backing up your data

I’ve worked with a number of individuals lately who are interested in fast, easy, comprehensive backup solutions. Let me begin by saying that this is a tall order indeed! The new wave of cheap, large external hard drives such as the Maxtor One-Touch line promise just that – a complete backup that requires only a second of a user’s time. I must insist that this scenario is too good to be true.

Here are the main things I want from a backup:

  • Cheap
  • Fast
  • Easy to recover files
  • Copies at offsite location 

So, how does an external hard drive stack up?

An incremental backup to an external device is nice, and could be invaluable if a laptop is dropped or stolen, a hard drive goes corrupt, or files are deleted. However if there is a fire, burglary, or flood it is likely that the external drive will be compromised as well as the original data source. External hard drives are no substitute for backups to removable media. I do NOT mean USB flash drives. They are too easily damaged, lost, or put through the laundry. 

What about CD-R or DVD-R?

 Until something faster comes along, I like frequent backups to optical media. Then some of the backup discs should be stored offsite (read: take your work backup home and vice versa). CD and DVD media are quite cheap and drives are getting quite fast.

So why don’t users typically sustain an offsite backup? There are tradeoffs involved. It certainly takes time and effort, but so does recreating hundreds of documents and e-mails from printed records. And what about digital photos? I personally have over 3 years of irreplaceable digital photos that do not exist in printed form. Because of the importance of this pictures, I pay for an online service to store my digital photo backup. Photos like this are worth every bit of time and effort it takes to periodically back up. Unfortunately most users don’t learn this lesson until it is too late.

Until such time as Illinois Wesleyan can afford to support large-scale centralized data storage with offsite backups our users will continue to be responsible for their own backups.  Whenever I’m asked my opinion I will continue to recommend a dual approach – onsite incremental backups to an external device, along with regular backups to removable media which go to offsite storage. I only hope the message gets through!

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