Choosing a backup plan

Last time we were talking about how valuable the data on our hard drive is and how important it is to keep it safe. This included having your backup in a safe place, but how do we even get to the point where we have a backup?

It seems that while most of us use virus protection these days on our computers, the number using backup regularly is alarmingly small. Some studies show that only 15% of people back up their data, and a significant proportion of these don’t back up as often as they should.

Am I at risk? Do I need to do all this backup stuff anyway?

Your backup is like an insurance policy for your dataBackups are like insurance, you only really need it when something goes wrong. And if you have it then you are glad you made the investment. Let’s imagine some scenarios where you might be glad you make the effort to back up:

  • Your leave your laptop (or iPhone) on the train or in a cab.
  • Your computer hard drive dies suddenly, or your computer is fried by a power surge.
  • Your kids install a game from the internet that turns out to be a virus and eats all your emails.
  • Your home is burgled and your computer (and the external drive plugged into it) is stolen.
  • You have just finished updating a document and you realise you need the original copy and you forgot to save it first.
  • You read in the paper that your web provider has gone bust, where are your websites and blog posts from all those friends and loyal customers?

So what is a backup and how do I work out what is the best backup strategy for me?

There are different ways of approaching the backup problem, depending on what you want to achieve and the types of information you want to protect. It is important to distinguish between Archiving, Syncing, and Backup.

Archiving: Is often used for things that will become heirlooms such as family photos that you want to be available for years and years. It can also appropriate when you want to remove old projects from your computer to free up space but you might want to look at these things again one day. Archiving is more likely to involve DVD’s and other long term storage media.

Syncing: Is a term that means you have the same files in more than one place and you automatically update them so that when you change one, the other is updated too. (This won’t protect you from virus or accidental deletion as your copy will be infected or deleted too). Syncing is often done with an external drive that stays attached to your computer.

Backup: Taking a full copy of your files on a regular basis (and possibly a copy of just those that change on an even more regular basis). This is the one we will focus on here.

AThinking about why you want a backup will help you choose the right one for yout the most basic level a backup consists of taking a copy of your data so that if the copy on your computer is lost – you can recover it. In order to get started on determining the right backup, you need to ask yourself some questions:

  • Where is the data I want to back up? My Documents, Photos, Music, your settings, on your iPhone (your phone numbers)?
    • Do I want to back up my whole system, programs and data?
    • Do I only want to back up documents and settings?
    • How are my website and any blogs backed up
  • What types of loss am I trying to protect myself against? Virus, accidental deletion, hard disk failure, theft, fire, etc. (for websites it could be hackers or administrators deleting your blog/site)
  • How often does my data change (some parts may change more regularly than others)
  • How much can I afford to loose? (Are there any tax/legislative requirements on my data?)
  • Who is responsible for my backup? How much do you trust someone else to do your backup (will their apology for failing make you feel better if you loose everything? At least you will have someone else to blame…)

I am paranoid enough to always want to know there is more than one copy of my data stored safely (but I know that having too many copies leads to backup madness – if you can’t find the right backup then you might as well not have it)

  • Keep at least one copy of your backup separate

The basics of a backup strategy will be to save data in proportion to it’s value and how quickly it changes

By considering what you want, you will be able to find the right backup solution for your needs.As you can imagine from the questions above, to an extent, your backup strategy is going to be a personal one. Here are the basics that I would expect to find:

  1. Take a full system image when you make a big change to your system like installing a major piece of software. This will make it easier to do a full recovery if you need to, without having to reinstall all your software.
  2. Create a full backup (say Weekly or Monthly) – keep this away from your computer (off site or at least in another secure place)
  3. Create an incremental backup more regularly (say Daily or Weekly). This will include only the changes since the last full backup and will be smaller and quicker. (if you can move these away from your computer – off site or perhaps on line, then all the better)
  4. Each time you come to take a new full backup, store the last one somewhere safe – that way if you need to recover a file you have this backup and the previous one to choose from. How many copies you keep before you ‘recycle’ your backup disks depends on how far back in time you want to go. In some scenarios you would keep a number of full backups – perhaps 12 monthly ones so you could go back to a file at any month in the last year.
  5. Consider taking another full/incremental backup of the parts of your system that change very regularly on a more frequent timetable – say your ‘current work’ documents (this will be smaller so you can probably do it daily).

Most importantly!
Test your backup now and again to make sure you can recover a file if you need it

As you can see, your backup solution can be tailored to your specific needs. If you would like to discuss a solution, and recommendations based on your needs, then feel free to get in touch with me.

Here’s to always having your data when you need it,

your ‘peoples geek’

PS. Here are some great references for more reading on backup: