"I am a lawyer who works in a small town in the Midwest. A tornado struck last week, for the first time in over 30 years, and my office was destroyed.
"I have insurance, which will replace most of my office furniture and equipment, but the worst part was that my computer hard drive was destroyed, containing all of my client's information and contracts and at least five years' worth of e-mails. There is no way I will be able to replace that information without spending thousands of dollars on a 'data recovery service.'
"Going forward, what are some of the things I should be doing to prevent this from happening again?"
In a word, ouch.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 40 percent of all businesses that experience a "disaster" go out of business within the next five years. In this data-driven age, you need to take steps to protect your critical, irreplaceable information.
Much has been written about the need for businesses to have a "disaster recovery plan," but many small businesses don't have the time or the money to put a full protection program into place.
If that's your situation, here is what you need to do.
Be redundant. We know that our computer data is intangible -- you cannot see it, touch it or smell it. But your data DOES have a very specific location. It lives on a computer server somewhere -- either on the hard drive on your desktop PC or laptop, or on someone else's computer server somewhere in "the cloud." Either way, if something happens to that server, your data could be destroyed.
The key to protecting your data is to make sure it exists on two or more servers at the same time, what computer specialists call "redundancy." That way, if disaster strikes one server, the "copy" on the other server still exists and can be accessed.
There are online services such as Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) and Mozy (www.mozy.com) that will automatically back up your computer hard drive once each hour, day or week and create a duplicate copy of your data on a remote server.
The same goes for your website content. Whenever my computer pro updates the content on any of my websites, I always ask for a backup CD or DVD of the entire site. It costs an extra $20 to $30, but this way if my Internet service provider's server is knocked out, I can contact another ISP and get the entire website back up in less than 24 hours.
There are also services such as FinalHost.com and software products such as Wget (www.gnu.org/software/wget) that will help you create duplicate websites (called "mirror sites") and update them regularly.