for the Home and Small Business"I cannot emphasize computer backup enough. Anything on your computer that isn't backed up you should delete now. If you don't need it, you will be tidying up your PC. If you do need it, why postpone the pain of losing it? You will lose it eventually, why not get over it and move on?"
- The Free Computer Consultant
Ok, maybe there is a bit of tongue-in-cheek on the above quote - but not much. Seriously, any moment you can get the ubiquitous
Data error reading drive (x):You could come home and find your PC stolen. A laptop can be gone in the blink of an eye with your head turned. Haven't we read enough about the laptops stolen with personal data stored on them? (Why that data is on them could be the topic of another rant.) See my pages on data security for more on that.
abort, retry, ignore?
Computer Backup is too hard, too confusing, takes too long!
Yes, I left out a lot of excuses; do you really want to hear the pathetic ones? Why save the data, why do the work and take no precaution against it being gone in the blink of an eye?
Long, long ago, in a galaxy... never mind. Many years ago when I was programming in an MS-DOS environment (Windows hadn't been invented yet), I wrote code on my hard drive with a floppy (5¼ inch floppy!) disk in the A: drive that I saved to every so often.
It wasn't just a hard drive crash I was protecting against, but also the possibility of a program crash or even user error and I didn't want the heartache of losing the work. Back then I could even scour the disk with Norton Utilities to put together a damaged file. I remember doing so on one occasion. My backup was a bit old (several hours) and I had some valuable code to salvage.
The way Windows works that isn't as easy to do today, and in fact the only utilities that do that are expensive forensic programs.
What's the worst that can happen?Complete hard drive failure. Recover data from it? Maybe; if you want to spend $2000+. This happened to a friend of mine recently, except that his story has a happy ending. He was prepared (after taking my advice, thank you very much) and it made disaster recovery a snap. Read his computer backup success story here.
So, what to do?I'm glad you asked. There are so many options, a flavor for everyone! First, how about the basics:
Computer Backup is essential - Do it regularly! You can read below about different ways to backup and what software, if any, is required.
Protect it! Password protect the backup. Most backup software will give you the option to require a password in order to restore any data. Encrypt the backup if using a simple copy. Somehow protect it so that only YOU can retrieve the data. But make sure you have a way to remember the password! I recommend Password Safe for that.
Test it. No backup is worth anything unless you can actually get the data back when you need it!
You need to try a restore of at least one file off of the backup, then compare it to the original file. Whenever I restore a file, whether testing or for real, I ALWAYS RESTORE TO A TEMPORARY DIRECTORY! That way I will never accidentally restore over a newer file. It also makes comparison easy with a command like this:
fc c:\RealDirectory\File_name c:\TempRestore\File_name"FC" is a windows system command which does a "file compare". If it reports no differences encountered, you're in good shape.
Remove it! Take a computer backup offsite. This can mean a work backup at home, a home backup at work, a friend or relative's house (Gibson Research's Steve Gibson sends an encrypted backup to his lawyer and his mother!) A bank safe deposit box can work, although not convenient on a regular basis.
At one point in my programming career I was so devoid of a good place to store backups I took a diskette case with me wherever I went! Not a good option by any means, but better than coming home to missing or burned up data!
Let's take a look at the computer backup options:First, where are you going to store the data?
Now that you know where you're going to put it, how are you going to put it there?
This is an interesting question, because data backed up that can't be restored is worse than useless. Worse because you wasted time backing it up, worse because you're frustrated - maybe irate - that you can't get it back.
This is particularly true for archive, or long term, backups. When I do this, I actually write on the tape what software (including version) was used. I make it a point to save the installation disks for that software too.
Just copy the data. In Windows explorer, you can just drag and drop. Works Ok if all of your data is segregated well, such as in My Documents. I also mentioned before the XCopy command from the command prompt.
Windows Backup. Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Backup. Works reasonably well. One important feature is the "System State" backup. I explain more on this discussing registry backup. One software company makes an inexpensive program that is really just a wrapper around the built in backup program that makes it far easier to customize, understand and use.
Backup software, NOT imaging software. There are still quite a few companies that offer software to do this, keep in mind my warning about about being able to retrieve the data in the future. I haven't been too fond of the offerings for individual PC's for quite a few years now. Few improve over the free, included, Windows Backup.
If you read about the different media options above, you know that my favorite is to use IMAGING software like Acronis True Image. This allows easy complete disaster recovery, cloning of hard drives if upgrading to a larger drive, and even individual file recovery. And it's reasonably priced.
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