Our daughter sat on the edge of her bed sobbing uncontrollably. Her friends stared at her notebook’s blue screen.

She had accidentally hit the wrong key while showing them the shots she had taken on our dive vacation in Kauai. The entire folder was gone.

Her brother volunteered his underwater shots but that was no consolation. She had some special turtle, monk seal and nudibranch shots…his shots didn’t compare in her mind.

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We reminded her that we had her photos on our system as well so everything was not lost. Nothing is better for a father than a “thank you, thank you, thank you” hug from your daughter.

But it made us think that we had better plan for a disaster we couldn’t recover from and find a backup solution for all of the systems in the house.

So we did a little research.

Turns out according to Contingency Planning Research most computer problems are user error (50%) while 20% of the losses are caused by hardware/software error. Everything else was a distant problem – natural disaster, fire, even theft.

Our kids are like most teen-agers and in fact most PC users. They have a lot of video content on their systems. While the RIAA (record industry) and MPAA (Hollywood) might look at them and see rampart pirates, the kids could really care less about their stuff…it is all about them.

Most of the content they store on their PCs is personal stuff.

You know video games of all types – including their connections to WoW (World of Warcraft); music video, sports and YouTube/MySpace downloads; and lots of personal photos/videos they seem to take constantly with their digital cameras and video-enabled cellphones.

Most of the material could never be replaced.

We then surveyed the adults’ hard drives. Totally different picture.

Most of the content was family, household documents along with all of our emails/contact information and the various versions of office work we had done at home. Most of this content could be redone – with a lot of effort – if we lost the hard drive. Not something we wanted to imagine.

We were also surprised at how many family moment photos we had in folders that had yet to be sorted…now these could never be replaced!

In our research for a fast, easy, almost fool-proof backup and protection solution we were took some consolation in the fact that we weren’t alone in not backing up important family – and business files. According to a study we found at the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) web site, backup isn’t high on most people’s list.

That gave us some consolation that at least we weren’t completely negligent or just plain lazy !

But still we wanted a solution that would be inexpensive for all of the systems in the house and would allow the systems to be backed up to an external drive locally as well as on the home network.

The solution we selected was the NTI Shadow v3.0 (www.ntius.com). It was the same solution that HP had bundled with their Media Vault as well as Toshiba, NEC and Freecom for their portable external drives.

The whole idea behind the software is to put an end to losing valuable data, photo, video, and music files that have been modified in between scheduled backups. The software maintains real-time, continuous backup of all changed files. An advanced scheduler is included that lets you set backup start times by minute, hour, day, week, or month.

The software installs quickly and easily. When you first launch it, you can choose the folders you want to back up and the location where the backup should be placed.

Everyone in the family set up their systems to meet their needs and the primary backup target was our home network storage solution. Because we also use our notebooks away from the house we also set up backup options so that we could do interim backups to USB flash drives…just in case.

Next you select backup frequency which for peace of mind we chose as every time a file was changed as well as a specify frequency of time.

What we liked about the software is that you can specify how many versions of a document you want to keep. This is important when you’re doing office work at home because you can modify/update and have multiple version backups…just in case.

You can also choose to have the backup file deleted when you delete the original file. This significantly reduces that huge backlog of ancient files on the hard drive that you just never quite get around to deleting.

Another option is the ability to select file types to save or not. The program saves all file types by default but with the Shadow Wizard you can specify file types to either backup or ignore.

Once you have set up the configuration, which takes just a few minutes, and before it is accepted the Backup Job summary page is displayed.

This allows you to review the choices and change any you want. One of the outstanding features of the NTI Shadow solution is that it saves backup copies in regular, native-format which is directly replaceable into the source file without the use of the program. If you’ve accidentally deleted or lost a file you simply drag and drop the file from the Shadow archive back to any desired location.

If you have hidden files and folders the software will automatically back them up as you’ve reqeusted.

If you copy files or move them the software automatically detects the action and saves it.

As we noted when we’re away from the house with our notebooks at school or the office we can also do a backup to a 2GB Store ‘n Go USB drive.

There have been times for example when we haven’t wanted to take all of our emails and contact information with us but would still like to have access while we are on the road…just in case. Then no matter which computer we’re using to access the email or address, we can keep the computer up to date and have the information instantly available in our pocket. That’s a lot easier than lugging a notebook computer everywhere we go.

We use Shadow to automate the process without having to drill down into folders to find messages, copy them, access the Store ‘n Go and paste them in. All of these tasks are handled by NTI Shadow automatically and in the background. The backup process works transparently in the background without disturbing any of your work or using any valuable PC resources that can slow system performance.

One of the other features we liked about NTI Shadow is that you can do your backup to virtually any storage device – USB flash, mobile storage device 9micro drive), internal/external HD, NAS (network attached storage) device, CD and DVD…including the new blue laser discs (HD DVD and BD).

While it is true there are a growing number of online storage services such as those offered by Google, Yahoo, Apple and others; we always have concern about:

– are they really safe from outside access

– will the files always be there when we need them

– what happens if the service goes out of business

– what happens if the government or law enforcement suddenly decide they want to review all of the files stored by the company

Beside there is something reassuring about being able to see your backup device and media.

NTI Shadow runs on Windows XP, Windows 2000, Macintosh OSX v10.2.8, or higher as well as U3 environments.

If you want real peace of mind regarding the documents, photos, videos, music and data you have on your system as well as your home network we’d suggest you visit www.ntius.com. Cost is just $29.99. A hug from your daughter? Priceless !!!!