Most computer users have been told at some point that they should backup their data, but not everyone knows how. Backups have never been easier to perform, and modern drives with mastodonic storage capacities are inexpensive. Many companies offer free local or online backup solutions. There is practically no reason not to have a copy of your important files. Data you don’t backup is data you don’t want.
I recommend a redundant combination of 3 cheap, easily implemented approaches that should guarantee painless data recovery:
1) Disk Imaging
Getting your computer set up for regular use can take hours of work. Typically, you have to install and update your operating system, drivers, and applications. You’ll also need to organize your personal data. In the event of a hard drive crash or catastrophic data corruption, getting back up to speed, even with copies of your files, would entail tracking down your installation discs and hunkering down for a day of watching status bars progress across the screen and tweaking settings.
A better solution is to use a disk imaging program like the free version of Macrium Reflect, which takes a snapshot of the complete contents of your computer’s hard drive, and makes it quick and easy to restore everything exactly as it was when the image was made.
What you’ll need: an external hard drive and a blank DVD to make a boot disc.
2) Local Backup
Disk images are useful primarily for starting from scratch on your existing computer. However, if you only want to recover a few accidentally deleted files, or you want to move your documents to a new computer with a different operating system, it’s faster and easier just to backup your content; this can include music, photos, videos, emails, text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and financial data. Program and system files, (which may be corrupted, add substantially to backup times and sizes, and would not be used on a new computer), are not included in the backup.
Clickfree offers a family of external hard drives with embedded backup software that will automatically find and copy just your personal data. No configuration is required; you literally just plug in the drive and your content is automatically backed up. Clickfree drives can be used to backup multiple computers, and they work with both PCs and Macs. Backing up your data couldn’t be simpler.
What you’ll need: a Clickfree drive, other external hard drive, or a USB flash drive.
3) Off-Site Backup
If you keep your backups in the same building as your computer, both sets of data may be destroyed in the event of burglary, fire, or a natural disaster. It’s best to have an off-site backup of your critical data as well.
Mozy offers up to 2 GB of free, encrypted online storage for your files, or unlimited storage for about $55 a year. The software is easy to configure, backups are performed automatically, and several restore options are available.
What you’ll need: a broadband Internet connection.
A radically different approach to make sure your data can’t be lost is to transition to web applications. Google, for instance, offers a number of free services that can be accessed through a web browser, and which take the place of traditional desktop applications. Gmail manages your email, contacts, and tasks. Google Docs includes modules for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and drawings. Google Calendar and Bookmarks are also highly recommended.
With your content stored in “the cloud”, you can view and edit your documents from any Internet-connected computer. Synchronizing data between multiple computers and mobile phones becomes much easier. And importantly, companies like Google have data centers with better security and redundancy than any individual could hope to muster. Your files are substantially safer with Google than they are with you.