Because our computer's internal hard drives are so reliable in the short term (3-4 years), it is easy to forget that they will eventually fail, making it impossible or expensive to retrieve essential data. Add the risk of theft and physical damage to vulnerable mobile devices, and it becomes clear that an organised backup strategy is essential not just for workplace files but our personal data files too.
If you have data that is essential to your employment or studies, you must back it up regularly. This could mean immediately you have finished creating or editing data, or at the end of each working day.
Server based work place systems are usually configured to backup the days data every night, but it is also possible a system may have a RAID arrangement of disks which duplicates data as it is saved.
For individuals and students, a personal backup system will be the norm and will almost certainly take the form of an external hard drive or online storage provider system. It is important that the system is physically remote from the computer (ie not just a second internal hard drive) and secured in some way. Automatic scheduled backup programmes can be employed or an automated reminder in a calendar to remind you to perform a manual backup.
Try to keep at least 2 versions of essential data in at least 2 different locations and archive data no longer required on a daily basis. If one backup fails replace it immediately. These backups might be ...
Backing up manually will give you total control but you risk missing files and forgetting to backup altogether unless you have a robust reminder system in place. Automatic systems reduce this risk but bring with them their own problems when a system you rely on fails. Also, they will require your computer to be on and attached to the backup device at the time of scheduled backup, and this is becoming increasingly less convenient as more and more of us move to mobile devices.
If you have an incremental automated backup system you may be able to set it to store dated versions of your data. Remember that such systems will often erase early versions as storage capacity is exceeded, so ensure you have an archiving strategy in place.
If you are backing up data manually, then you can simply create dated sub folders to organise versions.
Think carefully about how sensitive your data is and if it should be encrypted. For most of us it may only be necessary to encrypt financial and legal data, but whatever you do, ensure you have made provision for next of kin to be able to access necessary data in the event of your death.
|Technology / process||Capacity (typical)||Transfer/write speeds||Term||Average life span||Robustness||Security|
|USB 2 external drive||500Gb-2Tb||Medium||Medium||4 years||Medium||Good if encrypted|
|FireWire 400 external drive||500-800GB||Medium||Medium||4 years||Medium||Good if encrypted|
|FireWire 800 external drive||500Gb-2Tb||Fast||Medium||4 years||Medium||Good if encrypted|
|eSata external drive||500Gb-2Tb||Very fast||Medium||4 years||Medium||Good if encrypted|
|RAID drive(s)||1Tb +||Very fast||Long||4 years||Good||Good if encrypted|
|USB memory stick||2-32Gb||Slow / medium||Short||?||Poor||Good if encrypted|
|40Mb +||Slow||Short||?||Poor||Good if encrypted|
|Online / Cloud||1Gb +||Slow||Long||Unlimited||Excellent||Depends on provider|
|File server (ethernet)||No limit||Very fast||Long||Unlimited||Excellent||Depends on provider|
|DVD-R (single layer)||4.3-4.4Gb||Medium||Medium||5 years||Medium||Poor|
|Blu-Ray-R (single layer)||25Gb||Medium||Medium||5 years||Medium||Poor|