Architectural drawings are intellectual property, so protect them with care, advises Sam Gutmann, president of Intronis Technologies.
Tracy Powell Architectural drawings are intellectual property, so protect them with care, advises Sam Gutmann, president of Intronis Technologies.

In January, a woman named Marie Cooley— suspecting she was going to lose her job at Steven E. Hutchins Architects in Jacksonville, Fla.—snuck into the office on a Sunday night and turned on her computer. With a handful of mouse clicks, she deleted seven years' worth of architectural drawings. The firm was able to restore its files, for a cost, but not its faith in the sanctity of its hard drives or the common sense of its employees. (Cooley's boss hadn't planned to let her go—but did, of course.)

Asked what other architecture firms can do to avoid similar catastrophes, Sam Gutmann, president of Boston-based Intronis Technologies, quips: “Never tell anyone they're about to be fired.”

His real answer, he hopes, is just as uncomplicated: Sign up with a company like Intronis, which will back up your data over the internet for as little as $24.95 a month. (Google “online backup” and you'll see the latest offers from firms like Intronis, Mozy, EVault, and IDrive.)

Gutmann, 26, is a former business consultant who was surprised at how many companies he worked with didn't have backup systems or ignored the ones they did have. In 2003, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute grad and two partners founded Intronis, which they believe offers the best method of backing up for the least money.

Architects have a problem ... Architecture firms don't have anything to sell, except their intellectual property. Architects should realize, Gutmann says, that “if you lose your drawings, you've lost the entire business.”

... with many possible solutions. Options for backing up include tape drives (which are designed specifically for duplicating data), removable hard drives, or smaller storage devices (CDs or “flash drives”). Tape drives can store from 10 gigabytes to several hundred gigabytes, says Gutmann, and can cost from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.

One tape isn't enough. Beware if you only have one tape and you're continuously overwriting it. By the time you discover that you've lost a file, it may have already been overwritten, Gutmann cautions. That's why he recommends a device that cycles through multiple tapes.

Without tapes, there's work to be done. If you use any storage device other than a tape drive, you (or a colleague) has to remember to make backups—and to keep them somewhere safe. A backup next to the computer is useless in the event of a natural, or manmade, disaster.

Move your backups offsite. One option is to have an employee take the backups home at night. But even the best employees miss work or forget to do things. You can also pay a courier to move your backup tapes to a secure location. That's an expensive option and still not foolproof. There have been cases where couriers have mislaid tapes, causing the data to be lost. (Lost to you, that is. Whoever finds the tapes has access to your files.)

Tales from encrypt. However you back up, you should encrypt your data. There are tape drives with built-in encrypting mechanisms, as well as easily obtained encryption software if you're not using a tape drive. Companies like Intronis, which collect your data over the internet and store it on their computers, automatically encrypt data when they back it up.

If you choose an online backup service ... Look for one with easy-to-use software. Intronis customers download a program, called eSureIT, which then chooses what kinds of files the company will back up, and when. Most customers, Gutmann says, “have us search their hard drives in the middle of the night.”

But architects work in the middle of the night! “You can continue using the files normally,” says Gutmann. “You won't even know we're backing up.”