WILL the next computer crash put your small business out of business, or are you ready for it?

A small business recently lost their hard disk and spent $3,000 in an attempt to restore their business data, inventory, receivables, financials, emails, everything. They were unsuccessful. In the last six months we have heard many similar stories. Does hardware now have a shorter life?

Platypus Websites has been fortunate in surviving a recent major storm (the one that caused a 40,000 tonne bulk carrier to shipwreck on our beach) and a previous bush-fire evacuation. You usually have warnings for storms or bush fires, but not for computer crashes. One morning your computer just will not start.

We suffered crashes to both our two desktop computers in recent months, and are thankful that our backup strategies were successful and our business was not interrupted. On one of these occasions our notebook computer gave up as well, leaving us with one computer out of three. We still hold our breath in the morning as the computer starts. That is what trauma can do to you.

You can choose from many backup strategies to suit your situation, but wherever your backup is, it needs to be on portable media. If your computer dies, it can really slow you down if your backup data is on a partition of a hard disk on a dead computer.

On what portable media can you keep your backup?

  1. DVDs: Our backup of data alone requires feeding 5 DVDs taking a lot of our time.
  2. USB drives: Same situation
  3. Notebook computer: It works but ties up two computers.
  4. FTP to an internet site: The slowest option for us.
  5. External Hard Disk: Ideal. Fast. Takes little room in your bag or pocket, and can restore to any other computer with a USB socket.

What files do you copy?

  1. Data: We backup in two minutes twice a day
  2. Programs: We backup only after installing or updating a major program.

What backup method?

We do keep all program start-up CDs in one portable box, along with serial numbers and CDs of downloaded programs. But after reinstalling these more than once we decided to take a complete disk image copy of our hard disk.

There are several programs available for copying a disk image. The one we chose took a full image of our C: drive to an external hard disk in about one minute per gigabyte. That may vary depending on your mix of files and the backup medium.

Although that gives us a complete backup, it takes time, and restoring single files is complicated, so we use another strategy for quickly backing up our day-to-day data.

Now we use Xcopy, a windows command, to do a data backup, which takes about two minutes twice a day (after the first backup). We do a complete disk backup image only when we add or update programs. It is important that no one defers backing up because they think they do not have time.


You can first try xcopy at the command prompt. This can be found at
Start > All Programs > Accessories > Command prompt.
Or you can just go Start > Run > Cmd xcopy/?

XP commands are found at: http://commandwindows.com/
Vista commands are at: http://commandwindows.com/vista-commands.htm.

Type c:\xcopy /? At the command prompt to see all its options.

The Xcopy backup command file (batch file) can be created with Notepad (or Word if it is saved as text only). Save it in My Documents, or Documents and Settings as backupdata.bat (or anything with a .bat extension, except as the name of other possible commands).

The following command will display on your screen the date of your last backup to this disk, or “file not found” if this is the first backup.

@echo Backup Data to External Disk
@echo Last backup:
@type E:\lastbackup.txt

The following one-line command copies every file created or worked on since the last backup of C:\Documents and Settings. Quote marks are needed to enclose C:\Documents and Settings because of the spaces. This folder contains “My Documents” inside a folder for the user or administrator. Make separate command line for each folder. We have data in several folders including a folder with sub folders for each web design or hosting client. There are also some programs that store data inside the program folder, e.g. Postcast.

xcopy “C:\Documents and Settings” “E:\Ken\Documents and Settings\” /S/D/Y

/S = Include sub-directories
/D = copies only those files whose source date is newer than the destination date.
/Y = Suppresses prompting to confirm you want to overwrite an existing destination file of the same date.

This next command writes the date and time of the backup to the backup disk:

@date dd-mmm-yyyy/t > E:\lastbackup.txt
@TIME/t >> E:\lastbackup.txt

If you can use a hex editor and put a hex 07 after an @echo you will get a beep to tell you when your backup is completed. But this not essential as this command:


    …will take you back to the windows desktop.

Look up “Batch files” in the XP or Vista commands links for more options to use in your command file to display progress on your screen.

We backup data from several folders including email, clients websites, domain names, hosting and accounts. Some programs save data in sub-folders in Program Files. Each folder requires a separate line in the command file. Before the backup you can create folders on the backup disk to avoid the prompt “File or Directory?”.

Having saved your backupdata command file, use Windows Explorer (Windows key + E) to find it and, using the right mouse click, send it to you desktop as a shortcut. Then right click the new icon on your desktop and select Properties > Layout and change the width to say 120 and height to 50. Select Colors and choose Text and Backgrounds. Chose Shortcut > Change Icon> Browse and find a memorable icon.

A click on that icon will backup all your day-to-day data. The first backup will take time, but subsequent backups take only minutes, as only files changed or new since the last backup are copied. Check the external hard disk to ensure it contains all your data. Edit the batch command file to add lines where necessary.

The beauty of this method is that files in your external hard disk can be viewed and copied using Windows Explorer on any computer.

External hard disks can fail, so we bought one for each computer and rotate them so that even backup disks have backups. On each disk is a folder for each computer data and disk image: e.g. E:\Ken, E:\Ken-image, E:\Helen, E:\Helen-image.

Our final luxury was to save the backup command file as a new file called shutoff.bat and add the following at the bottom of the new file:

@C:\windows\system32\tsshutdn.exe 0 /delay:0 /powerdown

We created a shortcut on the desktop with a distinctive icon. Now, instead of the three clicks: Start > Turnoff Computer > Turnoff, we just click the shutoff icon and our days work is backed up to the external hard disk and the computer is shut down.

Just one click and we can walk away!

So even if one computer turns up dead one morning, our website design business will never be interrupted.

These articles were first published on www.platywebs.com.au and have been re-published on many other websites and ezines over the years. New readers are still finding them to be of value and up to date with today’s conditions. We believe they illustrate common sense and the value of thinking through situations. Please check out the other articles advising on small business, web design, search engine optimisation, web hosting and domain names.