What is a Backup?
A backup is a copy of your data, which can later be restored when the original data is lost or corrupted for any reason.
Why to Backup?
Everyone has experienced data loss at one time or the other. When data is lost, you may be in need of some important files from that data. If you compare the time and money that goes into trying to get the data back, to spending a little time regularly to backup your data, you’ll start backing up your data too. Just a little time spent regularly for backing up, pays off when you lose data.
One of the reasons why people don’t backup is that they think nothing will happen to their computer. But, every computer and hard drive will die or become corrupted someday in the future. It cannot be said when that will happen.
Another reason why people don’t backup is that they are just lazy. They don’t want to backup at the end of a tiring day. They also tend to think that when they come back the next day, their data would be safe.
Another reason for not backing up is spending on expensive backup devices. Even if one wants to buy a backup device, which device should one buy or which one is the best is a question for them which confuses them.
And there’s one more reason why people don’t want to backup – what type of backup to use? People are confused when they hear that there are many types of backups. They aren’t clear as to which type of backup is suitable for them. And they don’t want to sit and learn about something, just to be able to backup!
These reasons make people tend not to backup at all. But, sooner or later, they are bound to repent and after losing some valuable data, they’ll spend on some kind of backup device. Whatever your backup device is, or whatever the backup type, some kind of backup is better than no backup at all.
What are the Causes of Data Loss?
There can be one or more of the following that can cause data loss:
- Hardware Failure, including hard drive failure
- Software Problems
- File or Folder Corruption
- Accidental File Deletion
- Accidental Hard Drive Formatting
When to Backup?
The time to backup is now, not tomorrow or later. When you aren’t sure that your computer would be functional tomorrow, is it safe to leave it without backing up your valuable data, for which you have spent a lot many hours? So, better backup now than repent later. Another good time to backup your data is when you are about to make some changes to the operating system, install or uninstall new hardware or a software program, or do anything that may affect the computer.
How often to Backup?
You should backup up important files as often as possible. In the past, creating a backup was a time-consuming and tedious task. But today, there are many good backup solutions available. Good backup programs provide automating the backups. You don’t have to spend time on manually backing up daily. The programs do that for you, every hour or every day – whatever you set them to, once.
It also depends on what amount of data you create and how often. If you create new data daily, then doing a daily backup is a good idea. If you are creating lots of data every hour, then it would be better to choose an hourly backup plan.
How to Backup?
- Manual backup You manually select the files and folders to backup and copy them to the destination device like a CD/DVD or to a USB Flash drive. Manual backups are time-consuming and a task which most people like to avoid doing daily. Manual backups can be useful in case of doing a full backup of your hard disk, using an imaging software program like Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image. But this is not required frequently, and you can do it once in a while, if you are using an automated backup program.
- Semi-automated backup Backup programs do the backup automatically, but you have to remember and run the program manually to do the backup. If you forget to run the program someday, your data won’t be backed up on that day and there’s a possibility of losing this data the next day.
- Automated backup Automated backups are created regularly and automatically, without your interaction with the backup program. The backup program does everything regularly and efficiently, in the background, once it is configured to do so. This is set once and forget it type of backup, and you don’t have to worry about your data, once you’ve configured it.
What to Backup?
You can backup only the important files. Any files that cannot be replaced and you can’t afford to lose, should be backed up. This includes your typed documents, emails, photos, recorded videos and any such thing that you cannot afford to lose.
Before you configure your backup program, you should go through all the folders on your hard drive and make a list of the ones that you want to include in the backup. This may include folders and files with any personal data, important software and music files that you don’t want to lose, documents, email, address books, bookmarks or favorites, etc.
When you lose data, due to reasons like a corrupt hard drive or an operating system corruption, you have to spend precious time to reinstall the operating system, the drivers, software programs and then restoring the already backed up data. This may even take up a whole day or more.
Using some disc imaging programs like Norton Ghost and Acronis True Image, you can create an image of the hard drive or of different partitions, and keep them on the backup media. Then, when you need to restore your operating system and data, you only have to restore the image from the backup. This is much faster than manually installing the OS and restoring your data.
Difference between Full, Differential, Incremental and Mirror Backups
- Full Backup A full backup is a complete backup. It includes everything that you want to backup. Restoring a full backup is fast because you have to restore only from one set of backup. The drawback is that the full backup itself takes time and is slower than other types of backup. Another drawback of a full backup is, it takes more space on the target device to store full backups. Since your backup program will usually store multiple backups on the target device, there will be many full backups, taking up a high amount of storage space.
