Last updated 18 April 2006.
Anyone who has owned a computer for more than a few months will come to appreciate the value of backup at some point, usually when it’s just too late! If you use a laptop, the options are different as for desktop users, I’ve outlined the main options here.
1] Backup to an external drive
Plug in (USB or Firewire) hard drives are cheap and easily available these days, so they can provide a very cost effective backup solution. If you use a standard external hard drive, you’ll need to find some backup software or copy your files manually. Solutions like Flip2Disk offer a single click backup, so you plug in the drive and press the button, it automatically backups everything up.
However, both of these have two inherent flaws. Firstly, the backup is not “off-site”, it’s stored in the same location as the laptop. This might be less of a concern with a laptop, but for example, in the case of fire or theft, the drive might also be stolen. The second flaw is backup versions. With this type of backup, you’re overwriting your previous backup every time. So if your files are corrupted and you run a backup without realising, you overwrite the good files on the backup and have 2 corrupted drives.
2] Backup to CD/DVD
If your laptop has a CD or DVD Writer either internally or externally, you can backup your data to CD or DVD. This overcomes the two issues associated with hard drive backup, as your backup is to a new disk every time, and you can store the CDs or DVDs elsewhere. However, this approach generally falls down for the most common reason of all, habit! People simply don’t do it. It can be scheduled, but unless the media is in the drive, it can’t run, and then it becomes a nagging reminder, daily or weekly.
There can also be problems with large backups, if you’re storing more than 4.7Gb of data, you can’t back it up to a single DVD, so you have to be there while the backup runs, which defeats the purpose of scheduling.
3] Online backup
With the ease of access to broadband, online backup is now a very serious option. The first time you connect all your data has to be uploaded, but on subsequent backups, you simply upload any changes in data. The technology even allows for only the part of the file that has changed to be uploaded, not the whole thing, so large backups can be completed in minutes. The data is encrypted before being transmitted, and is stored on the server in encrypted form.
The server can easily keep multiple versions of the files, some services offer up to 10 versions, and allow you to download individual files from the internet. In the event of a full system crash, you’ll have the delay of downloading your whole backup in one go, however, at the time it will seem like a small price to pay! Another option to consider is using a company physically close to your location. Often local companies will be able to provide the data on CD or DVD and send it to you by courier, which could significantly reduce your down time.
The other advantage of online backup is the fact that the backup can be scheduled to run whenever your connected to the internet, and runs while you’re working, so as to minimise disruption. Online backup can be provided by BackupHelp.com.
My personal preference is online backup, where broadband is available. Failing that, I’d use the Flip2Disk option for a laptop.