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Friday, July 29, 2011

Backups and Archiving

CD media

1) Plan your backup
The first step is to determine what needs to be backed up. How and what to backup are personal decisions based on how you use your computer. The following are some examples.

Basic system: Data only
Do you use your computer for personal use with its original factory configuration and perhaps an additional program or two? Consider a Data Only Backup Solution. Frequency of Backups would depend on how often information is added or changed. The more often you add or change files, the more often you should back them up. For programs like Outlook and Quicken, where it’s not obvious where their data are kept; their help files usually describe how to back them up.

Complex system: Hard drive imaging plus separate data backup
Do you have a large number of programs installed and/or complex configurations that would take many hours to recreate? Would you or your business suffer if you had to take the time to set everything up from scratch? Consider a disk imaging solution. A disk image, created with a program such as Symantec’s Ghost, is an exact copy of an entire hard drive. Create a new disk image every time a major system change is made. Then Backup your data as needed.

Business system: Automated, complete system backup
Does your computer contain real-time business data that changes frequently? Consider an automated software backup solution and redundant hardware systems. Implement a backup media rotation system and rotate a set off site. Super critical systems warrant complete backup computers and even entire off-premise facilities, called hot-sites.

Things to consider
Try to implement the simplest plan possible which will still accomplish your goals. The less effort it takes to back up your computer, the more likely you will have a current backup when you need it. For example: configure your applications so they keep their data in a central location. By doing this, a backup can be accomplished by simply copying that one folder to a blank CD.

The programs and operating system on your computer are interconnected. A portion (Just the OS or a single Application) will not function apart from the whole. Data files, on the other hand, are portable. Backup (and restore) either the entire computer or just the data; anything else won’t work. In addition, operating systems are unique to the machine on which they were installed. If you restore an OS onto a different computer, it most likely will not work. There are ways around this problem, but they are difficult to implement. If you are dealing with irreparable or stolen hardware, your most straightforward option is to install your programs onto a replacement computer and restore only data.

Even if you choose a complete disk backup solution, not all the files need to be backed up. Some commercial music or video files are encoded so they will only work on the unit where they were originally downloaded. Whether they can be used on a different or recovered system depends on the Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme used. Also, things like the Internet Cache and temporary files folders have no value. Backing them up will only waste your time and space on your backup media.

2) Determine if backup software is necessary
For most basic backups, simply copying the files to external media is adequate. For more complex situations, backup software can provide added flexibility. Backup software allows you to specify what parts of your computer you wish to include and exclude from the backup. They allow you to make Incremental or Differential backups, where only the files that have changed since the last backup session are copied, speeding the backup process.

Most backup programs also have a schedule or timer feature, which can perform the backup after office hours. If the selected media cannot contain the entire archive, some programs allow backups to span multiple pieces of media. The resulting media can contain the following: Plain files (copy), disk images (Ghost), and archive files (backup programs). Everything except for the plain file copy requires using the creating program to restore files.

In order to restore a backup, you need a functioning computer. Some backup programs come with bootable disks, which will allow you to use a computer with a corrupted (non-bootable) operating system. Many programs even support performing a data restore over network connections.

3) Select where you are going to put your backup
Once you know what needs to be backed up and how you can select appropriate media, some things to consider include the following:

  • Will the media hold the entire backup, or will you have to "babysit" and swap in blank media as needed?

  • How long it will take to run the backup?

  • Do you want multiple sets of backup media to rotate off-site? (This can be difficult with an external hard disk drive, but easier with tapes or recordable DVDs if the amount of data is not too great.)

Some people opt not to use removable media at all and instead synchronize their data across multiple computers, such as between their home and office. Others choose on-line data warehouses on the Internet where they can store their backups. And still others put their trust in redundant (mirrored) drive systems. In the end, it’s up to you to decide what’s right for you.

MediaAvg. CapacitySpeedPros and Cons
USB "Thumb" Drives2GB and upFastSmall, easily lost or damaged
Recordable Optical Disks650MB (CD)

4.7 - 9.4GB (DVD)
MediumInexpensive, easily damaged
Removable Disks1.4MB (floppy)

500MB+ (MO)
VariesMedia can be expensive, availability issues
External Hard Drives80 - 1TBVery FastHuge capacity, fast, may not be very portable
Local Area Network (Shared server storage)VariesMediumRequires network, ties up network bandwidth
Internet-Based BackupVariesSlowOff-Site, accessible anywhere, requires broadband; ongoing cost
Network Attached Storage (NAS)

Stand-Alone Storage (SAS)
VariesMediumRequires network, can tie up network bandwidth
RAID (mirroring)VariesVery FastReal time, requires no user intervention, no off-site storage or history

4) Make a recovery plan and recovery kit
The best time to determine how to restore a system is not in the middle of a crisis. Consider making a written plan of the steps necessary to restore your computer before it is needed. Keep this plan updated and, if possible, test it to make sure it works. In addition, test your backups, making sure the media is readable and that it contains everything it is supposed to.

hard drive

If your hard drive fails catastrophically, having a current backup can be

Be aware that viruses and other malicious programs are just files on the
hard drive and can inadvertently be included. A comprehensive anti-virus package should be used on every computer.

Create a recovery kit and keep it in a secure, but accessible, location.
If your backup contains critical Business information, two copies are suggested, keep on on-site for immediate access, and a second copy off-site as a precaution against catastrophic events.

Your recovery kit should contain the following:

  • An up-to-date copy of your recovery plan

  • Operating System or restore CDs and product key

  • All application installation CDs and their product keys

  • All programs needed to recover the backup data

  • Anything else needed to make this or another computer functional


Windows XP includes a backup utility that can save your files to removable media, a different hard drive, or a network drive.

Note: It does not directly support burning to recordable CD or DVD media.

Windows 7 Backup application adds an option to create an emergency boot disk and can make a complete system backup or incremental backup either at a scheduled time or on demand.


Backup 2.0.2 is available to .Mac members by selecting the Backup icon on the .Mac website and via Automatic Software Update to .Mac members who have already installed a previous version of Backup.

If you use OS X 10.5 or 10.6 and are a subscriber to MobileMe, download the current version of MobileMe Backup to keep items in your Home folder in sync across multiple computers and devices. This includes email, contacts, calendar, bookmarks and other content. To backup items outside of the Home folder, Apple suggests using Time Machine, which can back up your entire hard drive to a Time Capsule, hard drive, or network volume.

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