Backup your computer….or else !

Backup your data or else…or else you will suffer the consequences: lost data, lost installed programs, lost information, costly loss of time in trying to recover everything.

If you do not have a system in place to backup and safeguard your computer, you will rue the day when, not if, but when your computer malfunctions and stops.


The Five Ws of Backing Up Your Computer

Imperative! You must have at least one backup. I suggest having two. Why? Disc drives fail. They get stolen, lost, damaged. They get viruses. If you need to recover a document (or many) and you discover your backup drive is corrupted, you always have a second backup. The probability of two backup drives failing at the same time is minuscule.

The 5 Ws

Who – You. Unless you are fortunate enough to have someone close by doing this for you, you must take full responsibility to ensure your entire computer is backed up regularly.

What – Some of your data is critical. Banking, emails, documents and your finished short stories, poems, as well as WIPs. Besides your data, you also want to back up all the software on your computer. When something goes wrong, not only can you get your data back, but backing up your software helps you get up and running with the least amount of fuss.

Consider the software you’ve installed on your computer over the years. Do you know where the licences are? You’ll need to re-download them and re-install them on a new computer. How long will it take to download and re-install everything? Can you be without your computer for even a few days?

Where – Most computers allow for external (USB) hard-drives. Their portability means you can give them to a friend or relative once a week or once a month. Why? If you lose your computer at home to theft, fire or flood, chances are your backup will suffer the same fate. Store your precious backups somewhere else. These drives are cheap, buy a few. (You can purchase 1TB thumb drives, but many computers will not boot from them).

Can I just back up to “the cloud”? The “cloud” is just a marketing department’s name for someone else’s computer. Ask yourself: who’s computer is this? Why are they giving you free access and free space? How often do they back up your data? Who else has access to your data? Do they use anti-virus software, and which do they use? Do they keep all their software up-to-date? Do you still want to give (yes give) your data to them?

If you lose your computer (or its hard drive fails), your backup drive can be easily copied onto a new hard drive or a new computer. You could be up and running in a few hours. If your backup drive is bootable (see below) you could be up and running in a few minutes.

Many computers today come with 500 to 1,000 Gbytes of storage; however, you must pay for cloud storage of that capacity if you use it all. Recovering that much data from the cloud could take days to download depending upon your internet speed.

When – You will back up as often as you can afford to lose your data. If you can afford to lose a week’s worth of work, then back up once a week. If you would be devastated to lose more than an hour’s worth of work then back up every hour. This applies to saving your work as you create and edit it. If you suffer a power failure and the last time you saved your work was an hour ago, will you shrug it off or will you tear your hair out?

Why – Your data can be very precious. While you might be able to recreate some of your data, it might take months or even years to do so, and even then, it might not be as good as the original. You might have archives of important meetings or emails that you could never replicate (emails to/from your lawyer, your investment adviser, your ex). You might be nearing a deadline and losing your data would mean missing that deadline.

How – There are many good backup software programs. I will only discuss Apple. Apple provides a free program with each computer called TimeMachine. It does an incremental backup to one or more USB drives (I have two) as often as you want. I leave mine at the default of once per hour. At the same time, I have set my writing software to save my work to the internal drive whenever I stop typing for more than 5 seconds. TimeMachine backs up just those things that have changed in the last hour, so it is very fast and doesn’t slow the computer. This is a wonderful way to keep your backups fresh and versioned.

I also suggest you consider ‘mirroring’ your internal drive every so often. Mirroring is the copying of absolutely everything (all your data, emails, web browser bookmarks etc, plus all the software and supporting files) to an external drive. There are a number of very good programs available like Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper, both for Mac.

Have you ever changed a line in a poem or story and watched your writing software perform an automatic save? Then you realize you were just trying a few tweaks and didn’t really want to save it. That’s where versions come in. Depending on the writing software you use, you may wish to make a new version of your poem before you open it for editing. Use a simple number scheme like V1, V2, V3. Or more detailed like V1.0, V1.1, V1.2. It will help you keep track and you can always go back.

An important addendum:  “restore point” vs “Backup”

“Restore points” and “Backups” are two very different things, and what’s different about them has nothing to do with where they are stored.

“restore point”
Creating a restore point is essentially a backup of the Windows registry. It lets you put the registry back where it was at an earlier date.

“Backup”
A backup is a copy of what’s important to you, your computer drive or all of your data. In some cases, it’s just a copy of a single file such as a single spreadsheet from Excel.

The backup is usually stored electronically rather than on paper. Conceptually it is a digitized carbon copy of the backed-up source (original).

A backup should be stored on external media, be it an external hard drive; CDs, DVDs, a thumb drive, another computer on your network, or a cloud service such a Dropbox, Onedrive or Google drive.

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