Despite the constant risks facing digital data, most home users are not in the habit of regularly backing up their data. In fact, if you didn’t back up all of your important data as recently as a day or go, then it is probably time to start rethinking your backup routine, if you even have one. There are so many things that can go wrong, ranging from malware attacks to failing hard drives, causing you to lose everything from important work documents to treasured family photo albums in an instant. However, it’s no one else’s responsibility to keep your data safe but your own. Fortunately, there’s nothing particularly complicated about copying your important flies to a safe place. For the most part, it’s about choosing the right backup solution.
Local Storage Devices
For most people, the obvious way to keep files safe is simply to copy them over to another local storage device, such as an external hard drive, USB flash drive or even a secondary internal hard drive. However, you should always avoid using a second internal storage device for backing up critical files, since a severe problem with the computer could render all connected storage devices unworkable. Instead, for regular backups, such as those performed daily or weekly, an external hard drive presents an affordable and straightforward solution. Ideally, you’ll want one that has a capacity slightly larger than your system hard drive so you can use it for automatically creating a byte-by-byte disk image to ensure nothing is forgotten.
Disk Imaging and Data Synchronization
Some local storage devices are marketed specifically as backup devices and might include data backup and disk imaging software to simplify and automate everyday backup routines. Creating a disk image, which involves backing up everything on your computer, will take a long time on these slow mechanical drives, but only when you create the first backup. Afterwards, performance is no longer as important, since future backups are incremental, meaning that they only copy over new files and those that have changed. In addition to providing data backup and synchronization software, many backup drives also offer the added benefit of large amounts of cloud storage space for keeping an additional copy of your most important files.
Durability and Reliability
Durability and reliability are among the most important factors when choosing a backup drive. Most external hard drives only ship with a two- or three-year warranty, and they will inevitably fail after some time. Rarely will a hard drive fail completely all of a sudden without exhibiting problems such as the development of bad sectors or unusually slow read times first. However, it is wise to get into the habit of replacing your backup drive every few years and immediately if things start to go wrong. It’s important to remember that regular read and write cycles mean more wear and tear, thus reducing the drive’s lifespan. For storing large amounts of data for long periods, optical disks, though almost obsolete these days, offer the longest life spans.
Particularly common in the business world, networked-attached storage (NAS) devices are basically data storage systems connected to your local home network rather than an individual computer. As such, they’re accessible to any other device connected to the same network. If you need to back up multiple computers or even smartphones and tablets in your household as well as have easy access to the backups whenever you need it, a networked storage device presents the obvious solution. They’re usually connected directly to the router by way of an Ethernet cable, although models with wireless support also exist. NAS systems are effectively computers in their own right, with many models offering additional hard drive bays.
Also known as cloud storage, online backup takes the NAS concept a step further in that your backups will be accessible no matter where you are in the world, provided you have access to the Internet. As such, even if your entire house burns down along with everything in it, any digital data stored in the cloud will be completely unaffected. For this reason, cloud backup is strongly recommended for your most important files, even though it might not be practical for storing enormous backups such as system images and large collections of movies, games and software. A fast Internet connection is vital if you want to regularly back up any more than a few megabytes of data but, in terms of storage capacity, cloud backup is fully scalable.
The Bottom Line
It’s only responsible to approach data backup as a routine process. It’s also one that should ideally be automated in order to minimize the risk of human error. There’s no single backup solution that will take care of all of your requirements, so you’ll probably want to use a combination of the options available, such as the following:
- An external hard drive or NAS for everyday and backups.
- The same for long-term storage, although optical disks still last the longest.
- Online backup for your most important files
- Online or NAS backup for easy accessibility and multiple device support.