Is data security walking out your office door every night?

Connected provides Web-based backups to corporate users, so if your notebook users have access to the Internet, you can make sure they have backup services wherever they go.

Attention all IT staff: it's 11 p.m. Do you know where your company's data is?

Chances are good that most of it is safely tucked away on the hard disks of the desktops and servers in your company offices. Key information will be backed up -- either automatically or by a routine procedure -- to guard against hardware or software problems that might damage it. And you can sleep soundly at night.

Or can you? Are you sure you have all that data covered? Chances are good that a significant amount has gone for a walk. I don't mean that it's lost or stolen or that it has strayed; that's a topic for a future column. Instead, I'm talking about the data that walks out the front door as part of typical mobile computing applications.

YES How many notebook computers does your company have, and what information is stored on them? Don't forget to consider equipment that some employees may have purchased for their own use. Notebooks are full-featured computers in their own right, so it's reasonable to expect that they will be used to create new documents such as proposals, bids, strategic plans, and analysis. You need to make sure that this data is secure. Unless all your notebooks are synced with desktops -- and most aren't -- it's difficult to make sure that they are backed up.

Notebook backups are key to any support strategy. If you have a sales representative in the field who depends on a notebook, and the hard disk crashes -- or the whole notebook gets lost or stolen -- how fast can you get that person back up and running again with all of his or her programs and data?

An automated backup system on your network won't do the job, because you don't know that the notebook will be logged on to the network at the appointed hour. Given the fact that notebooks are often used to take work home, the chances are good that they won't be around in the early-morning hours when most automated backups are scheduled to run.

Notebooks come with multi-gigabyte hard drives as standard features, so it can be difficult and time-consuming to back up a whole drive at once in the field. You can get a variety of portable removable media devices -- such as Iomega Jaz or CD-RW drives -- that notebook users could take with them. But then you're relying on the end user, and if a task is difficult or time-consuming, the reliability of end users drops faster than the share price of a cash-strapped dot com. But there is another way. A number of companies now offer Web-based storage services. Some are designed as repositories for files, which still leaves you dependent on the end user to perform the backup. But the service of at least one company -- Connected -- takes that into account.

Connected provides Web-based backups to corporate users, so if your notebook users have access to the Internet, you can make sure they have backup services wherever they go. Here's how Connected's service works. A message from Connected's software prompts users when a backup is due, and offers to connect to the Web. The system performs incremental backups, making the process as swift and painless as possible for users. (@Backup offers a similar service.)

The cost of Connected's service can be as little as $7 per month per user for up to 100MB of backup (corporate rates are also available). If something goes wrong, a user can restore the files directly from the Web. In the case of a major meltdown, Connected can deliver the data on a CD-ROM -- or multiple CD-ROMs -- by the next business day (at an extra charge).

The result is that you have complete backups made automatically on a regular basis. If disaster strikes, you can install the image of the notebook's hard drive on a new system and get it in the user's hands quickly. Downtime is minimized, and your data is secure.

What's your battery beef?
This is the inaugural installment of this column, in which I hope to help you find ways to make portable computing -- on all platforms from PDAs to notebooks -- more practical for you and your business. Battery issues keep popping up on mobile platforms. What gets you charged up over batteries in mobile computing? Battery monitor utilities that lie? Landfills full of AA alkalines? Laptops as light as cinder blocks, or do you have some other pet peeve about portable power? Let me know at computer_cures@zdnet.com and we'll cover it in a future column.

Alfred Poor's first portable computer was a Radio Shack Model 100, and he's been a mobile computer user ever since. His "Computer Cures" column has appeared in Computer Shopper since 1994, and he is the co-author of "Troubleshooting Your PC" from Microsoft Press. You can write to him at computer_cures@zdnet.com.