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Rick's Tips for Proper Backups

Let this be a lesson to everyone... hard drives will fail. Every hard drive in operation today will fail at some point in the future. It's only a matter of time. Sometimes you'll get a warning (noise, error messages, etc.) Most of the time, however, you will get zero warning - as in our case. The drive will just stop working, the machine will crash, and will refuse to boot. So, what are your options?

For the home user, I strongly recommend you at least backup all of your important files to CD-ROM (if you don't have a burner, get one!) or an external drive of some kind (tape, hard drive, etc.). Costs have really come down on some of these drives.

If you can afford it, I strongly recommend a second physical hard drive, either internal (inside your case) or external (a USB drive, for example). You can set up an automated backup job to run every night to copy all of your critical files from your computer to this second drive.

If you have a second computer or even a laptop available, copy your files there too. Perform this backup at least once a week, or any time you do a lot of work. There are many freeware or  shareware programs that can perform a backup for you (including a free one I wrote a few years ago for my own in-house purposes called Amicron NetBackup). All it does is copy files from one drive to another at a specified time each day. That's all you need, for the most part. (Hey, you get what you pay for).

Now, for business users, in addition to copying your important files from one drive to another, I strongly recommend a tape drive. Keep 3 or 4 tapes going and rotate them every couple of days. Take one tape off-site with you every Friday, so in the event your building burns down, you have an off-site copy of your data.

Making a drive image if your hard drive is also a real time saver. A drive image is basically a snapshot of your hard drive that you can restore back exactly to its original contents... so if your primary hard drive crashes, you don't have to reinstall Windows, reload all of your drivers, reinstall your apps, etc. I used to recommend a program called Drive Image by PowerQuest, but apparently they were acquired by Symantec... so the program to use now is Norton Ghost. It's a major time-saver when your drive does crash.

There are also a lot of companies now providing off-site backup services. If you have a broadband Internet connection and you have a relatively small amount of data you need saved securely in a different location (good idea for business-critical databases, for example) you can look into these. A Google search on "offsite backup" shows lots of different companies. I haven't tried any of them yet, but you may want to look into it if you fall into this category.

So here's your checklist for backing up your data:

  • Copy important files to a different physical hard drive every night (automated backup)
  • Make a ghost drive image of your C: (Windows) drive once a quarter at least
  • Burn important files to CD-ROM or DVD monthly at least
  • Keep an offsite copy of your critical data (tape, CD, DVD, etc.)
  • Update and check (verify) your backups regularly

Don't wait for your hard drive to fail. It will fail. It's only a matter of time. Oh, and also, if you have a server that needs a specific type of hard drive (especially one you can't just buy off the shelf in a local computer store) you might want to consider keeping a spare on-hand. That would have saved us a lot of waiting.

Yes, I'll be recording a tutorial on proper backups very soon, but I just wanted to share all of this with you... to remind you to make sure your information is backed up before a server crash happens to you. Don't just assume that your backups are good... check them!



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