Synchronizing and Backing Up Multiple Computers

How do you keep an office computer, home computer, and smart phone synchronized, backed up, and secure?July 28, 2012

My business is growing and we have hired a designer, office manager, and sales people. Now I have a nightmare of issues regarding our computers. I use Apple computers.

For years I was a one man show and I used my laptop for business and home. I run cabinet vision, FileMaker (as DB development program), AutoCad, and all the usual stuff. All my emails, contact lists, documents, and pictures are on this one laptop; both personal and business. Even though I change laptops every couple years the files go back ten years because of the way Apple's migration assistant works.

Now my designer uses my laptop most of the time and all the emails for my designer, myself, and the various business email accounts (we have four or five just for the business) show up on this laptop. All my family and business pictures are also on this computer. This creates a problem now because I do not know what the best way to separate all these files onto two or three different computers while keeping everything synchronized.

I can easily put the personal stuff on my Imac at home but I want all the business documents available on three computers and an Iphone. I am not sure if I should start using a network or give up trying to keep the business items accessible at home and on the road. Right now I take the laptop home with me at the end of the day and usually I bring it to client meetings. This means my designer is sometimes without a computer and we cannot use the same machine at the same time. She might be using AutoCAD and I have to take over the laptop to manage the database or use QuickBooks. I am sure all of you guys with larger shops have deal with this at some point. What did you do?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
Sign up for Dropbox. It serves as a backup and file sharing system, cloud computing if you will. I forget how much space is free, but you can purchase additional space if required. This solves the problem of transferring documents and files from computer to computer. Not only does this allow you to access your files anywhere you have an internet connection and on any computer, it also serves as a backup, allowing you to restore a file that you may have modified accidentally. I love it and it has saved me a few times with the backup.

Now for the email. You should have a setting somewhere in your options that says something along the lines of ďleave messages on serverĒ. You want this turned on. This will allow any computer to download the message. Example, someone sends me an email and my phone receives it, but because itís still left on the server, when I go to my PC and download my emails, it still comes in on the PC. You just need to assign specific people to be responsible to reply to certain email accounts, and have them copy you on all replies.

From contributor L:
A year ago we learned about the value of having a backup. Our office server got trashed via the internet. Luckily we had a standalone hard drive backing up the server, but it was trashed at the same time! Then for the white hat: every night the office server sends all new information to the PC at my house. It's equipped with mirroring hard drives. Lesson learned: isolate the office server from the internet. We now have two servers, one connected to the internet and one not. All have anti everything software.

From contributor O:
Since you are on Apple, give MobileMe a try. I have been using it between an IMac, iPad, iPhone, and a PC. It works real well especially for email. It's nice to delete junk on one device and it's gone on all. I think there are apps for the phone and iPad that would allow you to open AutoCAD and Quickbooks docs. I just put them on the cloud in PDF form.

From the original questioner:
My business emails are IMAP and all messages are left on the mail server. So I think that will be ok as it is, but I have not really tested it on multiple machines. As for backups - I am pretty well covered right now. I have the Apple Time machine which is basically a giant hard drive that automatically backs up all files and the entire hard drive from my Macbook. Then we have MobileMe (it is changing now to Icloud). These services work great for one machine, but if I have three computers trying to use the cloud services it will cause a lot of problems (I think). I will check out the Dropbox.

From contributor O:
I just went to the MobileMe cloud from two devices and it worked fine. It is designed for use on several devices. The other nice thing is you can get to it from other computers anywhere in the world.

From the original questioner:
How do you handle synchronizing the content on several machines? I had problems with this before. If I deleted something from one machine MobileMe would sometimes not delete it off the others or documents with the same names would cause issues. I think I will try it again. Right now I am only using it as an off-site back up for my files, not cross machine document syncing.

From contributor K:
I don't know about MAC computers and its platform, but it should be the same as a PC. The way we handle that in our office is that we have one main computer, named "Server". All other computers are connected to that one, and it's a big network where any computer can see the server and save and copy the files from it (besides financials). By the end of the day anything that was created on satellite computers must be saved to the proper location on the server.

Itís very easy. Now how the MAC platform handles something like that I don't know, but I assume there will be something very similar. The only difference will be that the PC gives complete freedom to manipulate the network anyway you want.

From contributor O:
I misunderstood your question. It totally synchronies the calendar and email but not for example Quickbooks or my cad cam software. I think you would have to do a network for this. It does work to put docs up that I want to look at on all devices. I can change cad drawings on the cloud from another device as long as both computers have that software.

From the original questioner:
I agree Contributor O. I do not want to buy the network licenses for these software installations. Actually I could not afford it! So I know I will not be able to use cloud storage for that.

Have you ever had problems with the local disk copy of the MobileMe disk getting jacked up? Mine used to do it once in a while, but now it seems to always be missing. I have to find the .fsk file and mount it as a disk, but then it is no longer synced to the cloud. I am going to upgrade all of our computers to Lion as soon as there is an upgrade path from Leopard. Currently you have to upgrade to Snow Leopard before you can install Lion. I canít believe Apple is going to make me buy and install Snow Leopard. Apple's new cloud service that replaces MobileMe is supposed to be more integrates into the Lion OS. Also the Lion server OS is supposed to be good.

I hate to get distracted too much on the Apple stuff. My real issue is that I am going to have to give up control over the most important parts of my business in order to grow. Also, I need to surgically remove all my personal data from my business data.

From contributor F:
Would it make sense to separate things a bit? Seems to me you could buy another laptop for your designer which has the design software and any business e-mail account you want her to address. Then your laptop, phone, etc. can have whatever you want on them and not have to worry about separating personal and business stuff.

Now as for synching them so that when you change files on one device it changes it on all of them. That's a bit over my head. My first action though would be to talk to the folks at your nearest Apple store as they are pretty helpful and may have a solution you haven't thought of yet. Macs are pretty advanced, but you need to talk with Mac people to get the answers you need.

From contributor O:
I have been using it for about six months with no problems. All my Apple devices are less than a year old and it works well between these. It works on the PC but not as easy or intuitive as the Macs. I am no computer guru either. A relative works in software development and tells me a lot of cloud type programs are in the works.

From contributor I:
I use "GoToMyPC". I can use my computer at home to work on my computer at the office. I use design software with a security key and didn't want to spend the money for a new key. I can transfer files as well. I really like it and itís easy to setup and use.