Backups: Do Your Family and Friends have a Plan?

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Most IT professionals I know have pretty good backup plans for their home systems.

Most also provide basic, free tech support for family and close friends.

And many of those people probably don't have much of a backup plan in place.

Can you connect the dots here?

If you're the one who's going to do crisis intervention when a friend or relative's hard drive fails or system goes down for the count, it's a good idea to make sure all of them have a backup, too.

And while it's a kindness to set up a system that regularly backs up their important data, it's unabashed self-interest to do an occasional disk image so that if the worst happens, you don't need to lose half your weekend rebuilding a loved one's PC.

I bring this up because I recently did a presentation at my photo club -- a photography club where some of people's most precious assets are digital files -- and discovered a fair number of members had haphazard backup strategies or none at all. If those folks aren't motivated to safeguard their files, I have grave doubts about the rest of the non-IT public.

So here's my advice.

For the more technically savvy in your personal inner circle, have A Talk with them. Find out exactly what their backup strategy is. If they don't have one, encourage them to purchase an external drive -- they can find name-brand 1T external drives for well under a hundred dollars -- and make sure they use either the backup software that comes with the drive or the backup utility that comes with their OS. For Windows 7, you can send them to this backup explainer from Microsoft; for OS X there's a Time Machine how-to from Apple.

And if you'd like to suggest more robust Windows imaging software, check out our review The ghost in the machine: 3 disk imaging apps.

To help your less technically sophisticated family and friends, you may want to do the backup yourself after having them buy a drive, or maybe even bite the bullet and purchase a hard drive yourself. If you get a 2T drive, you could likely store multiple loved ones' images on it -- with the additional advantage of providing offsite backup.

I'm taking my own advice here and have a spanking new external drive waiting to bring to my parents' place next time I visit. Having spent the bulk of a vacation day initially setting up their new Windows 7 machine, it's not a process I'm eager to duplicate if something goes awry.

Ensuring a backup strategy is in place for friends and family who rely on you for tech help isn't only an protection plan for their data; it's insurance for your own leisure time and stress levels if something goes wrong with one of their machines.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is You can follow her on Twitter

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This story, "Backups: Do Your Family and Friends have a Plan?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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