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Saving Data Online

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I’m a compulsive saver. I save backup copies of all important computer documents I’m working on, and backups of my backups.

As I’m working, I frequently hit the Ctrl-S keys to save my current document to the hard disk. Somewhat less frequently, I periodically save a backup copy to a floppy disk, provided the file is small enough to fit on it, which it usually is. Less frequently still but also periodically, I save a copy through the Internet to an offsite backup disk. And somewhat less frequently than this, I make a complete backup of all the documents on the hard drive of my primary work computer on a writable DVD disc.

I’ve never lost a document, despite making not-so-uncommon but no-less-brain-dead mistakes like accidentally deleting an important file or destroying a current, nearly complete version of a file by overwriting it with a preliminary, incomplete version.

I’ve also suffered one major data-destroying hard-disk crash; and once I was a victim of a natural near-disaster. My wife and I were barbecuing out back when it started to rain, so we moved onto the porch. When I heard thunder, I nervously checked the computer in my office. I was working on a book and didn’t want to lose anything. Everything checked out. Then . . .

Boom! The bomblike noise was accompanied by a small, momentary fireball on the ground maybe 100 feet from where we were sitting. Lightning strike.

Even more nervously this time, I checked the computer again. Dead. An enormous surge of electricity had blown right past my surge protector and fried the PC. But my data were still alive, saved by a backup.

Offsite Storage Options

Fortunately, I’ve never been a victim of the kinds of horrendous natural disasters much in the news over recent months. Hurricanes can destroy not only your computer, but also any backup hard disks, optical discs, tapes, Zip disks, Jazz disks, or floppies that you’ve dutifully made. The same is true for fires, floods, landslides, avalanches, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, and meteor strikes. Despite the improbabilities, catastrophes do happen.

All this underscores the importance of offsite storage. These days, as a result of the Internet, saving important data offsite is easier than ever, with various options available.

One viable free option for home and small-office users is to save documents to the Web space that your Internet service provider offers, depending on how much space it gives you.

You can transfer files using the same tools you would use to upload files when creating a Web site. For instance, you can use a standalone FTP (file transfer protocol) program such as SmartFTP (www.smartftp.com) or the FTP tool built into another utility program such as VCOM PowerDesk Pro (www.v-com.com/product/PowerDesk_Pro_Home.html).

If you’re going this route and backing up sensitive documents, you should encrypt the files to prevent Web surfers from perusing them, inadvertently or not. One easy way is to password-protect files by using the popular Zip file compression format built into many other utilities.

A more automated option is using a specialized online backup service. A number of these services went belly-up during the dot-com bust, but IBackup.com (www.ibackup.com) is still alive and kicking. For $14.95 per month, you have four gigabytes to play with.

Along with providing tools you can use to schedule automatic backups of preselected data, IBackup also lets you make its remote file server space look like another local hard disk, so you can manually drag and drop individual files to a safe, password-protected location. Unlike some other online backup services, it will back up Mac and Linux files as well as Windows files.

Xdrive (www.xdrive.com), which pioneered the concept of making remote file space look like local file space, is a similar service that also shows no signs of going away any time soon. Xdrive, which is available only for Windows, just upped its allocated space from 500 megabytes to five gigabytes per user, and it charges just $9.95 per month. The space is not big enough for a complete backup of most hard disks, but it’s plenty for documents that most users create.

Like IBackup, Xdrive also provides other pricing options if you need additional storage for yourself or for multiple people. If you use a service such as these for remote backups, you can also use it for sending files to others that are too large for e-mail.

For more basic backup tips, check out the Web site Backup Critic (www.backupcritic.com).

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column.

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