Data Backup: Two Important Rules for Good Night’s Sleep (Part I)

Data BackupHave you ever lost important data? By important I mean anything that is important to you or your job or your business. This could be digital photos of a trip you took five years ago, archives of your university papers, email messages stored on your hard drive, or access keys to your Bitcoin wallet, say. Most of us do not think about the problem of data preservation until it’s too late. Even though there do exist methods for data recovery, this procedure is usually quite lengthy, stressful and it’s not guaranteed that it will succeed at all. So, instead of waiting for a hard drive to fail (and sooner or later it will fail – and you never know if sooner or later), let’s take some precautions to make sure that a great part of our life, which is indeed quite digital, is not spent in vain. Rule #1: make local backups. If you’ve been dealing with computers for a while, you sure know how to make backups.

As far as I know, all operating systems come with embedded backup tools. For example, Windows has Windows Backup, and Macintosh has Time Machine, while Linux comes with tar and dozens of free utilities, embedded or not depending on a distribution. To make a local backup, you need a device to store your data. This device should be external, and it should generally exceed the capacity of the drive(s) you’re backing up. A good example is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive. As you know, there are external USB hard drives, and they’re useful for backup purposes, especially those that support USB 3.0, because the data transfer rate is very fast in this case (though you need to make sure your computer also supports USB 3.0). Besides USB, there are such connection interfaces as FireWire, SCSI, eSATA, and Thunderbolt, which are often about as fast or even faster than USB 3.0. However, a NAS is probably a better option for most cases, for the following reasons:

  • You connect this drive to your network, and it is then available to any computer on your network. Which means that any computer in your house or organization can make backups to this drive, or restore data therefrom.
  • You can put it anywhere, as long as it supports Wi-Fi.
The standard tool for backing up data in Windows 7. Time Machine
The standard tool for backing up data in Windows 7. Embedded backup utility in MacOS X.

But there are some drawbacks as well, such as that the data transfer speed will not be as fast as with USB 3.0, which is not too bad provided your backups are done automatically on a scheduled basis. There are different types of backups, but long story short, I recommend you to make incremental backups because they will take up less space on your backup drive, wear it out much more slowly, and because the backup process will be taking less time. An incremental backup works like this: one full backup is done the first time you run your backup utility, and then only those files that have been changed since last backup will be backed up on your next (this should be scheduled) backup run.

A typical NAS device
A typical NAS device

Another important point to note is that backups should be encrypted (you don’t want others to peek in your digital stuff from time to time, right?). In MacOS X, Time Machine comes with the encryption option, but Windows doesn’t seem to offer this “luxury”, so it’s better to use a third-party backup utility on Windows. For a free but powerful utility consider Duplicati. Once you implement a data backup routine, your life will instantly become simpler because there will be one less thing to be concerned about. However, if you want to keep your data even safer, I mean much safer, you should consider following Rule #2, but we’ll talk about it in Part II of this article.