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Backup Your Data ... Today

When was the last time you backed up the data on your internal hard drive? If your answer to this question was today, then you're in good shape. Even if your answer was last week, you're probably fine, but the rest of you are taking a huge risk. Are there any photos, music, text documents, spreadsheets, movies, or other irreplaceable files that you would loose forever if your drive died today?

One of the most common requests I receive is to attempt to recover data from a corrupt or non-functioning hard drive because the user has no backup. This process can be difficult, expensive, or completely impossible at times. However, making and keeping current backup copies of files is inexpensive, simple, and essential.

The fact about hard drives is that they all eventually fail. All hard drives have mechanical parts in them that wear out. If you look at the statistics, only a small percentage fail during the first year, but by the 5th or 6th year of operation, a significant number begin to fail and that number keeps going up for every year of operation. So, it's not a question of if your computer's hard disk will stop working, but when and how difficult the recovery will be for you.

Backup 3 - 2 - 1

A basic backup practice should include 3 copies of each file, 2 different media types, and 1 of the copies must be off-site. In reality, this could look something like an external hard drive for one of the copies, DVDs for a 2nd media type, and a service like Carbonite or CrashPlan for the off-site copy. The off-site copy could also be something like an external hard drive you keep at your office, at a friend's home, or a bank safety deposit box. It's important to have that off-site copy for those situations like a fire or a lightening strike where all the electronics in your home are ruined.

Backup Software

I recommend you use backup software to make the boring and tedious process of backing up:
  1. Simple - set it and forget it.
  2. Automated
  3. Incremental - only copy files that have changed since the last backup.

CrashPlan - This application is a jack of all trades. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It can also be used for both on-site and off-site backups because you can set different destinations. And all this for free! They also offer CrashPlan+ which includes secured on-line storage of your files on their servers for around $5/year or less if you pay several years in advance.

Carbonite - This application specializes in backing up your files over the Intenet to their servers. Once you set it up, Carbonite copies your files to their servers all the time in the background without any interaction. You can also access your files from anywhere over the Internet through a web browser. Carbonite has several plans starting at $59/year.

Local Backup Options

  • Time Machine (Mac) - This backup application comes with every Macintosh. Works great with an external drive.
  • Backup & Restore (Windows) - The Windows built-in solution. Look for it in your Control Panel.
  • CrashPlan (Windows, Mac, and Linux) - I mentioned this one above for off-site backups, but it also does a great job for local backups too.

There are lots of other options for local backups, but the most import point here is that you have current backups.

Once your first backups are complete, the subsequent backups will go much faster since they should only be copying files that have changed since the last time you backed up. The first time you run a backup, it may take several hours or even more than a day for files that are being sent to a server over the Internet. So, just be patient and just leave your computer on overnight to let the process finish. The next daily backup will take only a minute or so, depending on the number of files you have changed and their size.

Finally, be sure and check the files in the backup locations to confirm you can open them and that changes are being made to them when you change your original. It's a good idea to do a random check of 3 or 4 files once a month or so. This will guarantee that your files will be present and accessible when you need them.

Past blogs will go in this column.