The best way to back up your data automatically

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Now that we are starting a new year, a lot of people are making new year resolutions.  If you are thinking about what you want to accomplish in 2011, let me offer a suggestion – get an automated backup system set up on your computer.  You do know that your hard drive will crash, right? It’s just a matter of time.  Back up your files, music, pictures, etc while you still can.

For this article, I am going to assume you understand the importance of having a backup.  The next question is how to do it.  It’s not enough to just take some of your files and put them on a CD occasionally.  That is bad idea because: 1. You won’t remember to do it every day, and 2. You have to keep buying CDs.

There are a few options when it comes to backing up your data, and each one has pros and cons:

  • Files and folders to an external drive
  • Image to an external drive
  • Files and folders online backup

1. Backing up files and folders to an external drive:
Automated backupWith this option, you would get an external USB hard drive.  They are about the size of a paperback book, and a 1 terabyte drive should be $100 or less.  When you connect this drive to a USB port on your computer, it shows up as a new drive (you will see it when you click on My Computer).

You will also need software to automatically do the backup.  The one I have used for years is called Karen’s Replicator (free download here).  With this program, you can designate certain files and folders to be backed up.  At whatever interval you prefer (I recommend daily), the program will copy your critical files from your computer to the external drive.

Pros: The solution is automated.  As long as your computer is on at the designated time and the external drive is connected, the backup should happen. If you accidentally delete or lose an important file, just go to the external drive and copy it back from your backup.  Also, the software for this backup procedure is free.

Cons: All of your data is probably in the same room.  If you have a fire or flood that destroys your computer equipment, you have lost your original data and the backup copy.  If your hard drive completely crashes, you will have to reinstall all of your programs on the new drive from installation CD/DVD, and then bring back all of your data from the external drive.

2. Backing up your data in an image on an external drive
backup systemAn image is different from backing up individual files and folders.  When you use software (such as Acronis True Image or Norton Ghost) to create a drive image, that image is a single file that contains everything about your hard drive – your files, your Windows installation, your choice for desktop background, everything.  So if your hard drive crashes, you just pull out the old drive, put in the new one, and restore everything back to the way it was.  This method also uses an external hard drive to store the backup.

Pros: This is the quickest way to restore a crashed drive back to having everything the way it was before.  A quick startup with a boot disc, tell it to restore, and it’s like nothing ever happened.

Cons: The software is not free (get current prices by clicking the links above).  If you accidentally delete or lose a file, you can’t go to the image and retrieve just that one file – you would have to restore your entire hard drive to recover it.  Also, if that one image file gets corrupted, you may not be able to restore from it (and you wouldn’t know it’s corrupted until you tried to restore from it – by then it’s too late).

3. Backing up your files and folders online
Carbonite backupThis is becoming a more and more popular option as computing moves into the cloud.  This backup is based on the assumption that you are always connected to the internet (which is true for the vast majority of users now).  You contract with an online backup service (the most popular one is Carbonite – $55 annually) to save your data.  So every time you create or edit a Word document, Carbonite will immediately copy that file to their server over your internet connection.

Pros: Backup is immediate, so is always current. No additional hardware is needed.  Also, your backed up files are offsite; if your equipment is destroyed locally, you can still retrieve all of your critical data from another computer.

Cons: The biggest risk here is that the company you choose for your online backup needs to stay in business.  Carbonite is the biggest company, so going with them minimizes that risk since they will most likely be around for a good while.  Also, the expense is ongoing (but how much is it worth to make sure you don’t lose what’s on your computer?)

There is no backup method that is 100% foolproof and guaranteed.  However, there is one thing I can guarantee: having a backup plan in place – ANY plan – is better than having no backup at all.  Don’t be fooled into thinking it can’t or won’t happen to you!

Whatever option you choose for your backup,
if you need help I can take care of it for you.
I can connect remotely and
get it set up in an hour or less.


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