Backup Software – Which software to use and how to use it

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In our last blog entry, we covered the different hardware options for backing up your important files. In this entry we will look at the different software options for backing up your data.

In most versions of Windows, Microsoft included a software backup solution for Windows users. Unfortunately, it was not included by default with Windows XP Home versions nor is it included in Home versions of Windows Vista nor Windows 7. However, you can download a free version of Microsoft Backup for both Windows Vista and Windows 7 but not for Windows XP. You can install the Windows XP version if you have the original Windows XP installation disk to get the Windows NT Backup install files.

The problem with Windows native backup solutions is that they are very simple and not very flexible. However, there is no need to despair or settle for a solution that doesn’t meet your needs. There are many software solutions that allow a full, flexible solution that are still simple to use but offer a robust backup that secures your data and will give you “peace of mind”.

Many security software companies also offer backup solutions as well as many companies  who specialize specifically in backup software. Norton and McAfee have both free standing backup software as well as backup software bundled into their security solutions. EMC and Acronis are two companies who specialize in backup software. While Carbonite has a backup solution that relies on a Cloud (online) backup solution but also allows you to make a local backup.

When choosing a backup solution, you need to decide the type of hardware that you want to use and if you desire a Cloud solution as well. You also need to determine how often you want your files to be backed up. Many solutions allow daily backups as well as hourly or even continuous backups. You also need to determine how much data that you need to backup as some Cloud solutions charge monthly by the amount of data that you store on their servers.

Now before you dismiss Cloud backup for security reasons, I will tell you that your data is encrypted by the software on your PC and won’t be decrypted until it is returned to you (either to your current PC or to a device of your choosing). You can and should also encrypt your data on any other backup device thay you are using just in case it falls into the hands of an unauthorized person. Most good backup software allows you to easily password protect your data at levels approved by the Department of Defense for data security.

So a few things to consider when selecting backup software would be:

1. Do you want continuous backup or hourly or daily?

2. Can you both backup and restore files easily?

3. Can you make a backup (image) of your entire hard drive?

4. Is a Cloud backup solution provided?

5. Are the advanced backup options available to suit your needs?

6. Can you restore your files to new hardware (a new PC or other device)?

7. Will the software automatically synchronize different versions of your files?

8. Can the files be restore to more complex disk configuration (RAID or Dynamic Disks)?

If you have a need or just want information about Backup Solutions, feel free to contact PCRx at (276) 322-1578 or e-mail at sales@pcrxsales.com.

Of course if you are in the Bluefield area, you can stop by our shop at 36811 Governor G.  C. Peery Hwy (U.S. 460) for a face-to-face chat and a cup of coffee.

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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.

Anti-virus, which one is right for you?

We are often asked “What is the best anti-virus program to use?”

The best way to answer this question is answer a question with a question and that is “What is the best anti-virus program for you?” Now we’re not trying to be difficult or a “smart ass”, but each computer user has a different set of needs when it comes to the level of complexness or usability. The plain fact is that everyone using a computer should be using some type of malware (viruses, spyware, etc.) protection. There is no computer, running any operating system, that is totally immune from malware. There are some advocates of their own favorite operating system who would like you to believe that their favorite is immune but they are wrong.

There are anti-virus programs that range from free to nearly a hundred dollars for a subscription. The higher priced programs generally have many more “bells and whistles” than the free programs and may cover multiple computers or be multi-year subscriptions. The additional “bells and whistles” may include a firewall (protects your computer from intrusion by people or software), computer tune-up software (runs on a regularly scheduled timetable to keep you computer running smoothly).

The free software generally keeps your computer free of malware but may need more care  to run properly, i.e., you may have to manually update the software or run scans. The paid software generally keeps the software updated and runs a scan of the entire computer on a schedule. There are several anti-virus programs that we like and “give” or sell to our clients. The free anti-virus that we like is Microsoft Security Essentials which is made by Microsoft and does a good job of detecting and removing malware. We also like Malwarebytes Anti-malware Free Version which we install strictly to use as a malware scanner to detect anything other anti-malware programs may miss. (Yes not every malware scanner detects all malware, because each scanner uses a different detection method and uses different malware definitions in determining what to remove.)

