BitDepth 487 - August 23

Planning a backup strategy that's assisted by software.
Weaving a data safety net

One button pleasures. After you set the folders to be backed up, each of these software packages will do the heavy lifting for you. From the top, Déjà Vu and Sonic's Backup MyPC both try to make the job push button easy, but Backup MyPC's advanced mode, BounceBack and Retrospect add some added detail and power to the process.

Most of the feedback I've had about this series on backing up data has tended to be about the details of backing up.
I can't tell you how to organise your backup system any more than I could suggest where you should put your living room couch. But there are some common principles to backing up that are worth considering when it's time to put a system in place.
Backing up is hard enough without having to worry about easily replaced system and application files, so try to keep the installer CDs (or DVDs) for your software protected and safe along with all the serials you'll need to activate them. Be sure to burn backup CDs of any downloaded software you've bought for which there is no packaged media.

There's only one exception to that general rule, and that's when you want to create a cloned disk image or a "ghost" of your working hard drive. Serious road warriors might wish to consider that backup option as the ultimate safeguard while working on location.
The essence of an effective backup system is simplicity and reliability. You want backups that run when they're supposed to and create files that you can access without hassle.
I run weekly backups to external hard drives, rotating between a portable drive with a bootable clone of my system, an iPod for core data files only and an external hard drive.

Large data sets like folders full of images are copied to a network server as well as a large hard drive while they are works in progress, then they are backed to their own DVDs once I'm done.
Each backup needs, at most, a drag and a drop and most are already set to run at the click of a button and I've set onscreen calendar reminders to pop-up when it's backup time. I don't backup successfully because of diligence, I get it done because software makes it easy for me to do it and reminds me when I could care less.
Your own success will depend on setting up your computer to do the repetitive drudgery of the job, allowing you to relegate your role to clicking a button that starts the process.

Backup steps
• Create or use preset folders for your documents. Windows XP and Mac OS X both have "user profiles" which offer preset folders for documents unique to a particular user of the computer. Most backup packages will preselect these folders by default

• Choose media that can hold your files. Flashdrives are great for users who move data between a desktop and a mobile. These removable, rewriteable "drives" make it easy to keep your files synchronised between two systems. CDs are good for backups of up to 600MB, DVDs work for backups of up to 4GB. Anything larger will need to be moved to either tape or an external hard disk. iPod (and other disk-based MP3 player) users can use spare disk space on their players for backup as well.

• Create a sensible schedule in your backup software that reflects the frequency of critical changes to your work. For some people, that's monthly, for others, it's twice a day. The rule of thumb is to be aware of how much data you're willing to lose or rebuild and set your backup to cover your changes up to that point.

• When it's time to backup, let the backup run. Go watch television or take a stroll.

• Rotate your backups, switching between two or more tapes, for instance. If you do this, establish different schedules for full backups (all the data, everytime) and incremental backups (just data that's changed since the last backup).

• Mix your media. If you do a full backup to a hard drive, do some incremental backups of files to CD or DVD as well.

• Backup is also location. If you are diligent about your backups but leave them right next to your computer, they will be exposed to the same environmental dangers. Try to move one set of backups to an offsite location.

• Test your backups. Try to restore a file and check to see if it works. It's only a backup if you can get your work back.

• Remember, a backup is in two places, not one. If you do a backup and erase the original file, that's a transfer and you'd better have another copy of the data saved elsewhere.
blog comments powered by Disqus