What’s the big deal?
Why is it that computer technicians and techie-type people in general are constantly telling us to make a backup of our data? Sadly it’s because they know, often firsthand, that it’s only a matter of time until your computer’s hard drive (or external hard drive, solid state drive, or USB flash drive) fails and takes your precious data with it. Why does this happen? Because all of the various storage systems we have for data are susceptible to electronic or mechanical failure eventually, whether it’s from general wear & tear from normal use, or exposure to some kind of abuse such as extreme heat, cold, or moisture. That’s right folks, ALL of our available options are going to fail at some point. The trouble is, we never know when that time will come. Storage devices (especially hard disk drives) can fail you on day 1, or they can last for many years, making it impossible to plan on any specific period of 100% reliability from them – they are basically time bombs just waiting to let you down when you least expect it.
Only you can determine how valuable the data on your PC is to you or your business. Family photos, accounting records, contacts – the list of what may be valuable and irreplaceable for you may be unique, but it’s certainly worth asking yourself the question “if my hard drive failed right now, do I have any data stored there that I could not replace?”, and if the answer to that question is “yes”, then the next question to ask yourself is how damaging it might be for you or your business to permanently lose that data.
Types of backup
So how do we back up our precious data then? Today there are several ways to go about this, but in concept you need some kind of secondary storage device and a way of managing which data you choose to backup to that device, as well as how frequently you need to update the backup. We can break down backups into two basic categories to start with – local backups and remote backups.
In this context, “local” means a separate physical backup device that is in the same physical location as the data you want to back up. Examples of local backup devices are additional internal or external hard drives or solid state drives, USB flash drives, and internal or external optical disc (CD/DVD/BluRay) drives. These solutions tend to be best for backing up data on a single PC, or for users that are tech savvy enough to set them up for use with multiple PCs.
Since most of us now have a private network in our home or small business (thanks to the prevalence of routers these days), another option for local backup that has grown in popularity is network-attached-storage (NAS) devices. These tend to be a great choice for backing up multiple devices to a single central device, simplifying management and maintenance tasks, plus they have the potential to serve as central media storage devices for your photos, music, and videos which you can easily share from the NAS to all your networked devices.
As you might have guessed, by “remote” we mean non-local, therefore a backup stored at a different physical location. There are many variations on how this can be achieved. For example, you can sign up for a service such as Backblaze, Carbonite, or Mozy that will rent you data storage space on a secure server in the “cloud”, in an earthquake-proofed state-of-the-art datacenter, where professional IT staff are monitoring the reliability and performance of your backup system 24/7. Besides taking the worry out of managing your backup system (and its own potential for failure over time), other benefits of this method include isolating the backed up data from any risk of theft, vandalism, or natural disaster at your home or office.
Other popular cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive can also be used for backup purposes, although they tend to be marketed more towards data sharing and syncing between multiple devices or people, which is different from a true backup, so careful attention is needed to make sure these services are set up to achieve a proper backup for you. Sync can be configured in such a way that, for example, if you delete a file from your PC, that file will also be immediately deleted from your sync’ed cloud storage – that is true file sync, which does not serve well as a backup. In contrast, a true backup should be a static capture of data from your PC taken at a specific point in time that is not automatically deleted if/when the original data is deleted or corrupted in any way.
What about software?
For extremely simple one-time backup tasks such as backing up a small number of files and/or folders, simple copy & paste or drag and drop file operations (to a different physical storage drive than where the original data is stored) may be easy enough for some users. However, you can definitely use software to automate and manage an ongoing backup plan for you. There are command-line backup options available for more advanced users as well. Windows includes built-in backup software (which varies by the version of Windows you have), and many of the various backup types I have listed above include some kind of management software to set up your backup plan. It is also possible to make your backups on a completely manual basis, but we don’t tend to recommend this as these processes are easily forgotten or become inconsistent over time. There are some great third party backup applications to consider, including those from Acronis, Easeus, Macrium, and even Microsoft’s free SyncToy can work well when set up correctly.
If you don’t have a backup plan at the moment, the best time to set something up is now – before that inevitable day comes when your data disappears. If you need help getting set up, we can provide a professional consultation and can set up any of the aforementioned backup options for you. Contact us today to discuss your backup needs.