Most people know you should do backups of your important data. However, many of us don’t. Many people don’t realise the importance of them until far too late.
To help encourage good backup practices, we’ve put together this article to encourage you to think of how you want to do backups and encourage you to actually do them.
Why should I do backups?
Backups are one of the most important things you should do as a computer user. This cannot be overstated enough. Your computer hardware can be replaced. If you don’t have a backup, it’s a lot harder to replace your data, sometimes even impossible.
While losing data is rare, it can sometimes be catastrophic. Think of all your family photos going missing, or your important business documents or emails just magically disappearing. There are many reasons this might occur, including hardware failure, natural disaster, theft of equipment, malware, human error and more.
These situations are never ideal, however having a current backup makes recovery from these events significantly easier. This is why having a backup is so important. It can often turn a catastrophe into a minor inconvenience.
How often should I back up?
The frequency of your backups should largely depend on how frequently your data changes, and how inconvenient or catastrophic it would be were a failure to occur.
If you’re running in a business environment, where files are created and updated frequently, you should consider doing backups at least daily. This is an environment where it can be expensive and inconvenient if data is lost. Backups might become more time-consuming, but they’ll really save you a lot of headaches should they ever be needed.
If you’re in a home environment, backups can be a little less frequent. If you’re dealing with any sort of important data, you probably shouldn’t leave it longer than about once a week. However, you don’t necessarily need to go to the inconvenience of backing up daily unless the hassle of losing that data justifies it.
It is also worth testing your backups every now and again. The testing doesn’t need to be extensive, however occasionally just picking a couple of files you can use to test whether these can be restored will help you identify whether or not your backup system is working.
Now that you understand the importance of doing backups, it’s worth looking at devices you can actually use to do these backups.
Network Attached Storage
We’ve talked about NAS before in our articles on storage. It is worth bringing up again here, for one very important reason.
Most NAS devices allow you to set up what is known is RAID, which is a fancy way of saying that there is some protection against hard drive failures. Even with this redundancy, anybody who tells you RAID is the same as backup deserves a high five. Repeatedly. To the face. With a brick.
With the exception of RAID 0, it is true that you get a certain amount of protection against hard drive failures and recovering from these failures can be easier. On this basis alone, you should probably consider whether a NAS is a worthwhile investment.
However, there are still lots of things that RAID doesn’t protect you against, such as malware, theft or human error. Even with the protection RAID offers, you should not rely on it alone to protect your important data.
Backup to External Hard Drives
Investing in suitable external hard drives, or alternatively USB flash drives, can be an excellent way to backup your critical data. They’re convenient, cost effective and relatively simple to use.
The way this would normally work is you would hook up the external drive to your PC, copy your important data onto the drive, then disconnect it. Disconnecting it is important, because it means that the backup data is a little harder to wipe out through things such as malware.
If security is a concern, you can also store them in a safe of some sort, with some safes also offering a certain amount of protection against damage from fire. You can also use tools such as VeraCrypt or BitLocker to encrypt the hard drives to make it more difficult for someone to access your data should the drive fall into the wrong hands.
They’re often cheap enough that you can run multiple hard drives. This way you can alternate between them so that you back up to one drive one week, and another drive the next. This gives you an additional copy of your data as an extra precaution.
Storing documents in the cloud is another level of protection you can add to your data. The term “cloud storage” is a bit contentious, because it is essentially fancy marketing wank for “somebody else’s computer”.
In saying that, with the low cost of cloud storage and the faster speeds of modern Internet connections, it offers a cheap and convenient way of storing an additional copy of your data off-site.
I stress the word “additional” here. Relying on cloud storage as your only backup carries risk because, as mentioned, it is “someone else’s computer” and the service could be shut down if the company decides they no longer want to offer that service, or your account could be terminated on a whim. You also have to ensure your accounts are secure. At the very least, look at our articles on picking good passwords and ensure you enable multi-factor authentication to help reduce the risk your account gets compromised. This makes it considerably harder for random people to access your private data.
You can still use cloud storage in conjunction with the external hard drives mentioned aboce. The hard drives could offer you a copy of your data on-site, while cloud storage could offer you an additional copy off-site. After all, having multiple copies of your important data adds redundancy, which helps protect your data.
While this article doesn’t go into the nitty-gritty, we hope this gives you at least an overview of the importance of backing up your data and that you have some pointers on what tools are available0.
Of course, for a backup to be effective, you should actually be making sure they get done. Sadly, some people get lazy and think data loss only happens to other people. You risk finding out far too late that how much of a lifesaver a recent backup can be. Please don’t be one of these people and make sure you have something in place. After all, hardware is far easier to replace than data.