Backup is important and it is usually ignored. It is ignored until some malware wipes out a critical document, a power surge burns the PC, or you look away for a minute at the airport and find your laptop is missing. Let’s look at what you can do to prepare for such a catastrophe.

SIMPLE COPY ? Backup in the form of a diskette copy has existed for years. For a document (up to 1.44 mB), you can copy (or save) that document to a diskette, a thumb drive (256 – 4,000 mB). You can “burn” the data to a CD (700 mB), DVD (4,700 ? 8,500 mB). With a diskette, thumb drive, CD, or DVD, you can take it home with you so that it is stored off-site from your PC. If you work from home, then consider off-site storage at some other location.

You also can use a disk drive for a copy. One option is to use RAID 1 technology called “disk mirroring.” It means that you make changes to two disk drives at once. One disk is a “mirror” of the other. If one fails to work, the data is available from the mirrored drive without any intervention on your part. You have a built-in backup of data that is on those drives. Another option is to have a 2nd standard disk drive to which you copy data on some regular basis ? perhaps at the end of the day. You control what is to be copied and when it is to be copied. If the 2nd disk drive is an external drive, you can disconnect it and take it to another location. For critical situations, you might wish to do both “disk mirroring” and a copy to an external disk drive.

BACKUP UTILITIES (LOCAL) ? There are backup utility programs that offer controls that a “copy” utility does not. They will document what is copied, they will offer the ability to copy all data or only what has changed, and most will offer the ability to schedule backup tasks. Most will also offer options for encryption and compression of data. If you backup to a 2nd disk drive, you have the added insurance of recovery of data if your primary disk drive fails.

BACKUP UTILITIES (OFF-SITE) ? There are backup utility services that give you the added protection against loss of local data by storing your data in a server that is web-based. They generally offer the functions of local backup utilities, except that they may not offer encryption of data. Unencrypted data stored off-site (not under your immediate control) may be fine for you if you have no need to protect your data from being read by others. Family photos may be a candidate for free, off-site, web-based backup ? with or without encryption ? but probably not for your tax records.

CAN YOU AFFORD OFF-SITE BACKUP – If your data is sensitive, you want to be certain that it is encrypted with a key that you control, that only you can change the key, that the web-site is secure from break-in, that it will continue to operate 24×7 without interruption, that it has 24×7 monitoring onsite, that it has 24×7 technical support, and that it has its own off-site backup. Otherwise, even a free service may be too expensive if you lose your data or if it is compromised.

CAN YOU RESTORE ? For all the great “feel good” aspects of a process that will backup your data and, no matter how secure it may be, none of the backup process is worth anything unless you can restore data from it. Imagine your chagrin to find that you’ve spent hours each day to secure your data through carefully orchestrated backups only to get to a point at which you need to restore some of that data and you cannot do so! The moral of this example is that your backup is only as good as your ability to restore data from it. Whatever backup process you choose, test your ability to restore data from it ? then test it again. If you cannot properly restore data from your backup process, then find another backup process.

DID THE BACKUP SUCCEED ? As important as it is to be able to restore from a backup process, it is equally as important to know that the backup process reached a successful completion each time it is run. Whether you watch the process, get an email notice of completion, or have a log record of completion, you need assurance that the backup did succeed. If not, you need to take remedial steps to get it to succeed.

It is important to have a backup process in place. It is important to have a backup process in place that is appropriate for your needs (privacy & security, cost, and convenience). It is important to know that the backup process works each time. It is important to know that you can restore from the backup process.

RUN REGULAR BACKUPS ? Whichever backup approach best suits your purposes, you should implement and test a backup approach. Then, run backups on a regular basis.

This article contains suggestions for the use of utility programs under the Windows operating system. They are based on years of use, but they may not be the right suggestions for you and your PC environment. Before you follow any technical suggestion, be sure that you have a current (and tested) backup of all system and data files and that you can restore the system if necessary. You are welcome to contact me if you encounter a problem, but I assume no responsibility for your actions and/or use of the information provided and disclaim any legal responsibility for any negative results of such actions.

Copyright 2006 by Tim Flynt. All rights reserved.

Tim Flynt has spent over 25 years dedicated to efficient application and utility systems. Experienced in higher education, entertainment, and software development organizations. Current interest in “PC Maintenance Management.”

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