Having a backup strategy
Let me first say that there are many different ways to have an effective PC backup strategy. The important thing is to just have one. There are two reasons why you really need to have your computer backed up. One is to retrieve a file that you've lost, deleted, corrupted or changed (when you didn't want to). The other is to have a backup in case something happens to your hard drive or computer. The thing about any backup strategy is that you need to think about them carefully before you need them, and you really need to stick with them. In addition, you need to test them once in awhile, to make sure that you're actually saving the information you need, and that you can get it back if (when) you need it. I've tried and used many different strategies over the years, back to the days when you could back up on a floppy drive (we'll never see those days again!). It's really a moving target, as technology grinds inextricably forward so must your strategy. One thing I can guarantee is that when you do need your backup it will be completely unexpected and will come at the worst possible time. The sudden realization that your computer has gone 'belly up' and that all of your information is gone is truly gut-wrenching for someone that uses it regularly.
In thinking about writing this article it seemed to me that the easiest and most effective way to describe a backup strategy is to just share what it is that I do. I'm not saying this is the only way, or that it is even the best way. I'm just saying that this is what works for me, and I hope that you will find it useful. We're going to try to keep it simple, so I'm not going to go over every different type of option in an effective backup strategy. We'll hit the highlights, think of this as as Backup 101.
There are really two components to a backup strategy:
- Somewhere to put the backups - some of the most common components used for backups would be network servers (if you work in a networked office environment), tape drives, CD/DVD disks, or external hard drives. There are pros and cons to each of these, but what I find to be the easiest and most economical (as of today) is an external hard drive. I've got a couple of them, one at work and one at home, both from different manufacturers. The one I've got at home is a Fantom Titanium 250GB (you can see one here), which was really reasonably priced. Only problem is the thing emits a high-pitch whine that drives me nuts when it's on. Not the end of the world for backing up data, you can always turn it off when you're not using it (which is what I do). If you wanted to use it as a second hard drive I think you would get sick of the noise before long.
The other one I've got is one that I really like, it's an Iomega, 80GB drive (see it here). It goes on when you turn the computer on, but if it wasn't for the indicator light you wouldn't even know that it was there. The capacity is a bit small for what I need, but I purchased it awhile back when they were more expensive. If I were to get another one I would probably go up to the 160 or 250GB units.
- Backup software - now if you think about it, the only thing that is really necessary to create a backup is to copy the files from your computer to some other device. The only problem with that is that it is just plain inconvenient, and puts all of the onus on you to remember to do it. Another issue is that you don't always need a complete backup, you just need what you changed since the last time you backed up your files.
Full backup - will copy everything on your computer's hard drive to another backup device.
Incremental backup - will copy only those things that have changed since your last full or incremental backup
Finally, most backup software will have some sort of compression mechanism, which means the data will take up less room on your backup device than it does on your computer. This is a good thing, as backup files have a way of getting very large.
The Iomega drive came with its own backup software, but to be honest I really didn't like it much. It wasn't very intuitive, and it would skip files where you had the program running without informing you. I ran it for two weeks without realizing that it wasn't backing up my Outlook file, because I always had Outlook open when it ran the backup. I ended up looking at a bunch of different software packages, and settled on one called GBM Pro from Genie-Soft. What I liked about this is that it had a nicer wizard for creating backups, and if you had a program open that it needed to close it would let you know, then close if for you. I've been using it for over a year now and it works. I've already had to restore my Outlook file from the backup, and because it runs everyday I lost very little data.
Now that you have the components the only thing that is left is to decide which files to backup, and schedule them for backup. Another nice thing about the Genie-soft backup software is that in addition to telling it what files you want to include, you can select from a list of programs to include. For example, if you want to backup your Outlook files you just select Outlook from the list, and it will pull in all of the necessary files for you to do a complete restore if you need to. To be honest, though, I think the best thing to do is to just do an initial full backup of everything on your computer's hard drive, then just do incremental backups every day. This is the way I have mine set up:
- On every Monday I have a full backup scheduled, and I tell it to purge the old backup. You may want to save several weeks worth of data, but I find that I just don't need to.
- On Tuesday through Friday I have an incremental backup scheduled, so that I get anything that's changed since Monday.
- On Saturday I have another full backup scheduled at home, if I have my laptop plugged into the docking station. This is probably overkill, but this way I have another backup in case something catastrophic happens at work. Again, I don't really think most people need multiple backup devices, it's just what I do.
It's really just as simple as that. If I've done nothing more here than to get you to think about what you need to do to get your own backup strategy in place, then it has been worthwhile. Hopefully you will follow through and adopt things from what I've mentioned here or do your own thing to start backing up your computer. Do it before you get the dreaded blue screen of death or hear a horrible clunking noise or drop your laptop out of an airplane overhead (all of which are bad things, btw).