Micronet Essential Tech Tips: How to back up your computer

The most valuable and irreplaceable thing on your computer is the data on your hard drive. Every part of your computer can be replaced – The monitor, the processor, the motherboard, the power supply – but when your data is lost you cannot simply replace it. It is true that data can sometimes be recovered from a failed hard drive, but keep in mind that this can be a very time consuming and costly process.

In addition to the possibility of a simple hard drive failure, the threat of internet borne worms and viruses has become an increasing risk to data loss or corruption. While there is no such thing as absolute protection to your hard drive, there are a number of ways that you can keep the data on your hard drive backed-up. Here are a few methods we came up with:

 

1)      CDs and DVDs

While CDs and DVDs are slowing being phased out in the technology world, backing up to them is still one of the most common and easiest ways of protecting your data. Most computers that are sold now a day come with a writable or re-writable CD/DVD drive. Should you purchase a computer without a CD/DVD writable drive and you would still like to back-up to a CD or DVD, don’t panic! External versions of these CD/DVD writable drives are available at very low costs and connect/install to your computer easily via a USB or FireWire connection.

So why is a phased out technology so popular? Well, to put it in so many words – It’s Cheap… CDs now a days usually cost no more than $1 per disc and give you 700MB of storage which is usually more than enough for simple word files and a couple of pictures. If you need something a little larger for your back-up then DVDs may be the way to go as single layered writers can write up to 4.7GBs of storage and double layered writers can offer up to 8.5GBs of storage. DVDs also cost no more than a $1 now a days.

When shopping for CDs or DVDs you will likely see them labeled as either R or RW. This simply means whether the CD/DVD is Recordable (R) (can be written to once) or Rewrite-able (RW) (Written to over and over again). RW discs usually cost a little more, but they can save you some money in the long run as you can overwrite the data on it until the disc eventually fails.

It’s vital to note – Should you choose this method of backing up your data, a scratched CD or DVD can cause you to lose your data all over again. Special care should be taken while handling and storing these discs as they are very delicate and can easily be scratched or broken.

 

2) USB Flash Drives & SD Cards

As we mentioned in the previous method, CDs and DVDs are starting to become outdated and it is mostly because USB flash drives and SD (Secure Digital) cards are taking over. In my opinion, USB flash drives and SD cards are the single easiest and probably most common manual way of backing-up your files. They can be filled in minutes and taken with you right in your pocket.

What is a USB Flash Drive or an SD Card?

To put it simply – USB flash drives are small flash storage devices that plug directly in to your computer via a USB port. They can download and upload a large amount of data from and to your computer very rapidly. When you are finished, they can easily be removed and carried with you to be used on another computer. Similar to USB flash drives are SD cards. SD Cards (including Micro SD Cards) are the storage devices you usually find in a digital camera. They are small, flat and can hold a large amount of data that can also be accessed very rapidly via an SD card port on your computer.

Both of these small, portable and flash storage devices come in a number of storage sizes ranging from a few MBs all the way up to 1TB for USB flash drives and 128GBs in SD Cards. The cost associated with these particular flash storage devices usually isn’t bad at all… Especially when you consider the portability and amount of data you can keep on such a small object.

The down side to these devices? If you are not a very organized person, these can easily be misplaced or even stolen. Also, like any electronic device, they can fail causing you to lose your data all over again.

 

3) External Hard Drives

An external hard drive is the same type of hard drive that you would find in your computer, but housed in its own casing which allows the drive to be safely used outside of your computer. These drives can connect to your computer via Ethernet cable, USB cables, FireWire and in some occasions via eSATA cables which are typically used to connect internal hard drives to your motherboard.

External hard drives are great for backing-up your entire computer or a really large amount of data in one single location. They are limited in size pretty much only by how much you are willing to spend on one.  A lot of external hard drives come with cool features that make backing-up easy like a single button on the drive’s case which will initiate the back-up process automatically (outside of having to push the button) or scheduled back-ups which will run automatically once the computer is on.

The downside to an external hard drive is that they can fail just like an internal hard drive. They have moving parts which can go bad without notice and they are sensitive to strong magnets and violent hits which can happen when dropping your bag or tossing it aside. While these drives are built to be more portable than an internal hard drive, I don’t suggest carrying it with you unless needed.

 

4) Additional Internal Hard Drives

Adding additional internal hard drives to your computer is a great way of backing-up, but it requires a little more technical know-how in order to do it yourself.

When you add additional hard drives to your computer for back-up, what you are doing is creating something called a Redundant Array of Independent (or inexpensive) disks (also known as R.A.I.D).

A complete discussion of what RAID is and the different types of RAID setups will be discussed in a future post, but for this post we are talking about RAID 1. A RAID 1 array requires two hard drives of equal size to be installed on a RAID controller, which will then seamlessly copy or mirror one drive to the other in real time. Now a days most of the motherboards come with RAID controllers built in, but the addition of a RAID card to a PCI slot is an inexpensive purchase that will add RAID to any system.

So, what are the advantages of a RAID 1 setup?

A RAID 1 setup mirrors the primary drive in real time so you don’t have to schedule a back-up or initiate a process; it’s all done automatically as you go. Also with a RAID 1 setup in place, if one hard drive should ever fail, the system won’t miss a beat. It will continue to run on the remaining good drive, and alert the user that one drive may need to be replaced. Once replaced, the live mirroring of your hard drive will continue.

The obvious risk here is that if both drives go down at the same time then you are once again stuck with no convenient back-up of your data.

 

5) Online back-up or “Backing-up to the cloud”

There are a plethora of companies out there who offer you the ability to back-up your data to their servers – All you need is a steady internet connection. Its simple, its hassle free and it can back-up on a schedule like an external hard drive, live like a RAID 1 setup or you can do it manually like copying a file to a folder (based on the company and service you choose).

The storage limitations to this of course are, in order to have any significant amount of storage space to back-up your files you are going to have to pay a fee. The fees are usually monthly and are based on how much storage you think you need or how much they suggest you need. Most companies will offer you anywhere from 5 – 10 GBs for free just to get you on board, but anything more will require a fee.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • A lot of times you have no clue where these servers are located.
    • What are the privacy laws in the country where these servers are?
    • Who if anyone can access the files?
      • Who can access you data isn’t usually an issue as you sign contracts and agreements which restrict that from happening and security is usually quite strict at these companies. However, keep these things in mind if you have sensitive data and are considering a discount or budget company which haven’t really heard of.
      • What happens to your back-up if the company permanently closes?

 

Conclusion

This isn’t every method of backing up, just a few of the more popular digital ones. The purpose of this post is to recognize that 1) Backing-up your files/data is cheap and easy and 2) the one consistent thing that you should note in all of these methods of backing-up is that NONE of them a fool proof. If the data you want to keep is very important then make multiple copies over multiple methods just in case. Maybe you can rebuild a small document from memory, but you can’t recreate a scanned photograph from years ago of a passed family member or remember every line of information from a report that has spanned over multiple years.

 

Micronet is more than happy to help and guide you with backing up your data. If you are interested in backing up your data or you need help doing it, call us at 328-3040 or visit us at 11 Madeira Street, Palmdale in Nassau, Bahamas.

Posted on January 22nd, 2014

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