Volume 19, Number 4
June 2002



YOUR COMPUTER NETWORK

A Stitch in Time
Backing Up Done Simply

By Jeffrey Allen and Nikki Clark

Everyone who knows anything about computers will recommend that you regularly back up your computers. Backing up cannot prevent the catastrophic loss of your computer by theft, damage, or simple breakdown. But if done properly and regularly, it can allow you to recover from such a catastrophic loss with relatively little of the angst, suffering, and inconvenience that such a loss would normally cause. This article will take you through the basics of backing up computers on the Windows and Macintosh platforms. Most of the comments and considerations raised here apply equally to all computers, regardless of their operating systems. The step-by-step procedures for backing up will differ between operating systems. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

What Should I Back Up?
You should employ two different styles of backup: (1) backing up the entire hard drive (system, software and data) (System Backup); and (2) backing up current data only (Data Backup). It is important that your backup strategy includes both. System Backup will save you considerable time in getting back to an up-and-running condition if you have to replace a computer (or a hard disk drive) due to theft or breakdown, or if you have to reformat your drive to recover from serious corruption, program failure, or other software disaster. Data backup allows you to immediately transfer critical data to another computer or to restore it to the same computer if the data becomes lost or corrupted. A System Backup includes a Data Backup.
You should not limit your backup system to electronic media in your thought processes, planning, or practice. Unless and until we get to the point that everything we do is done on computer, we will still have paper files that contain important information. If you truly want to protect yourself against disaster and catastrophic loss, you will also implement a program to back up paper files by scanning them into the computer and then out to a storage media (Paper Backup).

How Often Should I Back Up?
This depends on the type of backup. You should do a Data Backup on a daily basis. System Backups can be done much less often, approximately once a month or whenever you make any significant changes (other than data) to your hard drive. Significant changes include adding new programs, updating system software, and/or updating programs. If you are doing system changes or updates, you should do a Data Backup immediately before installing the update or change, and a System Backup after completing the installation process. Be sure to check that the computer continues to work properly. The only way to stay current with Paper Backup is to scan every document that comes into the office that relates to work for a client or that otherwise holds importance for the practice and the office operation. Treat the stored images as data and back them up daily with data until you transfer them to more permanent storage like a CD or DVD.

What Media Should I Use?
There is no single right answer to this question. Backup systems can utilize a variety of types; choose what works best for your firm. In evaluating the available media, your primary considerations should include the ratio of capacity of the media to storage requirements for backup purposes; ease of use; convenience; speed; and cost. Possible choices include tape, CD, DVD, replaceable media hard drive like the Iomega Peerless drive (10- and 20-gigabyte cartridges), external hard disk drives (a variety of manufacturers and sizes), and replaceable media disks (e.g., Iomega Zip drives/disks or LST 120 disks). You can also include in the list the new and very small USB flash drives (the size of your thumb) and 5-gigabyte drives that recently became available.
In making your decision, consider that the more accessible your information and the easier it is to find, the less trouble the restore process will cause you. We prefer using an external hard drive or the replaceable Iomega Peerless cartridges for System Backup and either 250-megabyte Zip disks or the small Fire Wire 5-gigabyte drives for Data Backup (the thumb-sized USB drives would be ideal but they remain relatively expensive).

How Many Backups Should I Make?
Always make multiple sets of your backups. Rotate your Data Backups so all are relatively current. Make each backup set directly from the original rather than copying from one backup to another, to prevent copying one corrupt set of backups to the other backup sets, ruining them all and destroying your backup strategy. Keep a minimum of two sets, preferably three.

Where Should I Store Them?
Store at least one set of backups outside your office building. If your office building goes up in flames one night and all of your backup sets are there, what good will they do you? Store one backup set (Data Backup and System Backup) in a fire-resistant safe or file in the office. I carry a Data Backup set in my briefcase when I leave the office and keep a third Data Backup set and a second System Backup set at my home.

What Else Should I Do?
Be sure to check your backups regularly to validate that they and the backup system are working properly. You can do this by restoring something from each backup set onto the computer and opening it to check what appears.

Must I Use Special Software?
It is possible to make adequate System Backups and Data Backups using only the operating system. Macintosh Users will find this process a bit easier than Windows users. It generally is better to use a commercial backup utility. One advantage that a good commercial backup utility has over the click-and-drag approach is the ability to automate the process. If you leave your backup device connected to the computer, the utility can make your backup as you go along. If you choose not to do that, the backup utility can make the backup for you at the end of the day, or whenever you prefer.
A number of good backup utility programs are on the market. We like the Retrospect family of programs for both Mac OS and Windows platforms. Dantz (www.dantz.com) originally created Retrospect for the Mac platform and later developed it for Windows. It's available in several configurations, and you can use it to back up laptops, individual stand-alone desktop computers, and networked computers. Retrospect can even back up the entire network from a single master computer. Whether you choose Retrospect or settle for another competent system, the essential point is that you settle on a reliable backup system and use it religiously.
Are you convinced? Then here's what to do next.

