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Backing up Small Business Server 2003

Lose your data, lose your mind

Backing up is like eating healthily - you know you need to do it but when it comes to actually eating your alfalfa and mung beans, it doesn't feel like a lot of fun.

I installed my own Small Business Server 2003 last year and it's been working really well. However, I made a new year's resolution to sort out my backups. The thought of losing work or losing precious files like my photo archive was beginning to keep me awake nights.

Coping with hardware failure

When I installed the server my main worry was hardware failure. Even ultra-reliable modern disks can go wrong. It happened to me a few times in my old job.

You can get servers with so-called RAID disks which write data to two or more separate drives automatically to avoid this problem, but I didn't want to spend more than �1,000 on my server so I didn't buy one with this feature. Instead I bought a big external hard disk and set up SBS 2003's built-in backup software to copy everything on the server to it every night.

Archive and offsite backup

This is fine as a protection against hardware problems. At worst, I'd lose a day's work and I could plug the drive into any other computer and have instant access to my work.

I had two other concerns. First, I wanted to be able to make archive copies of my data and it's hard to do that with just one backup drive. Second, I wanted to be able to take copies offsite in case of a fire, theft or flood.

The solution was a tape drive. This plugs into my server and takes uses small cassette tapes which store 35 gigabytes each (more if the data is compressible). I bought an external HP DAT 72 drive for �369 plus VAT from Tape Storage Online.

Choosing backup software

When it came to software, I looked at Symantec Backup Exec which costs around �430. It's so flexible and so sophisticated that it isn't so much the Swiss army knife of backup programs, it's the whole Swiss Army. Frankly I couldn't get my head around it, despite the 1,500 page manual. However, for a sophisticated setup with demanding backup policies it's the industrial-strength solution, and it's what we used in my old computer games company.

Luckily, SBS 2003 comes with a good, basic backup program and I decided to use that. I set it up to backup my main work files to a tape every day. It also copies the same files to the external hard disk. Copying files to two different media is a good belt-and-braces backup strategy. I also made a one-off archive of all my photos, music, videos and other files onto a series of tapes and took them to my family for safekeeping. Once a month, I'll make a new set and take them offsite.

Lessons for business

Excluding the time playing with Backup Exec, it took me about three hours to buy and install the hardware, set up the various backup routines and make sure they worked by running a test restore of some of the data. Now I have archiving, offsite backups and automated daily backups of critical files to two different media. It's been painless and relatively inexpensive, and I wish I had done it all sooner. Most small businesses have very similar setups to mine (albeit with more users) and similar backup requirements. Backup needn't be a headache. If only eating right was as easy.

What next?

To help you get your head around what you can do with a server, we have produced a plain-English guide on Small Business Server 2003.

Find out if your business needs a server at all by answering a few questions.

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