Backup Strategies

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Backups are important.  Everyone knows that, but everyone gets caught without backups when they are needed the most.  Here are our recommended strategies on backups. 

Want to know how to backup to CD?  Here is a video tutorial from Microsoft - it is geared towards photos, but works for any files.  After you select the files you want to copy to CD, select "File" then "Send to" and click on your CD drive.  You can also "drag and drop" files you want to backup to your CD drive.

Backup data files, not programs.  Copying program files to CD does not help you since programs must be reinstalled - not merely restored.  Data files can be restored - just retrieve them from you backup and place them in your active file area.  To make your backups easier, try to keep all your data files in just a few folders.  "My Documents" is a good place for all your normal documents - word processing, spreadsheet, and other miscellaneous files.  QuickBooks, TaxCut, TurboTax and many other programs will store your documents in the "Program Files" folder by default, rather than the "My Documents" folder, where I suggest you place them.  Don't forget your email files!  If you use Outlook, Outlook Express, or any other email software be sure to backup your email files if you want to be able to recover them.  If you only use web-based email then your email is not stored on your computer and hopefully your email provider is making backups for you.

Organize your data files by type.  If you have a large volume of digital pictures, movies, music and other items, you should put them in their own folder.  This makes backups easier since you will be backing up full folders - different folders may have different backup requirements.

Determine how often you want to backup each directory.  How frequently you make backups is determined by how much pain you can live with.  If it would be no big deal to lose a month's worth of files, then monthly backups are sufficient.  Weekly or daily may be more appropriate for you.  In some cases when you may do a significant amount of work - like monthly accounting - it may be appropriate to make backups after doing that, rather than on a set schedule.

Determine how many backup sets you want.  Backups serve different purposes.  One use is for disk failure or other events (fire, flood, etc.) that make your data unavailable.  In that case you want to recover all your files.  Other times just one file is bad and you want to recover that file.  I often create new files by starting with an old one, and doing a "save as," but forget and just do a save overwriting the original document.  In that case I want to be able to restore a backup of the file I accidentally wrote over.  How many backups you keep is determined by how long it may be before you realize you have a problem.  If you go to open a letter, and Word chokes on it, you can go to your backup.  But if it was 3 months ago that the file was corrupted, your backups will also have the corrupted file.

Determine where to put your backups.  Diskette is not an option for full backups, but can be used to backup certain critical files, like QuickBooks.  CD burners can write about 650meg to a CD that costs a few pennies; DVD burners can write over 4gig (or 8gig with dual-layer) to a DVD that costs under $1.  In both cases you can use RW media and reuse the disks, or R media and make them permanent.  My favorite is backing up to a hard disk in another computer or an external USB hard drive.  The advantage is size (virtually unlimited amount of data) and it can be automated - you don't have to put disks in.  If none of those methods are available, a USB flash drive may be the answer - it is the size of a pocket knife, plugs into a USB port, and looks like a disk drive.  They range in size up to 8gig.  You can also get an external USB disk drive that will hold up to 500gig or more for your backups.

Offsite backups.  Backups that you keep in your office or at your house are great for hard disk failure, or if you accidentally delete or overwrite a file you need.  But if all your computers are stolen, or there is a fire or flood you may lose both your main copy and your backup.  You should have backups that are stored at a different location - either make a backup to an external hard drive or DVD and store that somewhere else, or use an on-line backup service.  I like Carbonite because they are easy, affordable, and automatic.  Contact me before signing up with Carbonite and get an extra month added to your subscription.

What I do for backups.  Now that you have read my advice, here is what I do.  On our main computer, we have shared folders that have our important stuff:  My Documents, Photos, email.  We copy files from the main computer to another computer every night for backup.  Once a year or so, I take the backup and burn it to DVDs and store the DVDs at my parent's house.  I also use Carbonite that automatically backs up our data files, including music and pictures.  Since all our files are on one computer, we only need one Carbonite subscription to backup all our files.

Create a backup strategy and schedule, and keep to it.  We'd be happy to discuss your needs and potential strategies.  Just contact us.

Please make backups!  We are not responsible for data loss under any circumstances!! 
A hard disk can fail at any time and there is nothing we can do about it.  Please make backups before your appointment, before you bring your computer to us, or ask us to make backups before working on your computer.

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