more than one instance of lost footage and/or audio to remind you that having backups is vital to media production. Even when you’re doing your initial shoot, you should have backup equipment and data storage options available to you. Many prosumer camcorders out there actually have data duplication built right in, allowing you to record to multiple storage devices at the same time.
What I Do
In cases where I’m recording video for work, I’ll almost always have two video-capable devices with me: a primary camera that has all the bells and whistles I need for the trip, and a secondary that gives “good enough” performance. This allows for brief interruptions in recording on the primary device should someone step in front of the lens, trip over the power cord, or if the device itself experiences failure. I can switch to the secondary camera’s content during editing, and even lean on it entirely should the primary fail altogether.
Part of my responsibilities here at LockerGnome is to screencast the weekly webinars we do for Gnomies members. To do that, I have two computers recording the webinar simultaneously, each on a different connection to the Web just in case of a loss in connectivity during the presentation. My laptop and secondary modem are also entirely battery powered. A brownout caused the loss of over an hour worth of screencast footage during last year’s Blogworld, so the lesson I learned there is never to trust the power grid when you absolutely need to be connected.
Once you get your footage home, it’s always a good idea to take backups first and fast. I copy files to two storage drives on my primary production computer as well as sync them via Dropbox, which puts them in the cloud where my other computers can grab them and store them locally.
Carbonite, Mozy, and other cloud-based backup solutions are great as long as you don’t have to deal with a restrictive data cap on your Internet service. While the initial upload can take quite a long time, the benefits of having your data stored in a place where a house fire or natural disaster can’t destroy it are many.
There is no substitute for doubling up on everything. If you’re doing media production for business purposes, you may want to invest in two of whatever it is you need in the field. Having one good camera is one thing, but having two good cameras is even better. Bring extra batteries with you, and plenty of recording media such as SD cards and tapes. Even your lighting could be doubled up. Having a bulb break on you during transit is terrible; having your only bulb break on you is catastrophic.
Why It’s Important
Keeping backups of your business’ data is not only important, it’s vital. The data you keep for customers (and yourself) shouldn’t be trusted to a single hard drive, no matter how good the reputation of the manufacturer, or how expensive the hardware. If something fails, then you may have lost more than a paycheck. In some cases, you could be held legally liable for the loss of data, especially when you have the only copy of something that can’t be replaced — for example, the database of a website or footage of an event.
Too many modern businesses buy these high-speed multi-drive RAID storage devices thinking that more drives in a single unit mean more security. In many cases, the RAID used in these storage devices doesn’t actually duplicate data at all. It spreads it out across multiple drives (creating a much higher chance of failure) and putting your data in harm’s way. Two-drive RAID arrays can be geared for speed or data security and it’s very easy to confuse the two.
You can have the best of both worlds, however, through backing up your data to multiple drives both locally and off-site.
What I Do
I don’t have a large office or a lot of extremely sensitive material, so my data replication process is relatively simple. Everything I work with gets fed through two storage drives on my primary production computer, synced to Dropbox, and fed to a networked storage drive located in another part of the house. My laptop is connected to two external drives. One of these drives runs Time Machine and the other works as an ultra-fast video editing storage device. Essentially, everything I work with is copied to four different places as soon as I get it.
Once editing is complete, I clear off the space on the editing drives for new content and keep backups on two hard drives. Dropbox also has a memory on it, which I pay extra for, allowing me to restore any data that may accidentally be lost.
If at all possible, consider burning important data to archive class DVDs. This will keep the data safe from any electrical damage and make it easier to store it in large quantities without the risk of hardware failure due to extended storage. An old hard drive sitting in your closet for ten years might be fine, but a book of DVDs is also a great low-cost option for projects that don’t require an entire hard drive.
Documents and Receipts
Why It’s Important
Tax season hits hard here in my home office. Every business expense I make has to be documented and presented in order for me to make sure I receive the right discount on my taxes. This means having physical copies of the receipts handy, or, at the very least, scanned copies.
Businesses also tend to deal with a lot of office documents including: text files, spreadsheets, accounting information, presentations, and other documents that could easily get lost.
What I Do
Google Docs is my safe haven for documents. Either I create and manage my documents through Google Docs (and Google Drive) or I’ll at least upload the file to the service so a copy exists there. This allows me to access everything I need from virtually anywhere in the world. Not only that, but it allows me the freedom to invite other remote users to collaborate on a document with me.
Here at LockerGnome, we use Google Docs a lot. It’s where many of our projects are managed, and how we are able to keep up with all the daily tasks that have to happen to make sure articles like these are made available to you.
Just like any file, data storage backups can work in much the same way. Anything you create in an office application, whether it’s Microsoft Office or LibreOffice, can be stored and backed up in much the same way as any other file out there.
For companies, Microsoft has a great tool called Office 365 that can make collaboration and cloud-based storage of your business’ important documents easier. This is a great solution for companies that don’t trust or necessarily want to live within the Google umbrella.
Setting up your company’s own storage server with built-in redundancy and utilizing tools like Zimbra and other productivity applications to manage your company’s email, documents, scheduling, and more can be a great way to keep the important files in one place. Whether or not this particular solution is the best one for you is up to your particular business and its individual needs.
Having a backup plan in place for virtually any aspect of your business is important, especially if your business relies heavily on technology. A good mechanic wouldn’t stock their garage with a single wrench — why should you?
Hard Drive by Michael Meilen