Backup – Prevent A Data Disaster

The consequences of not backing up data need no explanation. Just imagine this: You turn on your computer and nothing happens. The hard drive is gone, all the data on it is gone, and there’s nothing you can do to get that data back. If that thought doesn’t make you want to put down this magazine and back up everything on your computer immediately, then nothing will. Unfortunately, backing up data is a chore. In fact, according to a survey undertaken by PC Pitstop (www.pcpitstop.com), 26.5% of the 4,084 respondents never back up their data at all. Many backup programs are readily available, but they are packed with enough features to confuse anyone. Furthermore, selecting the wrong type of backup when using these types of programs can actually do more harm than good, depending on how you want to store your data. The articles in the following section will tell you everything you need to know about specific backup media, applications, and services and how best to use them; but before reading those, you need to understand the basics of backup.


Full Backups
When most people think of backups, they think of full backups, which copy everything on the hard drive. The most thorough method of performing a full backup is called drive cloning, which copies everything, including Windows files that are needed if you want to restore your computer to working order after a complete hard drive failure. Less thorough full backups simply copy all user files on the system and leave Windows system files alone. Full backups that are not modified (such as those stored on recordable DVDs) are called archives, because the files within the backup never change. Full backups are very inefficient in terms of the time it takes to create the backup and also in terms of storage space required because so much data is copied. In general, you make a full backup once and then use the following more efficient backup methods to keep it updated day-to-day.


Incremental & Differential Backups
A major feature to look for when buying backup software is its ability to perform incremental and/or differential backups. These maintain backups of the latest versions of your files in two different ways. Incremental backups copy only the data that has been changed since a file was last backed up, meaning incremental backup jobs complete very quickly and don’t require a lot of storage space. The downside is that restoring files from an incremental backup can be a lengthy process because the backup software has to stitch multiple backups together to create the whole file. Differential backups create a completely new copy of a file that has been changed. It takes longer to perform a differential backup because more data is copied relative to an incremental backup, but restoring data is much faster relative to an incremental backup because complete copies of backed up files are instantly available. Some software also lets you configure differential backups so that older copies of backed-up files are retained when the new copy is backed up. This is called versioning, as it lets you maintain an archive of different versions of the same file so you can easily revert to an earlier revision of a file whenever you wish.


Backup Extras
Backup software can do far more than just make copies of your precious files. Here are some additional features to look for when comparing products.

Synchronization. Sometimes referred to as “mirror” backups, synchronization lets you maintain identical copies of files in two places (such as the local hard drive and an external backup hard drive). This is nice for files such as pictures or work documents that you edit because the latest edited version is always backed up.

Scheduling. Backup software is useless if you don’t use it, so scheduling is an important feature to look for. The most basic scheduling creates automatic backups on a regular basis, such as a certain time each day, but use something more sophisticated if possible.

File filtering. It is easy yet inefficient to back up everything on your computer all of the time. File filtering allows you to select certain types of files to include or exclude in the backup. This is perfect when you are backing up files to removable storage media, such as recordable CDs that have a limited amount of storage space.

Compression and encryption. Compression is technology that compacts digital files so that they require less storage space than they would otherwise require, and it works best with files that contain text. Digital images and most digital music (such as MP3 files) are already compressed, so don’t expect to use your backup software to compact them much more than they already are. Encryption uses a key to scramble data before it is backed up, and only people who have access to the key can descramble and restore the data. It’s a good idea to always use encryption when you save financial documents and other files that contain personal information.


An Ounce Of Prevention
The main idea is to back up early and back up often. Even if you are forced to use backup software that doesn’t have a lot of features or have to resort to making manual copies of your files, it is imperative to do so on a regular basis and in a place other than the drive where the original files are stored. If this seems like too much of a chore, just think about the scenario laid out in the beginning of this article. You can’t survive without your data, and your data can’t survive without you.

Source of Information : Smart Computing / January 2009

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