Steps to Computer Bliss, #1 (first of a series): Backup

The most important thing you can do to achieve stress-free computing is a daily backup of your data. The software to do that on the desktop or laptop computer is free and requires only about a minute of your attention per day once it is set up. That’s right, free!

Daily backup is the most important step because it protects you from a multitude of threats: disk failure, human error, virus attack, theft, fire, flood, and electrical faults. Computer hardware has dropped in price to the point that the data is usually of much greater value than the computer hardware, which is easily replaced.

The backup software that I recommend for desktop use is EASEUS Todo Backup, Free Version which I’ll refer to here simply as “Easeus.” I use it because not only is it free but it is also versatile – it can backup a either a selection of files or it can create a disk image. It is also simple to install and configure, and I’ve found it very reliable, both in backing up and restoring data. The backup files that Easeus creates are compressed files whose contents can be browsed in Windows Explorer without the need to run Easeus.

Backup Media: Five years ago I might have recommended a zip drive or tape drive, and indeed on a file server a tape could still be the best option. However, USB hard-drives have dropped in price so much that they are the cheapest and simplest option for automatically backing up more than a few gigabytes of data on the single computer as well as on the small, peer-to-peer network.

For the same reason – cheap and fast storage media – it is usually preferable to do a full backup of your data at each backup session, rather than a (more economical for disk space but more complex to do a restore) differential or incremental backup.

As an example, consider the scenario of the individual business computer, or the small, peer-to-peer network that has one computer holding the company data in a shared folder. You might purchase five USB, mini hard-drives and label them “Monday” through to “Friday”. You should keep all but one of them at home, in a local “safe deposit box”, or in an onsite fire safe.

When the designated backup monitor gets to the office each day he attaches the drive for that evening’s scheduled backup.

The total cost of the drives will be under £200.

If the drives are 320 GB and you have say 20 GB of data then you would configure Easeus to retain backups for up to two months – in that way the none of the drives will ever fill up, as the oldest backups are deleted.

Is it excessively paranoid for the small business to have off-site storage of backups? Not at all – without your data you’re out of business, £200 is a trival cost, and the attention required each day is one to two minutes.

Some of the disaster scenarios I mention in the second paragraph can only be protected against by having backups stored off-site, or at the least in an on-site fire safe. By the way, disaster recovery will be discussed in a coming article.

Of course even the home PC should run a daily backup, although they hardly ever do. Just one external drive and a manually initiated backup would be far better than the no-backup situation that usually prevails on home computers. With free software and a (even cheaper than the mini-) full-sized USB hard-drive, there’s really no excuse.

Easeus has an option to e-mail you a report of each backup session, telling you whether it was successful or failed. On those rare occasions that the backup has failed you need to find out why – but it will usually be either that the drive letter has changed or that the drive has become corrupted or faulty.

There is a file server edition of Easeus which, although not free, does cost much less than the traditional Symantec Backup Exec. When I’ve had a chance to evaluate the Easeus server edition I’ll report my findings here.

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