In this modern age where everything is ‘digital’ and ‘internet enabled’ we are often lured into a false sense of security when it comes to the reliablitity of our data storage. While the investment of both time and money into a backup system is sometimes difficult to justify short-term, it pays incredible returns when something goes wrong and you can keep moving forward with little or no downtime. Hardware failure, malicious intruders, and stupid mistakes among other things are, in fact, more threatening to our electronic data then to our physical media. One can easily destroy months and even years of work in seconds with a misguided click or command.
To increase the margin of safety to fully and effectively utilize digital data storage, a backup is crucial. There is more to a good backup then simply “another copy” of your data. Several key principals of backup should be understood.
The basic concept of a backup is redundancy. While this seems obvious, it can be taken for granted in real life scenarios. For example: if you buy an external hard drive to “backup” your computer and store copies of your important documents etc… on it then you are indeed succeeding in a redundant backup. However, when you move large files to the drive to free up space on your laptop, you data is no longer redundant. Its feels safe and backed up because hey, its on the backup drive! But the first principal of backup is redundancy, and the more locations you have for those backups the better.
Now, suppose you have a solid redundancy. Say, 2 separate backups of your every day files and 3 backups of critical data. If they are all stored in the same room of your house or office, the only thing they are protected from is electronic catastrophe (malicious code, accidental deletion etc…), assuming they are on disks (cd/dvd or hard drive) and not still connected to the source computer! If anything was to happen to that room… then there goes your source and backups! This is why physical distance is critical in making a backup feasible. The more distance you can separate your backups with, the safer each one is.
“Don’t forget to save!” The question of how often to backup is largely based on the balance of inconvenience of a) the backup process and b) recreating data lost at any given point. For most purposes, a daily backup is sufficient. I also recommend backing up after completing major projects or if you are going to be away from your work for a while (like lunch break) while you are working on critical data.
Many people think backup and archive are synonymous. They are not. An archive is a one-time snapshot of data stored long-term. A backup is a snapshot of active data, stored short term. For a truly secure backup system, an archive of your backups should be made at a regular frequency. The huge advantage to an archive is it allows you to “go back in time” to the way your data was at the archive point. An archive is not a replacement for active data backup, but a different method of data redundancy with unique features and benefits. For example: if you regularly backup your documents on an external hard drive, you could implement archiving by burning the backup folder to a DVD-R once a month. You would then have a library of your documents as monthly snapshots. However, if you then remove data from the active backup (to save space for example), while it is still on that month’s archive, it is no longer “backed up” because it lacks redundancy.
Finding a cost-effective method of securing your data can be accomplished relatively easily. First ask yourself what can you not afford to lose in the event of a catastrophe. For most users a daily backup of their personal data to an external hard-drive with a monthly archive is sufficient. For an extra measure, do a weekly archive and send it off-site. Whatever you choose to do, evaluate the critical nature of the data you are backing up to keep it to the bare minimum and you will find that it is not hard to implement a cheap, yet effective backup solution.
Backups are an insurance policy. They can be expensive over the long-term, but when something goes wrong (we have all had it happen at some point) a seamless recovery is invaluable. Just remember that your backup is only as reliable as the hardware, location, and “distance” from source.
p.s. Save your work!