A Quick Guide to Backups

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There is a general rule of thumb when it comes to IT: If you don’t have at least 3 copies of a file, then you won’t mind if you lose it.

While this is great in theory, very few people put that much thought into backing up their pictures, documents, music, or other important files. Time and time again we have seen people completely lose years of information because they don’t think about backups until it’s too late. If your hard drive fails, it can cost up to $1500 to try and recover the data (on the slim chance that it may be recoverable at all). The initial cost of an external hard drive or cloud storage can save you a lot of money in the long run. So how do you make sure your data is safe in case of a disaster? There are essentially two types of backups: file-based and image-based.

File-based backups are the most common. This is essentially just taking a copy of all your important data and making another exact copy in a different location. This can be on a USB stick, external hard drive, a cloud storage provider such as Carbonite or CrashPlan, or just copying to another computer. This is the simplest method since if you lose your files, you can just copy them back over into their original location and you’re done. Restore times are very fast depending on the amount of data you have. However, it does have some downfalls. File-based backups do not backup your operating system or installed software. In addition to this, they are vulnerable to ransomware attacks such as the Cryptolocker virus (see our previous blog for more information). There are steps you can take to reduce these risks, but the best way is to have an image backup in tandem with your file backup.

Image-based backups are critical in business environments for servers or systems that may be difficult to reload from scratch. A snapshot of the entire system is taken and stored in a location of your choosing. These files are not readable by anything except for the software that created it. If the system were to completely crash, you can restore the image so your computer is back in the exact state that it was when the last backup was taken. This way if a total failure occurs, all you need to do is replace the hardware and restore the image. Popular image-based backup software includes Windows Backup, Acronis True Image, or Veeam. You can also restore individual files and folders from an image backup if you only need a few files. More robust backup software designed for businesses can be quite expensive, but the free alternatives are more than enough for most home users.

All backups, especially image-based backups, need to be tested periodically to make sure they are running properly and are able to be restored in the event of a disaster. After all, a backup is only useful if it can be restored.