To Backup or Not to Backup (Backup of course!!)

Why you need this article

We all know we should backup our data, so why doesn't everyone do so? Simple answer, because it's difficult to know what to backup, where, and how. This article will help answer those questions and hopefully provide a simple solution to backing up your data and preventing significant data loss.

We hear it often: I didn't backup my data and my system crashed. Unfortunately for you, there is no easy solution. Some data recovery services out there will promise to recover a percentage of your data, but the cost can bankrupt you.

What is considered a 'Backup'

A backup is a secondary copy of computer data.

These can be as simple as work documents or family photos/videos, or even legal documents and system files. Instead of storing the files in only one location (such as the C: drive), a backup creates an identical copy in another location of your choosing.

Reasons to Backup your data

Data loss is far more common than most think and is usually one of those things that people say 'that will never happen to me', but something as simple as a home power outage can corrupt a disk, thereby causing data loss. One small incident could potentially destroy ALL your important data.

What could cause data loss:

  • Virus
  • Malware
  • Power outage
  • Failed Windows Update
  • Water/humidity damage
  • Random driver corruption
  • Human error
  • Random hardware failure
  • Theft

What to backup

First you need to determine WHAT is important and needs to be backed up.

I usually ask myself the following:

Can I easily replace, replicate, or download the data?

If you answered yes to that question, then the data doesn't need to be backed up.

Examples of non-critical data

  • Unedited PDFs
  • Game files (most online games save your place in the cloud anyway)
  • Driver updates
  • Single use files/photos/documents
  • Software updates
  • Software installers

Personally, just about everything in my downloads folder is not mission critical and is easily recovered in the event of data loss.

Examples of critical data

  • Personal photos/videos
  • Financial documents
  • Edited PDFs
  • Critical applications
  • Critical application data/files
  • Most work related documents

How to backup

External Devices

The most popular backup solution are external hard drives. External HDDs provide easy to use technology and the potential for huge amounts of storage.

The idea is to get an external drive at least 3x the capacity of your current internal drive. For some people that will be easy, just a 1TB external HDD will work, but for others, something like a 24TB RAID NAS enclosure will be needed. You must identify how much data you wish to backup before deciding what type of backup you wish to perform.

Whichever the case, you don't need solid state disks as backup solutions, as they provide super high speed transfers in lieu of high capacity. We need high capacity over speed, and since theoretically we won't be accessing the data very often, it's not a big deal if the transfer is slow.

Simple Backup recommendation

Simple backup recommendation

Robust Backup recommendation

Another huge benefit of an external hard drive is that you can remove it from the system and its primary location immediately after a backup then relocate to an offsite, secure location. In the event of a catastrophe such as a home fire or severe flooding, the drive can potentially be safe and secure at another site.

A popular option, though it can get expensive, is a NAS (Network Attached Storage). A NAS would be permanently connected to your local network, and your system can be configured to constantly/routinely backup pertinent data to the NAS.

Robust NAS recommendation (Mobile)

Cloud Backup

Backing up your files online (in the cloud) is a safe and secure way to make sure your files are backed up, yet easily accessible in the event of a failure.

Example providers:

Each of these solutions offers a simple and intuitive way to ensure your data is backed up, secure, and offsite!

Typically 'Online drives' don't have a surplus of storage space available and only allow you to backup small amounts of data but these are a great solution for students and small businesses that are simply backing up basic documentation.

Full System Cloud Backup

If you would prefer to back up literally EVERYTHING, then an online system backup option might be the best solution. There are a number of options out there, but each one offers a full system backup of some kind that is able to be restored over the internet in the event of failure/loss.

These services offer full Image Backup and Bare Metal Restoration which means you can restore your system from an online backup even if you can't get into the Operating System.

Which backup option is best

Which backup process do you plan to use? Ideally, you should use multiple options. It's best to have both an onsite and offsite backup in order to ensure data safety.

An onsite backup is stored locally in the same physical location as the data. Either a local internal/external drive or a network device nearby. If you backup to an external HDD and store that in the same building as your PC, that is an onsite backup.

Offsite backups are kept at another location. That could mean that after you backup your data, you physically take the device to another building, or you back up to an online server such as OneDrive or Dropbox. This is an offsite backup.

Onsite backups are quick and easy to perform, and they should be your first line of defense against potential data loss. In the event of data loss, an onsite backup can quickly be restored from an external device. If the building is flooded or burns down, suffers an electrical surge, or another catastrophic event, both your original data and onsite backups will be at risk, and you could lose all of your data.

The best solution is to store your files at an offsite backup such as Dropbox, OneDrive, or Carbonite, and an onsite device such as an external HDD or NAS. There are a lot of options, and it's up to you which one you prefer based on cost, ease of use, reliability, and security, so do your research. Not all backup solutions are made the same.

Additional resources

Windows backup solutions

3rd party backup solutions

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