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Backup tutorial

My friends sometimes laugh at me because I am so obsessed about backing up my data. As a matter of fact, I consider my data as my most valuable asset. I am not really worried about a thief stealing my car, my TV or my computer. With the help of the insurance company I can easily replace these down to earth pieces of equipment. OK the insurance company will probably cover only part of the loss and replacing these goodies might still be a bit painful to my bank account. However, I consider that pulling out a few thousand $ out of my savings account is no big deal compared to the pain of loosing my digital photos, all the web sites I designed, my emails, my bookmarks, my passwords etc…

I simply can’t live without my data and over time I became kind of an expert in data protection. You will find below a few tips that will help you protect your data

1. Backup regularly

How often should you back up your data? This is up to you to decide. It mainly depends how quickly your data changes over time and what amount of new data you can afford to loose. If you only switch on your PC 15 minutes per week, backing up your data once a month might be fine.

However if you work on your computer all day long, you might want to back up your data every day. You might even want to mirror your data in real time using RAID or some mirroring software like MirrorFolder.

2. Mirroring

Mirroring your data on another hard disk is a great way to protect your data. However don’t rely on mirroring alone. If a thief steals your PC, he will steal both hard disks at the same time. Not to mention that a thunderstorm could fry your entire PC…

3. Keep your backups in several different places

I am amazed to see that many people keep their backups on their desk next to their PC. What if a burglar breaks into your house or office, steals your PC and in the rush also takes away the DVD or other media containing your backup? Or what if a fire burns down your house?

It is therefore important to keep backup copies in at least 2 different places, preferably offsite. For example you can keep some backup copies in your car (I know by experience that DVDs and CDs can survive the heat even if you live in a tropical country and leave your car for hours in the sun), other copies at your mother-in-law’s place (this way she won’t be completely useless…) or in a locker at your bank.

4. Encrypt your data

It is very important that you encrypt your data before copying it to the backup media. This way your data won’t be compromised in case of theft and you won't have to worry about your private information falling in the wrong hands. You don’t want the photo of your toddler ending up on a pedophilia porn site.

I recommend that you use Winrar. Winrar uses 128 bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), a the standard used by the government of the United States. Besides encrypting your data, Winrar also compresses your archive making it smaller and easier to backup.

5. Check once in a while if you can restore your data

Remember the fire drills when you were in school? Kids love fire drills because they love everything that interrupts the class. Fire drills are very important because they allow the firemen to make sure everything is in place in case there is a fire.

Similarly you should “drill” your backup procedure once in a while to make sure you can actually recover your data from your backup archives if the need arises. Do you doubt this is really necessary? Then read on:

I have a friend who is about as obsessed as I am about his data. His hard disk crashed. “No big deal” he thought, “I’ll simply replace the hard disk and restore the backup I made yesterday”. To his greatest surprise his backup archive was corrupted. Not only the previous day backup archive but all the backup archives he had done twice a week during the past few months. Needless to say he was about as desperate as if his wife had run away with the milkman.

What had happened? He was using some fancy backup software that was not doing the job correctly and he had never thought useful to check whether he could restore data from the archives…

6. Keep your data in a separate partition

Maybe you think it’s a good idea to keep your data in the “My Documents” folder. After all, Microsoft created that folder for that purpose and most Microsoft software (as well as most non-Microsoft software) tend to save data to that folder by default.

Problem is that if you have a major software problem on your PC and need to reinstall windows then all the data stored on c:/ will be lost. It is therefore preferable to keep your data on a separate partition. That separate partition could be on the same hard disk or better on a separate hard disk.

7. Online backup

Online backup could be a great a solution either if the size of your backup is fairly small or you are among the lucky few who have a FTTH internet connection. If your backup size is several gigabytes, it would take for ever to upload your files with an ADSL connection. I would tend to consider that online backup could become a great option in the not so distant future. For the time being I prefer to forget about it.






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