Nobody enjoys backing up their computers, but the pain of losing years of photos, documents, music, and whatever else is far worse. Many of those items will be irreplaceable. It usually takes getting burned once to be prodded into a backup strategy. Being prepared before that first disaster is a much saner option. If you've yet to experience a major data loss, consider yourself lucky. Try to scare yourself into it by imagining losing every picture of your children, every vacation, graduation, birthday, wedding - the list goes on.
There are three primary methods of home backup:
Same machine backup
External drive backup
Cloud based backup
Each of these methods have their Pros and Cons.
Same Machine Backup
This is the practice of making copies of files on the same computer and even the same hard drive to help you recover from an accidental deletion or irreparable change. WIndows (since XP SP 2) and Mac OS X (since 10.7 Lion - Time Machine) both have a feature that can create automatic shadow copies of files which let you revert to a previous point in time or recover a deleted file.
Helpful for accidental deletion of documents
Useful for reverting unwanted changes or comparing changes
Useful for shared directories
Better than nothing
Single point of failure, if your hard drive dies it's gone
Reliant on operating system, if it becomes corrupted the copies may be lost
Single location, if there is a disaster (fire,flood,etc.) it's gone
High rate of device failure
Not easily expandable
External Drive Backup
Typically backup software is used in conjunction with a separate hard drive that is not the same drive which holds your operating system. This can be an attached USB drive, Networked Attached Storage (NAS), or even a separate hard drive inside your computer.
Dedicated drive independant from your main hard drive, if your operating system crashes your data is safe.
Backup software will handle the backups automatically, including the option of a full system image backup.
Potential single location problem
Can be expensive
Can be complex
Can limit expansion
* Depending on the type of external backup system chosen
Cloud Based Backup
Backing up to the cloud can be a fantastic option for those with a manageable amount of data and a solid internet connection. File changes and system snapshots are either periodically uploaded to a remote backup server or done in real-time. Backups can then be downloaded back to your machine for recovery. These services generally carry a monthly subscription fee to keep you protected.
Off-site backup means you're protected from disaster
Backups are independent to your system / hardware
Backup software will automatically handle the process (usually)
No worry of hardware failure
Easily expandable storage
Uploading can take a lot of time and bandwidth
Service plans tend to get more costly as your data grows
Reliance on an outside company to secure your data
Potential for the chosen company to go out of business
There are many variations to each of these types of backup plans. Over the next few posts in this series I'll discuss each of these types in more detail, followed by how they can be used in combination to create a robust home backup strategy.
Other posts in this series
Part 1: The Basics
- Part 2: Same machine backup
- Part 3: External drive backup
- Part 4: Cloud based backup
- Part 5: A complete backup strategy