Friday, July 28, 2006

Boop, boop, boop (part 1)...

posted by Scott Roche

I want to say a word or three about backups (thus the clever title). We take for granted that our stuff at work is always backed up (it isn't) and for some reason I suspect that most people at home are either A) ignorant of the fact that data loss happens on home PC's or B) think that it magically happens on its own. So to clarify A) does and B) does not.

Before you set to the process of backing up you should ask yourself a few questions. What do I want to back up? How much space will that take? How often should I do it? How many machines do I have to back up?

The answer to the "What" question has two answers: data and programs/os. The first is rather straightforward. "Data" consists of things like documents, mp3s, image files, etc. Decide which data you would cry about losing and at the very least back that crap up. You can't really "back up" your OS or your programs as simply as copying files to some sort of device (thanks Uncle Bill!). To do that you'll need some specialized software, but it's not a bad idea.

Once you know what you want to back up you can assess how much space that takes. And keep in mind that since your data will probably only grow that number will get bigger. This all affects what sort of media you might use.

Now for the "How often" portion. My personal belief is that you should back up at least once a month. If you are quite the photog or love your mp3s you'll want to increase that interval. Most backup solutions take some time and generally speaking if you back up more often it will take you less time (if you only backup that which has changed).

If you have a home network you add more machines and data to the mix. This will make your solution more complex, more expensive, or both depending on how you answer the first questions.

Once you have all this information you can look at your options. If you're just backing up data and don't have more than a few gigs you could probably use a writable CD or DVD. Most new computers have a writable drive or you can add one for a nominal expense. In my experience though, you'll run into headaches at least half the time. Then there's a need to store the discs and organize them and they're limited in capacity. That's why I would recommend a USB hard drive. They're inexpensive, reliable, provide plenty of space and if it's a USB 2.0 drive they're reasonably fast.

The actual back up process can be as simple as copying and pasting your files from your system to the device. You could also either write a script(though if you can do this you probably aren't my target audience) or download one like this. These methods both make it hard to do an incremental backup (just getting the new stuff), but they're free.

Monday we'll look at a few more advanced (and expensive) ways of making your data safe from the gremlins.


At 3:29 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Without a doubt, the best post you've written so far. Really interesting, helpful stuff.

Thanks, Scott.


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