Backing Up Your Computer

There are two main kinds of backups I usually talk about with my clients.  The first is a backup of the files and folders (items you’ve created, such as text documents, spreadsheets, images, audio clips… things which you probably could not, at least easily, recreate if you lost them – I’ll refer to these as data from now on). The second is a mirror image or clone of the entire hard drive.  The hard drive is a smallish piece of hardware which resides inside your desktop or laptop computer.  This is what holds EVERYTHING you see when you use your computer.

It seems the two most common types of backups these days are cloud backups and backups to external drives.  With a cloud backup, your data is copied to a super computer which that company monitors and manages.  If you choose to go with a cloud backup (I use Carbonite), you decide which backup plan you want and then you download and install it. I use the Carbonite Basic plan for $59.  During the installation, which is easy for most people to follow, the program will browse your hard drive looking for common types of files and common locations (Documents, Music, Photos) to include in the backup.  It works the same way on a PC or a Mac.

There will be an initial, first backup, which includes all of your data files and folders on your computer.  It’s important to understand this does not backup software program files or operating system files.  This backup is ONLY for files you’ve created, your data.  It won’t back up your MS Office program, your Adobe program or any other programs which you’ve installed on your computer.  The amount of time it takes for this initial backup depends on how much data you have on your computer.  I often encourage clients to connect their computer to their internet router using an Ethernet cable, instead of using wireless, for this first backup. A wired connection is often faster than a wireless connection, thus allowing more data to move up to the cloud server more quickly.

Once this first backup is complete, any time a new file is added, or a file already on the computer is modified, that file will be automatically copied/backed up to the company server.  What’s nice about this is it happens in the background and one doesn’t need to actually DO anything for that file to be backed up.  There are more details, such as limits on file size or types of files, which may not automatically be backed up, and you can learn more about these by reading the company’s web site.

I like using a cloud backup because I don’t need to remember to run the backup.  I can also easily restore a file from the backup server, or, as with most companies now, their mobile app can be used and one can easily log into the cloud server and check to be sure your most recent files are safely stored there.  Also, most cloud backup software monitors itself, and if it’s not working properly, you’ll likely see a pop up letting you know the system has not backed up any files.

Another popular way to back up your data is to use an external hard drive, or if you don’t have much to backup, a thumb/flash drive.  External drives are quite small now and also quite affordable ($50 for 500 gigabytes).  With an external drive you can plug it into your computer and manually copy files from your computer and save them on the external drive.  Or, many external drives come with backup software, specific to that company, which you can use to create your backups.  There are also third party companies who make backup software, which will give you many more options (scheduling, specific file backup, different backups on different days, etc.), which you can purchase and use.  I’m not as fond of using external drives for backing up because too often people will accidentally drop these drives, or forget to plug them in for the automatic backup, or just plain forget to manually backup.

So what I’ve mentioned so far ONLY backs up your data files on your computer, not your whole computer.  With the above backups, you will have your data files (documents, spreadsheets, photos, etc.), however you won’t have your operating system (e.g. Windows 7 or Apple OS) or your programs.

The other backup I mentioned is a mirror image or clone of your hard drive.  This is an exact copy, a clone, of your entire hard drive, programs and all.  This clone can either be done directly to another hard drive, or it can be created as a file and stored on a large hard drive.  This type of backup generally takes a little more know-how to set up and then also to use if your original hard drive fails.  However, if you have a very complicated system, with specialized software, a lot of specific configuration or settings and it has taken many hours or cost a great deal to setup, you may save yourself some time if your system needs to be recovered.  This is more common for scientists, graphic artists, or photographers.  You also need to remember to create a new clone/mirror image of your hard drive whenever you update your software, add more software, or change some of those special settings.


Some parting words…

  • I do not consider a file backed up unless you have more than one copy of it and that copy is stored in a different location than the original.
  • Take responsibility for your data… make sure you periodically check to see that your current files are showing up on your backup.  Sometimes things go wrong and it’s better to learn of it sooner than later.
  • Think about what is important to you and make sure that it is included in your backup.  For some, that may be their Outlook email… this will take an extra effort to backup and may not be included in many automatic backups.  For others, it’s their photos… make sure to check if there are limits to how much data your service allows you to backup.
  • Backing up something is better than backing up nothing.
  • Spending a little time and money now to make sure you have a backup is so much better than the distress and regret you’ll feel if your hard drive fails and you need to pay big bucks to have it recovered.