Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Why backup?

Although this does relate to the previous article I wrote (see “O.K. You Now Have Thousands of Digital Photos, Now What?”), I thought it was important to dedicate a section just to backups. I recently had a client come to me that told me his laptop had been stolen when he walked away from a table he was sitting at to go to the restroom. As it turns out, this man had an extensive database of confidential information about his clients on his laptop… and ONLY his laptop. He kept no backups of the data on his desktop (because he didn’t want people getting into it when he wasn’t there). This raises several topics, only a few of which I will touch on at this moment.
1. If you are going to have your data in one place, then MAKE BACKUPS.
2. A laptop is NOT a reliable means of storing your data for long term purposes.
3. If your laptop gets stolen and you do not take the appropriate precautions in securing your data then you are liable for any information that may be obtained from said device.

In today’s day and age, backups of data are more critical now, than they ever were. People store photos, music, documents, databases, applications and much more on their computers and many times need to refer back to them for one reason or another. Hard drives are very reliable these days and getting more reliable all the time. However, the fact remains that hard drives have moving parts in them (to spin them up and to move the read/write head back and forth). Although not having them will significantly reduce the amount of data loss problems people have, it won’t eliminate the need for backups all together. I recommend to everyone (including home users) that they run at a minimum monthly, backups. Good practice is weekly full backups and daily incremental backups. I will go into more details on that in a few minutes.

Backups can be done on CD, DVD or if you want to protect your data, put it on a password protected flash drive. These can store a tremendous amount of data these days and are very reliable. If you have an enormous amount of data (over 10GB) it is probably advisable that you either backup to Tape or external hard drive. Tape is more reliable, but it is more expensive, thus the hard drive option will probably make more sense for most people.

Let’s get down to basics. What is a backup? A backup is a copy of a file or files that you want to keep for a long time, if not indefinitely. Backups are grouped into three different categories, and pay attention because it can be a little confusing:

Full Backups – Which backs up all of the selected data in a given set.
Incremental Backups – Which backs up all of the data that has not been backed up since the last backup. (not the last full)
Differential Backups – Which backs up all of the data that did not get backed up since the last full.

So, the first thing people usually ask is “Isn’t an Incremental Backup the same as a Differential Backup then?” The answer is No. An incremental backup backs up all of the data that has not been backed up since the last backup. That’s ANY TYPE of backup. The last backup could have been another incremental, or it could have been a differential. The downside to incremental backups is that to do a full restore of data and have it UP TO DATE, you must have a full backup AND EVERY incremental backup that took place up to the date you want to restore to. Whereas, if you are doing fulls and differentials, you only need the last full and the last differential.

Okay, that covers the basics.

Physical Backups vs. Online Backups
There has been a lot of discussion (see Brian’s comments in “O.K. You Now Have Thousands of Digital Photos, Now What?”) regarding online backups and physical backups such as CD or Flashdrive.

Online backups (such as Dell Datasafe and EVault) have come a long way, but from a personal standpoint it will be a while before I exclusively trust an online backup company. Basically the way it works is, you load software on your computer and your computer securely encrypts your data and sends it to a server somewhere on the Internet. In theory, should you lose your data or hard drive then you can download your files from your backups. My main concerns with this method are the fact that these companies are new and there is no way of telling who will be around in ten years and who won’t. What if a company goes under and you are not informed? You’ve lost your data. Or what if your data is damaged in transit or your files get corrupted enroute? You’ve lost your data. Worse yet is the fact that although everyone’s Internet connections are improving (speed-wise), if you have gigabytes of data then it can take hours, days or even weeks to do a single backup. This is why I prefer physical backups and if necessary use online backups as a secondary backup.

Physical Backup Software
Now on to software. Keep in mind, that I try to aim this Blog at the home user. If you want to know good business or enterprise grade backup solutions, then post a comment and I’ll be happy to expand on that. So as far as software goes for backing up there are hundreds (if not thousands) of choices. So I will just mention a couple of my favorites. Microsoft’s Backup & Restore that is native to Windows XP (and Server 2003) is very good for the average user (and most power users). It is actually a scaled down version of the professional backup software “Backup Exec”. Nero works very well and is getting better all the time, however it has a lot of auxiliary components that install (various little do dads that do nothing but take up memory and CPU usage). Roxio has several backup software products that do well. Almost all of these products can do the three types of backups listed above. If all you are backing up is photos and video, then Picasa does a good job (see the above mentioned article).

Regarding Theft of Data
The most important thing you can do if your data is stolen is file a police report IMMEDIATELY. Next, contact as many people as possible that you believe may have been compromised by this loss of data, INCLUDING your employer if their data was in the stolen set. Any delay in not contacting all those involved puts you and them at risk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.