How often should I Backup my Data? How often? What are my options for backup?

 

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There is an old saying in the Information Technology (IT) business, it is “You only need to backup the files that you want to keep”. That is to say that you never know when your hard drive might crash and you will lose all your files. A good Backup Plan will allow you to protect your important files and not have to worry about having to scramble and try to recover your files from a damaged drive.
You should probably Backup your important files on a daily basis or several times daily if the files are especially critical. You should also do a test Restore of your previously backed up files on at least a weekly basis to insure that your Backup program is working properly. Usually a test restore is done by using a few test files and checking them against the originals to insure a reliable backup and restore process.
As to how and where to do your backup, there are many options now available with each option having advantages and disadvantages. You can use a USB thumb drive, a DVD-RW disk, an external hard drive, a tape drive or an online backup. Or you can use a combination of one or more of these solutions. In addition to the hardware to use for your backup, you will need to get a software solution to move the data from your hard drive to the backup target easily and automatically.
As for the backup target, each solution has advantages and disadvantages.
A USB thumb drive is easy to use, readily available at many computer or electronics stores or even department stores with electronics departments, and can easily be moved to a safe place for storage in case of a disaster. Unfortunately, thumb drives can unexpectedly fail, be lost or be stolen with your valuable data. Thumb drives are also rather limited in the storage capacity so if you wish to backup your entire hard drive you may need more than one drive.
Many computers now have card readers on the front of the computer that are taking the place of the old floppy drives (which are becoming hard to find). Many of these card formats are easily found at computer or electronics stores. The advantages and disadvantages are basically the same as USB drives they present an easy solution for backing up pictures or music files and can even be used to transfer files to other devices.
A DVD-RW (DVD rewriteable) disk can be used for backing up files up to 4.7GB in volume or 8.5GB for DL (Double Layer) disks. These disks are reasonably inexpensive and can be purchased at many retailers. When using these disks for backup it is important to have the disk writing software to verify the accuracy of the copied files. The one major drawback of using DVD or CD-RW disks for backup is that they are easily damaged and can be easily stolen with your valuable data if your not careful with them. If you decide that these disks are going to be your backup media, then make sure that they are kept protected in paper sleeves or plastic shells. Also make sure that they are locked up securely in a locked security box or other such location.
An external hard drive makes an excellent backup media and has many great features. An external hard drive can be purchased at many locations and in many capacities, up to and including the size of your internal hard drive and often larger. The drive can be purchased with a variety of connectivity options, including USB, Firewire, eSATA, or network cabling. Again as with DVD or CD disks you should tell the software to verify the accuracy of the backed up files. The primary disadvantage of using external hard drives for backups is the same as for your internal hard drives and that is the files can be damaged or corrupted by sudden changes in the power supply or if the drive is dropped or bumped unexpectedly, which could cause loss of the data which you are trying to protect.
Tape drives used to be considered the top of the line backup solution for businesses as well as some home users. Tape backups are not especially fast but they are fairly reliable and come with software that not only runs the backup but also runs the verification process. Tapes can be easily removed from the premises at which the computer resides and therefore insures that if the computer is destroyed, the tape will be safe in case of most disasters. The main problem with using a tape backup solution is that both the drive and the tapes are rather expensive and they don’t last forever so they are subject to mechanical failures.
The final backup solution that I would like to touch on is Online Backup. This solution is rather new but it has become both a popular and a robust solution. Depending on your Backup Provider, you can get a variety of services included with your basic backup service. Online backup has the advantage that with today’s high-speed internet connections your computer can be backed up every few minutes so that any new files or recently changed files are saved almost immediately. The cost of online backup varies with different providers in that some will charge monthly by the size of your backup, while others will charge a flat fee for unlimited backup on an annual basis. Some providers will also send a hard copy (with a deposit) of your files to your site to rebuild your computer in case of a catastrophic failure. Other providers also provide a hybrid service in that they provide both an online backup and allow you to use as external hard drive for onsite backups. An advantage to online backups is that you can access your files from any computer as long as you have internet access.
The disadvantages of online backup is that if your internet connection fails you will not have a most recent backup. If the company that you are using to backup your files goes out of business, you will not have a backup. As with any other service, you will need to check online reviews of the company that you are considering to insure that they are considered reliable.
These are just a few things to consider in backing up your files but remember that “You only need to backup the files that you want to keep”.
In our next blog we will discuss backup software.