Frank J. Borkowski

You wouldn’t leave a roof uncovered with a thunderstorm in the forecast, so why aren’t you backing up your computer data? Losing data is never fun, but with a multidimensional approach, you can reduce the impact from catastrophic setback to minor annoyance. Here’s our three-step process.

  • Automatic and off-site: Today, automatic and secure off-site backups are as close as your Internet connection. There are many good services available, but for most individual users I like Carbonite ( because it works continuously in the background and it costs just $50 for a year of unlimited backup. Set it and forget it.

  • A local copy: Invest in an external USB hard drive, and once a week or so drag a copy of your entire “My Documents” folder to it. Why a second copy if you’re already backed up online? Because stuff happens, remember? But the chances of stuff simultaneously happening to both your off-site backup and your local copy is pretty slim. And USB hard drives are great because you can take the whole thing to another computer, plug in, and you’re back in business.

  • Drive imaging: So far we’ve only dealt with your data. Once that’s bullet-proofed, consider backup software that can create a “drive image” of an entire hard drive including your operating system and all installed software. We like Acronis TrueImage (; products from Norton, Paragon, and others are equally good.

Why a drive image? Because no matter what caused the problem, the fix will always be the same: Restore the latest “clean” drive image, restore your backed-up data, and you’re right back where you started in a couple of hours instead of spending the weekend shuffling software CDs.
—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of builder operations for Dynami Solutions;