Technology Help 101: Backups

Technology Help 101: Backups

I’ve told this to many a person, and I’ll tell it to you as well. BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP. Hard drives will fail at some point or another. It’s not a matter of IF, but a matter of WHEN. I could tell you stories of hard drive failures. How about the one time that a friend said his computer was running really slow? I asked him to bring it in. He did, and the s.m.a.r.t. analysis showed impending hard drive failure. I started copying all of the data. Not less than 10 minutes after I had finished copying the data, the drive was no longer accessible. I managed to save everything just before the drive failed! He had no backup, and he got lucky, very lucky. 

Methods of backup

hard drive platters and heads

There are different ways to backup your data, but all of them basically do the same thing: make a redundant copy of your data. The 2 most common methods are:  external hard drives, and cloud storage.

External Hard Drive

External hard drives are very inexpensive nowadays. You can purchase a 2TB external USB drive for under $80 (as of 12-2012). This allows you to copy the information on your internal hard drive to the external drive. Then if your hard drive fails, you still have another copy of all the data. These drives come with different interfaces for different needs. The most common is USB. This is usually USB 2.0 and not terribly fast. Next most common is Firewire. This is much faster than USB, but not as many PC’s have firewire interfaces, although almost every Mac has firewire. Then comes USB 3.0, which is relatively new. Any other interface is less desirable than these. This is because almost every computer has a USB connector, and quite a number have firewire. Stick with one of these.

Backup Software

Some sort of generic laptop

Most external drives come with software to backup data. These software programs usually are a 1-click solution to quickly backup just your data, or the entire drive. I would recommend staying away from these programs for one simple reason: They usually compress your data.

The reason that using one of these programs to compress and backup your data is bad is because when your hard drive fails, you will need to install the program to recover the data on the external drive. This is because the program is the only thing that can read that data. What if the program no longer works with a newer version of your operating system? Then the data is not readable, which makes backing up a moot point.

I RECOMMEND using Microsoft Sync Toy or SyncBack to backup your data. These two programs (among others) copy your data file by file and create the same directory and file structure on the backup drive. Then if you ever need to recover, just plug in the drive, and drag and drop back to your main drive. Or you can even just access the data off the external drive because it’s not encoded in some strange format.

I personally use SyncBack on my computer, my wife’s computer, my mother’s computer, and anyone else I can get to use it. It is powerful and flexible, and free.

Cloud Storage

There are companies that are providing backup solutions in the cloud, or over the internet. This is great for those of you that don’t have a ton of data like myself. They are painless, but have a monthly fee. When you install their software, every time you make a change to a file, the software will automatically upload it to their servers. This is great since you will almost always have a recovery path of everything except the last few minutes.

But be aware, I had a friend that was using one of the online backups, and she didn’t specify her data directory correctly in the backup software. When her hard drive crashed, it wasn’t backing up any of her data. She lost everything, even though she though she was backing up!

What I do

My mother-in-law’s Hard Drive

As I mentioned above, I backup my computer using SyncBack. I have a group of jobs that I run at my office to copy data to my external 3TB drive. Then at home, I have another group of jobs that I run to copy to one of my computers at home. That computer has 2TB internal storage , and 1TB external storage. I do this at least weekly in at least one location.

If I have a disaster in one location, such as a fire at home, I still have a backup at my office. Same goes for the other way around. That’s why I recommend you backup to 2 locations. Or at least, have 2 external drives, and then bring one off-site and switch every week or two.


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