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Backups, Backups, Backups

BackupToDiskConfessions of an OCD Backup-Maker
I have a confession to make; I habitually make backups…. and then I backup the backup… and then I have a program that automatically backs up my backup to an off-site backup. I’m a little bit OCD like that. But let’s not judge me. Let’s turn this around. When was the last time you made a backup? Was it a good backup or a bad backup (what’s the difference… keep reading)? I’m going to give you some suggestions on making good backups and provide some online tools to make even better backups. You ready? Here we go.

External Hard Drives Are Your Friend
An external hard drive is a type of hard disk drive which is typically connected to your computer via a USB cable. These devices are great for storing backups because they are cheap and large. You can easily find a 500GB external hard drive for $100. At the end of every day you can simply backup all your files to the external hard drive. Because the typical external hard drive is so large you can even keep multiple backups of the same files. For instance, when I backup files I will create a folder and name it based on the date. So, for today I would create a folder called 20091009 (military format for 2009 Oct 9th – it sorts better this way) and then I would backup my important files to that folder. A week from now I would create a folder called 20091016 and I would backup to that folder. I like to make dated backup because if I ever need to go back in time to a revision of a file from weeks (or months) ago, I can. Now, if your computer’s hard drive dies, you have backups of all your important files at the ready. Fix your old computer or buy a new computer, restore those important files and you’re off to the races.

Thumb Drives Are Your Super-Portable Friend
Thumb drives are small (pocket-size) USB devices that, when plugged into your computer, show up as a small hard drive. Thumb drives typically have a much smaller capacity than external hard drives but they have the advantage of being much more portable. Just like an external hard drive, you can copy files from your hard drive onto the USB thumb drive. Again, if your computer dies, you have backups.

Location, Location, Location
So, you’re feeling pretty smug about those backed up files aren’t you? And, a lot of you are going to leave that external hard drive right next to the computer, or you’re going to take that thumb drive and store it in your laptop bag with your laptop. Congratulations; you are now hosed if someone breaks into your office and steals everything, or someone steals your laptop bag on a trip, or if there is a fire, or if your 4 year-old nephew decides your laptop (with the thumbdrive sticking out of the USB port) is a fish and sets it free in the pond out back. In any event you get the idea that storing your backup with your computer is a bad idea. So, when you go to the store to buy that backup device, buy 2 (or more) of them. You need at least 2 because you always, always, want to keep one of them off-site, away from the computer that you are backing up. Now, if someone steals your laptop bag, or the entire contents of your office, or you have a fire, or a flood, or whatever; you’ve got an offsite backup. 

But I Am Lazy, and/or Forgetful
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust myself to make backups manually. If you are like me, and just want the backups to create themselves then you are in luck; there is a solution. Online Backups. There are quite a few online backup providers out there. The big players are Mozy and Carbonite. They will provide a small program that you install that will automatically backup your important files to a secure offsite location via the internet. Their programs allow you to simply choose what files/folders to backup, when to back them up, and you are done.  Mozy even offers a free personal account that includes 2 gigabytes of disk space! The caveat here is that your computer needs an internet connection and needs to be turned on to make the backups… but the backups are automatic and that is worth the price of admission (which can be free). Now, if something bad happens, you have an online backup that you can access from anywhere.

How Do I Choose?
Here’s the thing about backups. There is no such thing as too many of them. Make backups to an external hard drive, and backup to thumb drives, and use an online backup service.

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  1. November 13th, 2009 at 04:20 | #1

    Brandon: What I want is a “blueprint” of my hard drive not just back up the files. If my HD goes down I want to be able to throw in a new HD and transfer the blueprint with all the software and files. Heck the software may have several years of updating that I would have to redo if I had to reinstall the software from scratch. Got any recommendations?

  2. Brandon
    November 13th, 2009 at 13:33 | #2

    Ed, for the ultimate real-time backup you want to go with mirrored hard drives, using a hardware mirroring controller. In this setup you have 2 identical hard drives in your computer attached to the mirroring controller. These hard drives are always kept in an identical state automatically (this setup is referred to as Raid 1). Now, in the event of a hard drive failure, your computer automatically fails over to the backup hard drive and never skips a bit. You literally have absolutely ZERO down time. Obviously you still need to keep off-site backups of your data, but this setup is, by far, the best in terms of protection from a hard drive failure.

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