No matter how well protected our computers are, there’s always the potential for data loss.
Whether it is through a particularly persistent virus or a failure of your hard drive, there are events we can’t predict.
So, it pays to be prepared, right?
Before you find yourself left in the barren lands of data loss, we are here to show you how you can safeguard yourself from the unthinkable.
Read on to find out how to back up your data safely and effectively.
Which Data Should You Back Up?
The simple answer to this question is: everything.
Or rather, anything you don’t want to lose.
This may include any documents, scanned files, photos, but also software you have running that is personalized and would take time to set up again if you lost it.
You don’t have to back up system files unless you’ve invested significant time into playing around with settings and getting them exactly how you like them. Most people wouldn’t benefit much from backing up their whole system. But if you want to ensure a speedy setup in the event that you do lose everything and have to start again, having a whole system backup may be worth it.
Creating a Backup is Not That Difficult
The advantage of today’s digital age is that we are living in a data-driven society where new improvements and solutions are arriving on an almost daily basis.
Instead of having to choose a select few files and programs to back up and having to find just the right hardware to carry out the job, you have the luxury of multiple easier options.
These options allow you to have the freedom to choose what to back up, large volumes of storage space, fast and automated approaches and a wide range of price options.
The Best Ways to Back Up
1- On a Hard Drive (Onsite Backup)
The simplest and fastest option is to create a backup on a hard drive.
You can use the hard drive on your computer and just have copies of important documents saved in different places. But, this should only really be a short term solution as it obviously doesn’t protect against system-wide failure.
The best option is to use a separate external hard drive so that if anything goes wrong with your computer, your files are safe in a completely separate and unconnected place. (However, this requires leaving the external hard drive unplugged from your system which may not work if you want to take advantage of the automated systems below.)
a. Using OS Built-In Utilities
Most operating systems have backup facilities as part of the basic utilities pack that comes preinstalled.
Most of the utilities, like the File History that comes with Windows 10, lets you take control of the frequency of the backups being created and you can have it done automatically. The only requirement is that you set the schedule and keep the external hard drive attached to the system accordingly.
Following utilities come with their respective platform.
Pros & Cons
|Super-fast||Connected to main computer so prone to damage in case of accidents (unless you disconnect it)|
|Free||Backs up only data files and not system files|
|Complete control over the selection of files||Not really a solution for laptops unless it’s a permanent set up at a desk (unless you disconnect it)|
|Automatic and user defined schedule|
b. Cloning or Imaging
In cloning or imaging, the entire contents of the hard drive are duplicated. The two processes are very similar but have slight differences.
Cloning means that the contents of your hard drive is copied and stored as a perfect replica of the existing settings, software and data. In short, it is an exact copy.
Hard drives are usually cloned when a hardware upgrade is required and thus the new drive is made a clone of the older one. The cloned drive is perfect for boot up since it has the required data already duplicated.
One drive can have one clone. The data is uncompressed and once the cloning is completed, does not sync automatically with the original drive.
Imaging on the other hand, does all those things, but better.
First off, the data is copied and compressed in a process that is much faster than cloning.
A single hard drive may have multiple images, scheduled images and incremental/differential images which are effectively syncing to update any files that may have changed.
Cloning and Imaging can both be done using built-in tools. Imaging backups can be recovered using the windows recovery tools and the cloned drive can simply be plugged in and used as a boot drive to recover data.
Pros & Cons
|Free||As above, it is the same location and prone to damage in case of accidents|
|Super-fast||Number of backups limited to available hard disk space|
|Complete control over the selection of files|
|Automatic and user defined schedule|
2- Online Backup Services (Offsite Backup)
Online backup services are easy to run applications that run in the background of your computer and continue to back up data at scheduled intervals. The first time a backup is created may take longer than expected since all the data is being uploaded to the internet. But once it is done, syncing any changes will be quick and convenient.
These services are often charged on a monthly basis and may look like expensive alternatives to the seemingly free backups on external drives. But in the long run, the benefits they provide outweigh the costs.
You don’t have to worry so much about space (if you run out of your allocated storage you can buy more) and the location is completely separate from your hard drive so any system failure won’t leave your backup vulnerable.
All your data is scanned, encrypted and sent to the server to be kept safe. You can access the backup and sync manually when you are online. When you need a backup for restoration, the companies sometimes even send you a hard disk with your data.
Some of the great backup service providers are:
Pros & Cons
|Automatic back up and sync||Expensive|
|Protection against accidents, mishaps and natural disasters|
|Backup at a remote location|
3- Cloud Backup Services (Offsite Backup)
For casual users, cloud data storage provides plenty of data backup options. Cloud storage solutions provide ample free space for someone looking to get some important files secured on the web. The most well-known of them are:
Cloud backups work almost like online backup solutions. The difference being, that specialized online backup solutions back up and update all the files on the system whereas, in the case of cloud storage, you have to select which files you want to back up individually.
Unless you work directly from documents stored in these services (for example using a Google Doc instead of a Word document that is saved in Google Drive) you will need to update any changes manually.
The basic plan requires you to have a registered account with the website in exchange for limited space on the cloud.
E.g. Microsoft’s OneDrive offers 5GB of cloud space for free if you have a Microsoft account. You can either buy Office 365 to get 1TB of space or choose to get a monthly subscription for 50GB of additional space.
Pros & Cons
|Free & easy if you have just a few files to upload||Limited Space unless you pay for more|
|Automatic back up and sync if you work within the service’s documents||Inconvenient process for a large number of files|
|Protection against accidents & natural disasters||By design, not a system backup solution|
|Backup saved at a remote location||Not automated syncing for foreign files|
Bonus (4) – Your Personal Cloud (On/Offsite Backup)
You can go all out and get the benefits of all of the above options by having your own personal cloud. Enter NAS!
A little pricier than the other options, NAS means Network Attached Storage. It is a single or group of drives connected to your computer through a network. This can be any network including your home, private or even a VPN network.
Since a NAS is a network resource, it is available to all users of the network. If you have more than one user in your home network, all of them can use NAS for their drive’s backup. It can also serve as a media server.
Since it is connected to your network, it is up to you to keep it running all the time. This means that power cuts that knock out your Wi-Fi could leave you vulnerable.
Setting up and running the NAS is also a little more technical than other solutions so you’ll need to either have a good understanding of computers or be willing to learn.
However, once you have set up the NAS, it will be like having your own personal little cloud.
Pros & Cons
|Lots of space||Complex setup|
|Location can be remote or otherwise||Most expensive solution|
|Fast back up|
|Automatic full data backups|
|Almost as fast as an external drive|
A Hybrid Solution?
The solutions we have shared above can be categorized generally into the following two categories.
- Onsite backup solutions
- Offsite backup solutions
If we keep expert opinion and industry standards as guiding principles, then we should all have both types. However, this depends on how important your files are to you!
Each solution has its own pros and cons. In the case of a disaster, the onsite solution is rendered useless. Similarly, if the internet connection goes down at a critical time, the remote solution becomes completely unusable.In the end, it is you who decides how important the data on your computer actually is.