Computer Backup Basics By Darryl Brooks Let’s face it. Backups of valuable data are something almost everyone knows about and very few people actually do, at least adequately. The subject of backups can be as simple as making copies of what you are currently working on, to massive backup and redundancy plans for an entire corporation.
If you are a large company, it’s probably a safe bet that you have an IT department handling this, so this article is more for the individual or small business concerned about the safety and security of their critical data.
First, start with the easy, basic stuff. Almost any word processor or spreadsheet software has an auto-save function. Use it. It’s silly to work on a massive spreadsheet for hours only to have a power outage and you lose all the work. And like any other backup procedure, don’t just turn it on and forget about it. Take a few minutes to understand how it works and how you can recover a document in the event of a power outage.
Next, you need to back up your critical files some place outside of your computer. Computers crash. Hard drives die. Years’ worth of information can be lost when this happens. You may be aware that there are companies that can recover data from crashed systems, but what you may not know is that they charge huge sums of money to do it. Don’t be held hostage for your data. Spend a little bit of money and time now and rest easy.
There are four easy and basic methods of backing up data that this article will discuss. Redundant systems and raid drive arrays are outside the scope of this piece. If you have that technology, you don’t need this article. Three of the methods require some action on your part to make them and keep the backups current. The fourth is a bit more automated, but can get more expensive. There are systems you can buy that will fully automate backups for you, so you set it and forget. The problem with these systems is you set it and forget it. If something happens and the system isn’t working, you may not know it until it’s too late.
The first method and the one that’s been around the longest is simply copying your files to a disk and storing it in a safe place. This used to mean a floppy disk, but now refers to CDs or DVDs. Simply put the disk in your drive, copy the files and store it away. The pros to this type of backup are you will have multiple copies of everything. Each time you do a backup, you have a new copy, so going back in time to a certain version of your data is easy. It’s also easy to keep a copy offsite in case of a disaster like floods or fires. Lastly, it’s cheap. CDs and DVDs cost pennies each. The downside is it’s a bit more time consuming than other methods. Also you are limited in how much they can hold. Data files, particularly media files have gotten quite large. CDs hold about 700Mb and DVDs max out at about 4.5 GB. You can fill those up quickly, making it even more time consuming to do correctly.
The next method and one that’s been around a few years is the thumb or flash drive. These little devices are small, easy to carry around and have gotten larger in capacity and smaller in price. You pop one in your USB port, copy the files, and you’re done. They are maxing out at about 512 GB+ now, but larger ones will be coming out soon. Ease of use and convenience are the main benefits of this method of backup. The convenience comes with a price however, since they are also easy to lose. For this reason, they may not be the best choice for sensitive data.
External hard drives are another great choice for backup and another which is getting larger and cheaper all the time. Terabyte plus hard drives are widely available at very reasonable prices. You simply connect it to your computer via a USB cable, and like the flash drive, it becomes the D or E drive where you can simply copy the files. These are great for large amounts of data. They are not as portable as the other devices however, so they tend to stay next to the computer. It might be wise to invest in a second one, and rotate backups, keeping one drive offsite in a secure location.
The final type of backup covered in this article is online backups over the Internet. There are several firms that specialize in this and a quick search of online backup service will get you the names of several. Do some research before you invest time and money into one of these services. Security and availability of your data is critical, and shouldn’t be sacrificed for convenience. That said, these services are very convenient if you spend a lot of time connected to the Internet. They are truly set it and forget it, but the earlier caveat should be repeated. Periodically make sure the backup is getting done and that you know how to recover your data. Cost varies, so check into which type of service works best for you. Some charge a flat fee for unlimited data per computer and some charge depending on the amount of storage used regardless of number of computers.
Backups and the ability to recover your data are very important and should be given adequate thought and preparation. You may find it useful to combine two or more of these methods. Whichever methods you choose, make backing up your data a part of your regular business practices.