Even if you use a backup program...
Power failures, system glitches, defective or outdated software,
and plain old user error constantly present a danger to your
data, as well as to each of the thousands of files comprising
your system software.
Even if you've
incorporated a backup program into your normal routine (and most
SOHO operators haven't), it may not be adequate to resume
operations in the event of system failure. Did you know
that some of the most popular computers come with a "restore"
disk that won't work if you've modified your hardware? Did
you know that some backup media is inherently unreliable?
Did you know that today's gigantic hard drives seriously
complicate effective backup strategies, and that some popular
backup practices simply do not work?
The most important
element of any backup system is the restoration process.
What will it take to retrieve your backed up data?
Depending on how it's set up, you could spend hours, days, or
even weeks just to reach the point where your backups are
accessible. If your backups rely on specific technologies
and the developer's out of business, you may never be able to
retrieve your backed up data.
Consider the unthinkable...
If your data is important, your main concern should be that
it remains accessible no matter what. The ultimate
implementation involves multiple redundant backups, stored in
standard formats on standard media, with copies physically
stored outside your office. That will protect you against
On the other hand,
software products that claim to make backups a thing of the past
and "virtual" storage drives are worse than useless. There
is, quite simply, no viable substitute for real, physical
backups on external media.
All backup programs
(even the Windows backup applet) explain the basic strategies
such as incremental versus differential backups, as well as
media rotation issues. How far you go with your backup
system depends on how much you value your data, and whether
you've ever had to restore a system.
Any data which is not backed up is subject to loss.
All your data files must be duplicated and stored in multiple
locations. This must be done frequently on a regular
basis. The backups must be complete and durable.
They must be self-contained and readily accessible from multiple
machines. Moreover, since fire, theft, and other physical
disasters are a threat, you should maintain copies of these
backups outside your offices.
Here's what we do...
For complete protection, we partition the primary hard
drive, rearranging it as needed to get the boot partition down
to something more reasonable than 20, 40, or more gigabytes.
Insofar as possible, we keep the OS, utilities, and core
software on the boot partition. Other applications and
data are stored on logical drives configured outside the boot
partition. Ideally, we create one for only data, and
another to handle temporary files and the Windows virtual memory
swap file. For these manipulations, we like PowerQuest
Partition Magic (
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With all the
hardware configured and the backup software installed, we create
an "image" backup of the boot partition onto a removable hard
drive (using PowerQuest Drive
Image ). We then transfer this image to a cd-rom.
This allows us to restore a fully configured boot partition in
minutes using a specially prepared floppy disk and the image
cd-rom. Then we do the same for the others as appropriate.
This is the baseline backup, which we redo whenever the baseline
Working backups are
done daily to a networked drive with weekly transfer to
external, off-site media. These include not only data
files, but every file that's changed since the last baseline
backup. This modularized system allows us to restore
single files, complete partitions, or rebuild the entire logical
structure of the backed up computer.
This is, by the way,
a great way to make good use of an old computer. With a
100mbps network and a newer hard drive, that "obsolete" system
can enable daily backups to be fast, complete, and hands-free
automatic. We highly recommend this to small offices.
Networked computer storage is a key component of any complete
data protection system.
more about networks...
A workable solution for you?
The right solution for your needs will depend on your
specific setup- what equipment you have, your quantity of data,
your tolerance for risk and your level of computer knowledge.
For a combination of convenience, economy, and safety, we
recommend at minimum:
These will allow you
to create your own "restore" disks like the ones that come with
new computers. Except yours will include all your
applications, settings, and data- exactly as it was the day you
Since these drives
are now so inexpensive, compatibility is no longer the issue it
used to be. Use the "Direct CD" or similar packet writing
CD software to create frequent data-only backups on CD as well,
using the Windows backup applet or any of the popular backup
programs. At this writing, the PowerQuest package
mentioned elsewhere on this page includes an auxiliary program
expressly for this purpose.
For data only or for
incremental/differential backups, we like the capabilities of
the BUSlink USB and Fire Wire Hard Drives. These
components economically enable continuous backups to an external
storage device, even automatic archives. The main features
are capacity, portability, compatibility, and speed...
more about the USB or FireWire
If you're comfortable swapping components in your computer,
the easiest, most economical solution is a separate hard drive
and PowerQuest Drive Image.
Install the second drive, create an image backup, and remove the
second drive. Then do incrementals to a CD or other
removable storage device.
Although we have
mentioned PowerQuest products often (because we rely on them
ourselves), many people backup their hard drives using Norton
Ghost from Symantec. See our review of the full line of
Norton software here.
adding or replacing a hard
If you're serious about your data, you must have a backup
system. It must provide complete system restoration from
the level of a floppy boot disk. For real reliability, you
should be able to restore your data files to a different
computer should the need arise. Without these
capabilities, you easily could find your data gone, and your
backups worse than useless.