October 2011 Backups – Additional Detail

Dear All

This time I want to talk a bit about backups. It never ceases to amaze me how often people don’t make backups of any kind. Most of you will have something on your computer that you would be upset about losing, be it family photographs or videos, business accounts, that time consuming genealogy project, letters, CVs, emails or whatever. Now just imagine how you would feel if you didn’t have those anymore! Doing a backup simply means saving all those things that you value, so that they are in more than one place. It’s not like traditional photo’s, videos and documents, where it was usually impractical to have copies. Things stored on a computer can be copied umpteen times, to umpteen places easily, so why not do it if it’s easy? The answer is usually that most people don’t know where to start. Here’s a quick introduction.

Backups.

Essentially, you want to copy the stuff that matters to you, to a safe place. So once you know where your stuff is, you just need to decide where to put it, and how to get it there.

Get your stuff in order – if you never save files and documents to odd places then skip this.

Windows by default encourages you to keep all your pictures together, your videos together, letters and music, whatever. Windows XP more or less kept them all together in one place by default, Windows Vista and 7 likes to separate them by type but still keeps them largely together. I say that by default Windows keeps stuff together, which means that you, being in control, can choose to spread your stuff all over the place. So the first order of the day is to know where you have put your own stuff. It makes sense really; you need to know where stuff is in order to back it up. So find it, and if you don’t have a need to spread it all over the shop, then move it back into My Documents, or My Music, My Videos etc.

What do you backup to?

I want to be sure that it is easy for me to regularly save the stuff that matters to a safe place. But let’s just think for a moment about what we mean by a safe place.

If I copy a picture called “Holiday001” to “Holiday001Safe” have I made a backup? Well, yes I have! Is it any good to me? Not really! The only time it is of use to me is I specifically delete or mess up “Holiday001” in which case I can copy it back from my copy.

If however, a virus wiped my computer’s hard disk, or my hard disk drive died, or my whole PC died, or was stolen, or I left my laptop/tablet on a bus, then I have nothing.

My definition of a safe backup then looks more like “a copy of all my stuff to somewhere outside of my PC”

There are two main options for this nowadays, there is a copy to an external storage drive of some sort, or there is what’s known as online backup. The online backup is becoming popular, as it ticks the box with regard to the backup being very much outside of my PC. However there are a couple of niggles with this that don’t sit well with me. The first is that I don’t actually have a clue where my backup actually is? It’s just “on the internet” somewhere. Does this matter? Probably not! However the simple fact that it is ‘out there somewhere’ in these days where even the most major corporations are being hacked, makes me question if I want whatever my stuff is being out of my control. Another niggle is that it can take ages to put your backup up there. We think in terms of increasingly fast broadband, but this is fast for bringing stuff to our PC’s, it is normally much, much slower to put stuff onto the internet. If you have videos and lots of photo’s and music, then I think it becomes impractical, and it can also become expensive, as you usually have to pay if you exceed a certain limit, which means you either pay, or you try to make sure you keep your valuable stuff within an arbitrary size limit.

So for me that leaves only the option to back up to something attached to my PC. There are 4 main options, Optical disks (e.g. DVD’s), USB Flash drives, and external hard disk drives, and finally to another PC. Which one do you use? Well that sort of depends on how much stuff you have.

Backup Device

Pro’s

Con’s

Comments

USB Flash Drive (also called a Memory Stick or Pen Drive)

Small cheap and very convenient. Can carry it around and always have
your ‘stuff’ with you.

Expensive if more than 16GB, though 32GB ones are coming down in price
fast. Easy to lose!

Make sure they are big enough to hold all your ‘stuff’, with plenty of
extra space to allow for growth.

DVD

Cheap.

Limited in terms of space and reliability.

You need a software program to manage these, only really good if you
have less than 1 DVD’s worth of ‘stuff’.

Another PC

 

Allows you to work on ‘stuff’ on more than one PC

Easy to get confused regarding which PC has the latest of any
particular document.

You need to be fairly aware of Networking, or assuming you transfer by
means other than across your Network then you will have already made your
backup – so why bother?

An external Hard disk drive.

 

Excellent if you have more than 16GB of ‘stuff’ (or 32GB – see above).

Fast

People tend to leave them next to their PC. Should there be a fire
then you could lose both your ‘stuff’ AND your backup.

