If there’s one important task computer users regularly ignore, it’s backing up their data. The data on your hard drive is the most critical and valuable item inside your computer (far more important than the hardware itself), and can’t be easily replaced if lost.
The files on your computer are very fragile. They can be destroyed or damaged by a software malfunction, viruses, Trojan worms, physical damage (such as dropping a laptop) and user error.
One of the biggest reasons people neglect backing up is that they don’t know where to start, what tools to use, or how to go about it. They also think it’s going to take a lot of time, cost and effort. There are a lot of different options out there, all with their own merits. Here are just a few of the options that are open to you.
External hard drives with backup software
External hard drives are one of the most popular methods of backup; they can store large quantities of data and they are small, lightweight and portable. These come pre-packaged with software for simple and hassle free copying of files. Many of these drives come with a one-click download option, meaning all you need to do is press a button on the front of the drive or your desktop to begin an automatic backup. The capacity of external hard drives makes them ideal for backing up large volumes of data, and many of these devices simplify the process by including software (or hardware) features to automate the backup. The downside is that if you don’t take the external drive off site then if there is a localised disaster (such as a flood, fire or theft) then it will probably be damaged at the same time as your main system.
USB flash drives
USB flash drives are great for carrying around your data everywhere you go. And storage doesn’t get more compact than these. Advances in flash drives have seen lines of flash drives that come with software similar to that found on large external hard disks for quickly and automatic backing up of data. Of course, if you have a large amount of important data on your computer you’ll probably want some of the previously mentioned bigger capacity solutions to backup your whole system.
Blank CDs and DVDs are a quick and cheap way to create extra copies of important files but they fall short in other areas. Backing up using CDs and DVDs is a slow process. Each time you want to add files to your disk, you must rewrite the entire disk and go through the entire burning process. Backing up to CD/DVDs is time consuming and difficult to automate, so you’ll have to remember to make time to backup. This solution can handle individual backups but may not suit company-wide or business-critical backups.
Windows and Mac Backup/Restore
Both Windows and Mac OS X include backup programs with the operating system that can be used in conjunction with the methods mentioned above.
The most recent version of the backup program included with Windows 7 is a vast improvement and is designed to backup your data to external drives, network drives and DVDs.
If you are a Mac user, these come with a built in program called Time Machine. Backing up your files using this method allows you to easily restore them to a previously saved point. Time Machine, which is in your dock by default and can also be found in the applications menu, can also work in conjunction with any standard USB or external hard drive.
Online file storage solutions are becoming increasingly popular as they allow users to upload their files (off site) to a server for safe keeping. There are several different options. Some online storage solutions are used without ever leaving your Web browser, while others add themselves to My Computer like they’re just another folder. Others install small apps that work in your computer’s background, synchronising your data to the Web without you ever having to do a thing.
In addition to functionality, cost is also an important aspect that you need to consider. Many online services provide a free account with limited online storage space, and provide more space for those that are willing to pay for it. This type of back-up is particularly useful if you want to share files between several users.
There are also companies that will provide remote online, or managed backup service on behalf of the end users. Online backup systems run on a schedule, typically at night while computers aren’t in use. Managed backup services appeal to customers who simply don’t want to, or aren’t able to perform their own backups because they don’t have skilled IT professionals at each site.
Backing up files is a vital part of computer housekeeping and shouldn’t be overlooked. Choosing the correct method of backup and setting it up can be a tricky business. For more information and advice about the best backup available to you call The PC Support Group.
In the next newsletter we’ll look at the importance of the recovery aspects of backup, an often overlooked area.