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Archive for October, 2010

Backup Options for the Small Business

 

We have all heard the stories “my hard drive crashed and I cannot recover the baby pictures”. What if instead of baby pictures or videos it was your all your company records. Imagine losing all of your contacts, emails, financial records, and contracts etc. Your data is one of the most important items in your company, without your files you would not be able to run your business. If your office was destroyed today, how long would it take you to recover and get your business back online? One day, one week, one month, ever?

 

Backups are not exciting and are sometimes forgotten but, in my opinion, backups should be considered the most important item in your IT infrastructure. I am going to present a few backup options that could work for a small business depending on your needs and budget. No matter which backup option or a combination of options you choose, your backups will be worthless unless they tested and are moved offsite. If your backups cannot be restored your safety net will be lost. I recommend speaking to your IT support to develop a backup plan which would have your company up and running as quickly as possible if the “unthinkable” did happen.

 

There are several ways in which you can back up your important data files.

 

External Hard Drive

These tend to be a good backup solution for most small businesses. A hard drive is placed in an enclosure and this enclosure is then connected via an USB port to you system. These units are inexpensive and can be easily moved off site. You can also configure you operating system to backup automatically to the external hard drive. If you decide to use an external hard drive please be aware that these devices can also fail as they are no different than an hard drive in your desktop or laptop. The bearings on hard drives can seize if the unit has not been used for some time. To avoid this plug your external hard drive in regularly. I would not recommend a hard drive as a long term backup plan but it can fit well into your overall backup solution.

 

USB Flash Drive

These are “sticks” of memory that plug into the USB port on the system. Sizes range from 256 MB to 128 GB

There are several advantages to using these drives for backups. They are inexpensive, data transfer rates are fast and it’s easy to move the data offsite.

USB drives are easily forgotten in a system or lost in a bag if you are not careful. To help me “remember the key” is use brightly coloured USB sticks. It is hard to miss the fluorescent pink USB key in a beige box. When using this solution I use several keys which I would rotate daily or weekly. As with the hard drive solution, I would not recommend USB keys as your only backup option.

 

Optical

This can be another backup option for the small business. The data can be kept for several years; optical media can hold 4.7 GB to 50 GB depending on the type of media chosen. The media itself does not take up a lot of space and it’s an inexpensive solution for long term backups. By using a high end DVD or Blue Ray Disc which is kept safe in a jewel case your data may recoverable for up to 30+ years. This is a nice option for backups, but may require more user intervention as the disks will need to be manually replaced depending on your backup strategy.

 

Tape    

Tape has been making resurgence over the past few years. The technology and size of the tape (LT0-5 holds 1.5TB of data) has increased while the cost has decreased. Of all the options this tends to be the most expensive solution. If you have a large amount of data this may be the best option. As with the optical option, the media will have to be manually rotated daily, weekly etc.

 

 

Off Site/Cloud

Your data is transferred directly to the solution provider of choice via your internet connection. There are many providers, with a variety of features and various price points. You will need to match the service provider that best meets your needs. There are several advantages to using cloud backups the most important being your data is offsite. Cloud backups usually do not require any user intervention as the backups are scheduled to run during specific times. There is no media to be changed therefore ensuring the current backup will not overwrite a previous one. Your data can and should be encrypted during transfer; this will prevent anyone from “seeing” any date during transport.

Of course as with the other options there are also disadvantages to using the cloud for backups.

As mentioned above backups are done over the internet which can be bandwidth intensive. If you do not have the sufficient bandwidth or are capped you may not be able to use this option without upgrading your current service. You also have no power over who handles or controls your data. Another possibility is the backup provider you choose may cease to exist for one reason or another. Take the time and do the research before selecting a backup solution provider.

    

Network Backup

This solution is typically a computer system or a NAS (Network Area Storage) on your network which stores your company computer backups. Usually all the systems in the office will be backed up to this one central location over the internal network. Backups can be scheduled to run during off times without user intervention. The collection of office backups will then need be copied to a hard drive, USB or burned and then moved off site.

 

 

 

 

I have suggested a few ideas for backing up your company data. The options outlined here should fit the small business with approximately 1-10 office employees but as your company grows you backup needs will also grow and you may find you will need to update, expand or replace your current solution with a more sophisticated one.