- Differential Backup A differential backup is a backup of only those files that have changed since the last full backup. The files which are not changed after the last full backup will not be backed up.If you do a differential backup more than once, each time, it will backup all the files, which were changed since the last full backup. It will take backup of those files even if those changed files were backed up in a previous differential backup.Backups are faster than a full backup, since only a few changed files are backed up. Also, it takes little space even for multiple differential backups on the target device. For restoring all the data, you need the last full backup plus the last differential backup. Differential backups are a little slower to restore, than restoring from a full backup, but faster and less confusing than incremental backups. But, a the time taken for a differential backup is a little more than an incremental backup.
- Incremental Backup An incremental backup is a backup of only those files that have changed since the last backup of any type (full, differential or incremental).For example, if you took a full backup on Sunday and an incremental backup on Monday, the incremental backup would contain any files changed after the Sunday’s full backup. If you took another incremental backup on Tuesday, it would only contain the files changed after the Monday’s incremental backup.Incremental backups are the fastest and take the least amount of storage on the target device. But, restoring is the slowest because you have to restore from the full backup plus from all the incremental backups. It may also be confusing when doing a restore, for some people.
- Mirror Backup Some backup programs provide another option than the above three. This is nothing but a mirror copy of the folder or directory that you specify to backup. After whatever time you specify, the program will copy any files that were changed since the last time, to this mirror backup folder on the target device.A mirror backup is similar to a full backup, except that the files are not compressed, so you can access the backup folder anytime by opening Windows Explorer. Because the files aren’t compressed, this is the fastest backup method. Restoring is also the fastest, because you only have to copy the folder back to the original location. The drawback is that the storage space needed is more than all other backup types.
Where to Store Backups?
- On-Site Storage This is the most easiest and common place of storing your backups. In simple words, this means to keep your backups in your home or office, at a safe place. This may be fine for normal users, but if your backups contain extremely sensitive and valuable data, disasters like floods or fire in your area can make your backups useless.
- Offsite Storage This method of storing is very good for protecting your data. If there is any kind of disaster in your area, you can still get your data back, if it is lost.
- Online Storage This is also a kind of offsite storage, and very good for protecting your data. But you don’t have to spend on any extra devices for storage. You can also access your backup immediately using an Internet connection. There are free online backup services available, and provide space from 1 – 2 GB. This much is enough for backing up normal documents and images. You can buy more space, if needed.
Two examples of free online backup services are: http://mozy.com and http://www.idrive.com/
To know more about online storage and online backup, view this page.
Where to Backup?
- Floppy Disk A few years ago, when someone mentioned about data backup for personal computers, all that people would think was the 3.5” floppy disk. Nowadays the floppy drive itself is obsolete and you can’t even find it on new computers. Even old computer users have removed it, since floppies are very less reliable and have very low storage space.
- CDs/DVDs Blank writable CDs can hold up to 700 MB of data. These are very cheap. You can also get re-writable CDs which cost just a little more and data on them can be erased many times.On the other hand, you can also use DVDs or re-writable DVDs which hold about 4.7 GB of data. New type of double-sided DVDs can hold much more data. These re-writable discs can be used multiple times for backing up your data.
- A Second Hard Drive You can use an additional hard drive for saving backups. You can also get external or portable hard drives which connect via USB to backup your data. These are very easy to carry around.
- USB/Pen/Flash Drives These are extremely cheap these days, replace the old floppies, hold large amount of data, are much more reliable than floppies and can be carried around extremely easily. There are even mini-sized versions called as thumb drives. They are readily available up to 64 GB and 256 GB versions are expected sometime later this year.If you use them for data backup, make sure that you use two instead of one. Even the ones that have lifetime warranty can fail soon. If you want a better backup option, spend a little more and buy an external/portable hard drive.
- Network This is similar to backing up your data to another hard drive. It’s fast and reliable. If the other computer has a high-capacity hard drive, you can store a large amount of backup data on this networked computer. Also, you don’t have to spend on backup devices. The drawback is that you should know how to network computers and use network resources. If there are any network problems, you may not be able to backup.
- Magnetic Tapes These are normally used by organizations to store large amount of data. You won’t find them with normal computer users, and most users don’t even know what they are. The cost of the device is quite high. They are slower than other devices, when you want to retrieve particular data files, because data is accessed sequentially. They also have a shorter life-span than other devices. They were the only backup medium at one time, for large organizations. But now there are other devices available. Normal computer users won’t want to select this as the backup medium.
Which is the best, free software program to use for backup?
If you search Google with the keywords “free backup software”, you’d get more than 71,000,000 hits. There are many good backup programs and they widely vary in features and ease of use. Many people, however have found Cobian Backup from CobianSoft to be a nice, feature-rich and easy to use backup program. It can backup to local backup devices as well as online / ftp accounts.
If you want help in installing Cobian Backup, click here.
If you want to know how to configure Cobian for local backup, click here.
If you want to know how to configure Cobian for online/FTP backup, click here.
If you want to know how to restore data from a backup made by Cobian backup, click here.