For protection for a fee anti-malware programs, we sell both Total Defense and Vipre brand anti-virus programs. We sell two different programs because we know our clients have different needs and both these software programs are “lightweight” and easy to use.

By “lightweight” we mean that it doesn’t use a lot of your computer’s resourses (memory & CPU) so they don’t significantly slow your computer down. We like Total Defense for small installations (1 or 2 computers) and Vipre for larger installations because it has a robust central console to manage all network computers from one place.

If after reading this blog entry you have any questions, feel free to call us at (376) 322-1578 or e-mail us at sales@pcrxsales.com or twg@pcrxsales.com.

Lots of Scams going around

I have been getting a lot of e-mails lately from people phishing for information from me. Whenever you get an e-mail from EBay, Google, Paypal, your bank, etc., DO NOT click on the link in the e-mail to go to the site that the e-mail is allegedly coming from! Instead, if you are concerned about the contents of the e-mail, go directly to their website and login or call them on the phone if they are local. Again, DO NOT click on the link in the e-mail. Surf safely!

Power Protection

Most of our readers know to plug their computer equipment into a surge protector, but not everyone can tell an excellent unit from a poor one. Using a poor one is only slightly better than none at all and leaves you with a false sense of security. The first time the surge suppressor is really needed that false sense of security will get blown away, along with some expensive electronics.

 

Although a majority of power surges will be caused by electrical equipment in use on your property or in the local area, the most serious threat comes from lightning. Most computers and other electronic appliances are designed to withstand a surge of about 300-400 volts. A lightning bolt hitting the nearest power transformer can easily send an instant spike of 10,000 volts down the AC wiring, and if your surge suppressor isn’t up to the task, that new computer system is toast.

There are several methods used by surge suppressors, no one of which is entirely satisfactory by itself. A good surge suppressor will use a combination of these methods:

 

1. Absorption – The protected line is clamped, or limited to a peak voltage, and everything over that is shunted into a circuit that will absorb it. Effectiveness is limited by the clamping speed and the amount of energy that can be absorbed.

 

2. Filtering – Isolated surges are filtered out, usually by using an inductor (coil) in series with the line. The inductor will impede sudden changes in voltage but provides no protection if the voltage goes up and stays up for more than a few milliseconds.

 

3. Diversion – This is similar to absorption except that instead of being absorbed, the excess is diverted to the ground leg of the AC line.

 

An important component of the suppressor unit is a metal oxide varistor (MOV). These devices are good at clamping surges of 300 volts or more, but are most effective when used in combination with circuitry for filtering and diversion or absorption.

 

The filtering capability of a surge suppressor is rated in joules. This is a measure of energy, and you might think of it as how big a punch the unit can withstand. Most cheap surge suppressors are rated at less than 500 joules. We recommend a rating of at least 1000 joules.

 

Here are some other features to look for in a good power surge protector:

 

1. Let-through voltage. This should be 300 volts or less.

 

2. Building wiring fault indicator. No surge suppressor will be as effective if the outlet is not grounded or the AC is improperly phased. This indicator will give you a heads-up for those conditions.

 

3. Protection function indicator. This tells you that the surge unit itself is working properly. If it’s not, replace it. These are not field-reparable.

 

4. Fast-acting thermal fuse. No unit in my budget or yours will absorb a direct lightning strike. The best defense for that is to sacrifice a fuse and open the line completely.

 

5. Phone-line surge protection. Phones are cheaper than computers, but the phone line is also vulnerable to surges and should be protected, for personal safety if nothing else. This feature is easily recognized by a pair of RJ-11 jacks.

 

6. Coax TV cable protection. Whether you get a TV signal from the cable company or a rooftop antenna, it’s another avenue for lightning surges to get in. If you use rabbit ears, you can safely ignore this one.