Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Backing Up Files

By Nat Rous

We've all heard stories from friends or family of a computer crash or a ruthless viral infection. Their woes of losing all their family photos or financial data make us worry about our own computers and the accumulation of years of pictures, documents, and other valuable files.

But where to begin? There are lots of options available, but not all of them are right for everyone. What's right for you?

Let's start with some basics.

Copying is NOT the same as a backup. What is important is where you make the copy! Copying files to a different folder on the same hard drive is virtually worthless.
You don't need to backup your entire computer! If you can identify just the files you consider 'important' you may be able to save time and money.
Don't count on data recover! While you may have heard about services that can recover data from a crashed hard drive, it is very expensive and results are NOT guaranteed.

There are a number of storage options for your data. Some require you to actively make your backups, as well as choose which files to back up (partial backup); others can be scheduled to run once in awhile; others are 100% automatic and copy everything (full backup).

Removable Storage

Removable storage is one of the cheapest and simplest methods of backing up your data. By 'removable', we simple mean that you can easily disconnect the storage device and take it with you. Depending on your needs, it may work as a full or partial backup. Three main methods of removable storage are

flash or 'thumb' drives
external hard drives
optical media (CD/DVD)

Flash Drives: 'Flash' drives are the little devices that you can plug into a USB slot on your computer, usually no installation needed. These drives are getting cheaper all the time. You can get a 32GB or 64GB drive very cheaply. They are small, and they are portable. These should not be used as long-term storage, as they are known to become corrupted over time (or get lost!)

External Hard Drives: By purchasing a hard drive enclosure and a new hard drive, you can backup the entire contents of your computer. This can become pricey if you plan to backup everything on your computer since you will need to buy a hard drive that is at least as big as the one in your computer. On the other hand, it is a very dependable method of storage that requires relatively little setup.

Optical Media: This would be best suited to a small business or someone who wants to make periodic backups of a small amount of data and take those backups to a different, safe location (in case of a fire, for example). Since a CD can only hold around 750MB, and a DVD only 4.5GB (4500 MB), you likely won't be backing up your entire computer.

Internet Backups: There are various internet services that allow you to upload your data to their servers for a fee. For example, if you've watched any tv or listened to the radio in the last few years, you've probably heard of Carbonite - although it is only one of many options.

One downside to Internet backups is that you often may have sensitive personal data you need to store. In this case, be sure to check if the data is encrypted and secure - both during the backup process itself, and while it is stored on the company's servers. If you have lots of data to store, it may take a long, long time to initially store your data. However, after the initial backup procedure, only new files or changes to files need to be uploaded and stored - a much quicker operation.

As for cost, this is often a cheap way to get going with backups. However, since there is usually a monthly subscription, after 2 or 3 years you will have paid more than if you had purchased a large, reliable, external hard drive and managed things yourself. Also beware of upgrades that add little value (Don't upgrade to the premium Carbonite package, for example, which only adds support for external hard drive backing up - you can do that yourself with various computer backup software)
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