There are two main forms of these. The cheaper big ones need to be
plugged into the mains as well as the PC. The smaller ones are much more
convenient as they only need plugging into the PC, and are dropping in price
fast.

Online Backup

Very convenient

Initially very slow. Can be expensive if more than a few GB.

Where is your ‘stuff’? You are told it is secure, but is it?

If it helps 1TB or Terabyte=1000GB or Gigabytes and 1GB=1000MB or Megabytes – a Song is usually around 4MB and a photo maybe around a half to 2MB)

If you are using Flash drives I would recommend buying more than just the one, that is simply because two allows you to leave one at home and put the other somewhere safe out of the house or office in case of burglary or fire or some other catastrophe where you could lose both your PC and all backups. Sorry to be a pessimist, but these things happen.

Look out for USB3 devices. These are pretty new and are dropping in price quite quickly and are reckoned to be 10 times faster than USB2 which all recent PC’s will have. It might prove worth paying a little extra for a USB3 device if you think you are likely to buy a new PC (or add USB3 to your current one) You need a slightly different cable for USB3 but you can plug them into a PC with USB2 or using a USB2 cable and they will work just fine, just slower than USB3!

Making your backup.

OK So you know what you want to backup – your stuff – and you now have a suitable device to back it up to. How do you do it? If you are still reading this then you must be keen, good for you.

There are a number of ways of doing a backup. This can be the very confusing bit.

Full system backup, incremental backup and just backing up what you want.

You could back up your entire system, not caring about individual files. If you like your system the way it is, and it seems to be working just fine, just back the whole thing up. This is often called an image backup and is a very sensible thing to do. There are some great products out there if you want to take this route (I use Acronis), but it requires a fair bit of time, a lot of disk space, and requires a bit of understanding to set up properly. Obviously to back up an entire system, you need sufficient space to hold that backup, and plenty of additional space to do it again, and plenty of additional space to actually use the computer day to day. What if you do a full backup and then load in some more pictures to My Pictures? Do you need to redo the full backup again? Well actually no, you probably don’t. Most good backup systems allow you to do incremental additional backups, which just contain the changes since the full backup, or even since the last incremental backup! This can get confusing to manage, (never mind explain!) but if you are technically minded and understand the concepts involved then it is a very good way to go. One other thing about image backups is that they can be a little confusing to recover from.

Personally I don’t do this incremental bit. I do make a full system backup after I do anything significant with my PC, like Hardware or major software updates, but I actually backup my data (or stuff as I called it earlier) separately and very regularly.

The full system backup is great though, as should something nasty happen to the PC it can be restored quickly to the state it was on the day the backup was made, and then the stuff can be recovered.

You could just use Copy and Paste or Send To in Windows Explorer to do you backups manually, but this can be very slow if all you really want to do is to copy new or changed files to (and optionally remove deleted files from) your backup.

There are any number of software products out there that make backups simpler, Windows even has its own – if you are on Windows 7 then look in Control Panel for ‘Backup and Restore’, or access the Help and Support system and search for Backup.

To go into any of these is way beyond the scope of this document, but if like me you like good versatile, free software then you could do worse than to use what I use – SyncBack Freeware (available from www.2brightsparks.com – nothing to do with me) It is a little tricky to set up with lots of options, (there is a help file to get you there) but once it’s done, and your initial back up is made, it beautifully updates only files that have been created or amended since the last backup onto your backup device, which means it takes very little time to do your backup, and making it quick and easy is the secret to doing it regularly, and safely. It can even do it automatically for you so all you have to remember to do is connect your backup device.

Whatever you decide to use, just ensure you do something!

What if it’s too late?

I should quickly say that ‘stuff’ can usually be recovered from a PC even if your hard disk or your PC appears to die, so even if you don’t have a backup, if you find yourself in this position give me a call and I shall see what I can do. For the same reason, you should be aware that when you throw or give away an old PC, your stuff may still be found by someone who knows how to get at it. There are ways to make sure this is not possible.

This newsletter is available on my web site www.compulogix.co.uk Newsletters page, as are the older ones.

Thanks for your time; I hope some of you found some of it useful. If your PC / Network / Internet / Email / Backup or whatever isn’t running smoothly at the moment, my number is below, or if you want to ask the odd question or have any suggestions for a topic for another email or you are finding something particularly frustrating / problematic on the computer front, why not send me an email.