Avoid computer disaster with data backups

Originally written and published in the Manor Park community newspaper, the Manor Park Chronicle, in the winter of 2006.  The advice still applies today though there are now many more cloud-based backup solutions but don’t forget to keep the security of our data in mind.

Winter is finally here, and like many others, I have put an ice scraper, a shovel, some booster cables, a tow rope, and a flashlight in the trunk of my car.  I certainly don’t plan on getting stranded this winter but should it happen, I am prepared.

We should also hope for the best but plan for the worst in home computing.

If your television breaks, you can buy another and keep watching your favourite programs.  When a computer fails any files saved on it become inaccessible, possibly irretrievable, unless you had made a backup copy of them.  Fortunately, creating data backups is easy, and I’m here to help.

How to backup

Copying your files onto a CD or DVD, USB memory stick, external hard drive, or another computer are typical methods.  Using two or more of these methods gives you better protection.

Floppy disks, magneto-optical disks, and tape can be used as well.  Keep in mind that any media saved to must be readable on another system.

When developing a routine, test it by opening the files on another computer.  Special backup software or hardware is fine as long as they don’t complicate the recovery procedure.

When to backup

Determining when to backup is easy; just ask yourself how much data you can stand to lose.

If you use the computer mainly for storing digital photographs, then backup every four months and right after a vacation.  If you are writing a graduate thesis on your computer, then create a backup every night.

Where to store your backups

Storing your backups in a variety of locations guards against disasters such as fire, flood, and theft, but keep physical security in mind.

Don’t leave a backup containing sensitive information in an unlocked drawer at work, as your information might fall into the wrong hands.  Consider storing your backup in a safety deposit box, with a family member, or in another secure place.

What to backup

Backup important files such as:

  • documents
  • media files
  • Internet bookmarks
  • downloaded email
  • address books
  • online banking records
  • databases; and
  • anything else you have saved on your computer.

Please note that installed applications cannot be saved in a backup.  The smart computer user will store all the original installation media and license information.

If your software was bought online and downloaded, then print out the registration information and save the installation files with your backups.

Who do I go to for more help?

With a high-speed Internet connection, online data backup services become an option.  The service monitors files and uploads changes in the background ensuring that a recent copy of every file is archived.

Since the service provider saves your data, you’ll worry less about where to store your backups.  Make sure you use a reliable service offered by a reputable company.  Even if you opt for an online backup solution, keep another backup elsewhere– just in case.

For more help with data safety, look to a local IT consultant, a computer store, or your usual source for computer information.