 

One question I am always asked is “how often should I back up?” I always recommend a backup rotation that includes a daily backup, a weekly backup, a monthly backup and a yearly backup. You should discuss your backup requirements with your trusted IT support person to determine which method or combination of methods (either suggested above or others) best meets your company needs.

 

Remember the best backup solution is one that ensures backups are completed, tested and removed from the site.


 

Categories: backups, Small Business IT

Control your Outlook Inbox with Rules

As promised from blog post (How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox) here is the post on Outlook Rules. Rules are a great way to organize your emails into bite size chunks. You can prioritize your email using Rules, this way the important “need to respond to” emails do not get “lost” in your Inbox. Rules can also apply a specific action on a given email. This will reduce your time trying to keep you Inbox organized by manually dealing with each email. Once you start using Rules you will wonder how you ever managed your email in the past without them.

Everyone will choose a different way to create Rules and organize their Inbox. My preference is to create Rules for “important” people, like my boss or specific clients and on the email subject line. I also use Rules to manage my subscribed email lists or LinkedIn group emails. My home email contains Rules based on family member. I have an extremely large extended family and I find it easier to group together specific family members i.e., my mom’s family, my husband’s moms family, my dad’s family. You get the idea.

I’ll use the example of an “Important” person for our example. In this case the important person is My Boss. When an email arrives from My Boss I want to be notified immediately.

Figure 1

As you can see from Figure 1 I need Outlook to notify me that there is an email from My Boss.

I find the best way to create Rules is to base the Rule on an existing email. The fastest and with the least amount of clicks is to right click on the email and select the Rules option. You will then be prompted with 3 additional choices:

  • Always move message from: My Boss (instead of My Boss, the name of the Sender it will be displayed)
  • Create Rule…
  • Manage Rules and Alerts…

 

A brief description of each option is listed below:

  • Always move message from: (senders name) – this option is great for moving the selected “senders” messages directly to a folder without any options. I use this option for subscribed email lists or LinkedIn group notices. I can then browse these folders at my leisure and avoid these distractions in my Inbox.
  • Create Rule… – this option will start the process of creating a new Rule based on the email you have just right clicked.
  • Manage Rules and Alerts… – use this option when Rules and Alerts already exist and you just need to manage and/or edit the Rules and Alerts.

For the My Boss example select the second option Create Rule…

The following dialog box will open:

Figure 2

You will now have three options in which to select the conditions of your Rule to best meet your needs. You can base your Rule on the “From” field. If I wanted to filter the email on the Subject “Meeting Today” then I would select option two. You can also create your Rule based on who the email was “Sent” to. These options can also be combined to create very specific Rules. In this case I care about all emails from My Boss regardless of the subject or who else the email was sent to; therefore I would only choose the first option as shown above.

I also want to be notified whenever an email from My Boss arrives. To do this I would select the first two options under the “Do the Following” section.

Display in the New Item Alert window (this would be a visual cue in case I have the sound on my computer was turned off) and Play a selected sound (this would be auditory cue in case I was not looking at my screen). You can choose the audio file you would like use for this alert. In the example above I left it as the default but normally I would change the sound to play a unique audio file (maybe the Star Wars Imperial March). The reason for this change is to be better alerted of the incoming email from My Boss. If I use a standard windows wav file, the sound may get lost in the rest of the Windows sounds that I hear during the day. By changing the wav file to a unique audio file it is more likely I will hear the alert when the email arrives.

The last option, Move the Item to the folder, would be selected if I wanted to move all email from My Boss to a specific folder in Outlook when the mail was received. In this case I do not want to have to go to open up another folder to see the email and would prefer to be able to quickly see the message in my Inbox view.

Once you are satisfied with your Rule click OK and you will receive a “Success” dialog window. You will notice within this window is the option to run the newly created Rule on the current folder. This is a great option if you are trying to clean up your Inbox (see article How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox).

That is the basics of Rules and for the most part this should be enough to help organize your Inbox and keep it organized in the future.

As with most Microsoft products they are more Advanced Options (including Marking as High Priority or Deleting) that I did not cover in this article. If you wish to learn about the Advanced Options please send me an email or post a comment.

Categories: Outlook
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