A client recently lost all of her data when her hard drive crashed. While much of it could probably have been retrieved if she chose to spend $2000 through one of the specialty data retrieval houses, the fact of the matter is that many people like her are just not willing to shell out that kind of money. The data, while personally valuable, was not quite that valuable to justify such an expense. Most troubling, however: this client did not have a backup solution in place.
Backing up your data, while not complicated, requires some thought. The principal considerations are:
1) What data are you going to back up
2) Where are you going to back it up to
3) How much space is available to you for backup
4) How easy is it to retrieve your data?
What data are you going to back up? Backups are either complete or selective. A complete backup may allow you to restore you entire computer from that backup, whereas a selective backup would backup your user documents, music files, videos, etc, but not the system files. If your system crashes and you have a selective backup, you would need to reinstall the operating system and each of the software applications, and only once those are installed could you then migrate your user files over.
Where are you going to back up your data? You can backup to a device attached directly to your computer, a device attached to a network, or a cloud-based backup service. Each has its merits and drawbacks.
Direct Attached Storage (DAS): A drive physically attached to your computer is the quickest way to back up your computer, but one with the significant risk of human forgetfulness (to connect it to your computer). If it is not connected, it is not backing up.
Network Attached Storage (NAS): The drive attached to your network does not require a physical attachment to your computer and the backup process usually happens in the background. The drawback is that the data must travel across your network, meaning it takes up bandwidth and slows other tasks down, especially if you have an older network or multiple users sharing the network.
Cloud Backup: The principal advantage of cloud-based backup systems is that you don’t have to worry about your backup drive –itself- crashing, and that the retrieval of data can happen wherever you have an internet connection (in your home, in the hotel room 7000 miles away, etc). The main drawback is that because this data must travel across the internet, it will consume a lot of bandwidth and take a lot of time for the first backup, and depending on the amount of changes between backups, for each subsequent backup or retrieval as well. If you are on a slower internet connection (at a hotel or airport, for example) this backup activity may tie up a significant portion of your already restricted bandwidth, though you are able to manually pause these backup tasks in that instance. And an important note: If you need to recover all your data storage in a cloud system, this process can take many hours and sometimes days to complete.
How much space is available to you for backup? Data storage is cheap, and options abound. As a general rule, buy a drive or storage plan that can accommodate 4 times as much data as your computer hard drive’s maximum capacity. For example, if your hard drive has a 500 gigabyte (ie. 500gb) capacity, buy a 2 terrabyte (2TB) backup drive. 2000GB = 2TB. Some backup drives allow you to connect other drives to them, thus increasing the amount of space possible. When making your purchase decision, look for drives that will allow such capabilities. The truth of the matter is that your data storage needs will increase with time, and the number of computers in your home or office will also increase with time. Being able to add storage is smart.
How easy is it to retrieve your data? Some solutions are considerably friendlier than others, allowing you to retrieve a specific file that you accidentally deleted, whereas other systems will insist that you retrieve an entire folder or directory. Some systems will allow you to see these files online, allowing you to retrieve them to another location if you choose. Options abound; read the specs, and test the recovery process specifically.
A final thought. When that dreaded day arrives and your computer won’t boot up beyond a black or grey screen (don’t kid yourself: that day will arrive sooner or later), the critical question you must ask is “How long can I be without my computer?” Repairs typically take 2-10 days, so what will you do in the interim? Can you create a separate user account on a friend’s computer and restore your data to it? Can you access some of this backed up data online on a tablet?
At Smart Sourced IT, we advise our clients to have multiple redundant systems. We typically backup their entire system to a direct- or network-attached backup device, and store a select subset of data to a cloud backup system. If they operate any programs that employ a database (such as CRM systems, document imaging systems, etc.) we have those databases additionally backed up from within the program itself.
In a world where music, movies, pictures, tax records, financial documents, and other files exist in digital format, backing up your data is a necessity. How do you put a value on that picture of your late grandmother, or the project your team has been collaborating on for hundreds of hours, when it is lost to the data underworld? When it comes to backups, don’t delay. Just do it!
Note to reader: We use the term “hard drive” to represent both traditional mechanical hard drives as well as the newer “solid state drives” or SSD’s. While SSD’s are infinitely more reliable than the older mechanical hard drives, data loss continues to occur, not least through device theft. The principles of backup therefore still apply as much to SSD’s as they did for mechanical hard drives.