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 Wise Tech Tips

Summarizing Backups


By James Wise
web posted June 22, 2009
TECH TIPS – “My computer blew up and I lost all my files including all the pictures of my children! What was that backup thing I was supposed to be doing?” No one wants to be in this position. We’ve talked about different backup options before, but today’s the day we summarize it all into one complete backup strategy. We can handle all of this using free programs.

Overview
My personal backup strategy is really pretty simple. I take an image backup of each of my computers using Reflect (http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips051809.html). I could use that image to quickly restore my operating system and programs in case I had a disk go out. I take a frequent data backup of each of my computers using SyncBack (http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips060809.html). My laptop backups are made to my home computer (which has a lot of disk space) and my home computer backups (which include my laptop backup files) are made to an external drive which I store away from my house. The same “laptop” process can be used for multiple laptops or desktops which you may have in your household.



This gives me two backup copies of my laptop files (on two different disks located in two different places) and one backup copy of my home server files (stored in a different place).

Step 1 – Organization
Before you can make backup copies of your files, you need to know where your files are. Keep organization in mind when you save anything. The most common/standard setup is to use the “my documents” folder for storing data. This is what I currently use and is the basis for my backup instructions. Just be sure to keep your files somewhere consistently and make sure this location is included in your data backup.

When I first started writing this column and doing the research for it, I was going to suggest using a separate partition for your data. A partition is a data area on a hard drive. One physical drive can have one or more partitions. For example, you might have a “C” drive and a “D” drive which are two partitions of one disk OR you might have two disks with one partition each. My idea was that a separate data partition would offer a number of advantages including allowing an image backup of the operating system and programs to be much smaller. It is possible to do this but I came to the conclusion that the steps involved with this made it too complicated for most users and there would be a chance that some steps were missed and therefore some data might be lost. So, my instructions are for a single partition/disk with everything. If this doesn’t match the configuration you use, just be sure to adapt your backup setup accordingly.

Step 2 – Image Backup
An image backup will make a complete copy of your disk including Windows, programs, and data. Technically, you could make this your only backup since it does contain everything. However, it takes a lot more time to create this backup and a lot more space is required. So, I generally suggest this just be done occasionally (especially after a lot of new programs are installed, windows patches are released, etc…). Also keep in mind that an image backup should only be recovered on the computer where it was made. If you purchase a new computer, you can explore an image backup on another computer in case you want to recover or look at some files from it but when the computer is different, Windows and each program should be installed specifically on that computer. In such a case, you could consider using a program like AppSnap (http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips050409.html) to help with the installation process.

I suggest using Reflect to make an image backup. You can read more about how to do that here: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips051809.html

If you have multiple computers, you should make an image backup of each one. I would then store those images on your main computer and/or on an external hard drive.

Step 3 – Data Backup
Create a backup of your data files (i.e. documents, pictures, etc…). I suggest using SyncBack for this. You can read more about how to do that here: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips060809.html

If you have multiple computers, I would set the SyncBack destination folder (on your secondary computers like laptops) to a network share on your main computer (which is then backed up).



The SyncBack “data backup” on my main computer uses an external USB drive as the destination. I then keep that disk in another location. So, if my computer was to get stolen or damaged in a fire or flood, my backup would still be safe.

Since I store that disk elsewhere, I have to remember to connect it and run my main computer data backup. There are many options you could use to help remind you to do this. One option you could use with Windows Vista is to create a scheduled task to remind you. For that, go to start, control panel, system and maintenance, administrative tools, task scheduler. Then click on “create basic task”, fill in a name (i.e. “backup reminder”), select when you want it to run (i.e. “weekly”), choose “display a message” for action, fill in the desired information (i.e. “did you remember to attach your USB drive and run your SyncBack weekly backup?”), and click finish.

Step 4 – Verification
I would suggest that after you take your backup for the first time, you verify its contents. For example, check a few of your documents, email files, a few pictures, etc...

Other Comments

The backup process could certainly be expanded upon if you wanted even more redundancy. For example, you could run your backups on a couple of different external USB drives (maybe one in your house for daily/weekly backups and one somewhere else for monthly backups).

There are a lot of other backup options as well. For example, you could use Carbonite (http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips033009.html) or Mozy (http://mozy.com/) for “on line” backups if you have high speed and unlimited Internet access and don’t mind paying around $5 per month. There are also a number of other options in lieu of using SyncBack like the built in Windows Backup Utilities:

Windows Vista Backup Utility: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips032309.html
Windows XP Backup Utility: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips031609.html

If you have a computer for your business, it may already be backed up. It might be a good idea to double check this with someone at your company though just to be sure. If you do backup a business computer yourself, make sure you aren’t violating company policy. Some companies may not want business information stored elsewhere.

I know that I’ve talked about backups a lot. The main reason behind this is because I think they are so very important and I wanted to offer a number of options. I think today’s column will conclude these discussions for now but if you have ANY questions about backups just email me (EdgefieldTechHelp@Gmail.com).



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