Making Manual Backup Copies
Making backups the old-fashioned manual way varies according to the operating system your computers use.
o With Macintosh OS. Mac users have the advantage when it comes to making backups, Data or System, manually. Both types use an identical set of instructions: Select what you want to back up, click on it and hold the mouse down, drag it to the media that will hold your backup information, and release the mouse. The Mac OS will determine what it has to move, move it, and let you know when the program is done. Restoring from the backup copy is just as simple, in fact, the same process in reverse.
If you use the click-and-drag method for backing up, you will make your work much easier by organizing your computer desktop so that you store in one or two folders all the files that you want to back up on a daily basis. A utility called Copy Agent from Connectix. (www.connectix.com) makes this even easier. Copy Agent is a backup utility in its own right and has the ability to schedule backups and do them automatically. But its best feature is that it will copy only changed files within a folder-even if the folder contains 1,000 files and you change only five of them. This trick can save substantial amounts of time.
o With Windows. The evolution of Windows has made manual backup in the Windows platform almost as easy as it is for Mac OS users. To do a System Backup, double click on My Computer, then click and drag the drive to be backed up to another available drive (be sure it is as large as or larger than the drive to be backed up). To do a Data Backup, double click on the C drive (or whatever drive contains the source files that you wish to back up), then click and drag the source files/folders to the backup media, which can be another hard drive or some external media. Again, you can facilitate the backup process by locating the folders you will back up in as few places as possible.

Backing Up with Retrospect
The Windows screen looks a little different from the Mac screen, but the process of doing backups with Retrospect is substantially the same in both the Mac OS and Windows. In keeping with Retrospect's origination as a Mac program, the figures here illustrate the Mac screens, but Windows users can easily ignore what are only cosmetic differences.
After you load Retrospect on your computer, it will open to the Retrospect Directory, which looks like a card file. Start by clicking on the tab labeled Configure. This tab allows you to configure the program to use your backup media and establish one or more backup sets. Going through the configuration process will establish a backup set.
The program offers several choices for the type of backup media you can use: replaceable media, tape, DVD/CD, or the Internet. The program does not recognize large-capacity replaceable media as such. It treats the Iomega Peerless 10- or 20-gigabyte cartridge as a hard disk, not as a replaceable media. Hard disks are not listed in the Directory itself. The program recognizes them in connection with the option of backing up to a file.
The File option lets you back up to a single disk (the hard disk) that you will choose through the program. This limitation of a single disk requires that your destination drive have at least as much free space as the amount of information on the source disk requires. The Internet option requires you to provide appropriate connection and access information to enable the program to access and interface with the Internet site. Of course, you also need an active Internet connection, preferably broadband/high speed. If you select any of the other options, the program configures the backup set on the chosen media and allows the use of multiple disks, if necessary (switching disks remains a manual operation, so you will have to hang around and pay some attention to the process).
After you complete the configuration process, you can begin the actual process of doing either a Data or System Backup. After you complete the configuration process, click on the Immediate tab. A directory will offer you an option to go to Immediate Backup. If you select Immediate Backup, you will have several choices, including Backup and Duplicate. The Duplicate option does what the name implies-makes an exact copy of the chosen volume (drive or portion) to the backup drive. The Backup option does the same thing but connects to an Internet backup site or spreads the backup over a series of smaller disks, giving you the choice of a variety of media.
In both Duplicate and Backup, the program will ask you to select a Source volume, which can be an entire hard drive (System Backup) or a portion of the drive (Data Backup).
After you identify the Source, the program prompts you to choose a Destination drive if you have chosen the Duplicate option, or to select a backup set if you have chosen the Backup procedure. It also asks you to choose the manner of duplication (Figure 6). Replace Entire Disk replaces the current contents of the Destination drive with the current information on the Source (Retrospect will not recopy files that are identical to files already on the destination drive). Replace Corresponding Files overwrites matching files on the destination volume that correspond to the selected files on the source, even if the destination's files are newer. Unlike Replace Entire Disk, this option does not touch files on the Destination drive that are not also on the Source drive; those files will remain on the Destination drive after the process is complete.
Automation. Retrospect's Automate menu lets you create and modify scripts, which are instruction sets for the completion of the backup process. The menu guides you through a series of choices to create a script that allows the program to run your backups automatically and even to rotate the backup sets. The scripts let you select what will be backed up, when, and to what media. The program includes an EasyScript procedure that writes the instruction sets for you after you provide required information. With the full version of Retrospect, you can even create a script that enables you to back up your entire network.
The script will work with existing backup sets or prompt the creation of new (additional) backup sets. After creating the backup sets, the program asks you to select one backup set. You may also establish a set rotation among multiple backup sets.
Next, the program guides you through identification of Source and Destination locations and the establishment of a schedule for the backup process.
Ultimately, the program generates a script that outlines your information. You can preview the automated operation, but all you have left to do at that point is save and then run it.
The automated process will make your backups according to the schedule you establish, subject to your ability to override that schedule. If the source or destination drives/media are not available to the program (or a required Internet connection is not available), the program simply skips that backup procedure.
This is an important consideration for backing up laptops; be sure that you provide access to what the program requires to back up the laptop. You may wish to do the laptop backup through Retrospect manually (without the automated scripts) to ensure that you do keep it backed up properly. The problem diminishes the more you use the laptop as a desktop replacement and dock it when in the office so it connects to the necessary Destination drives/Internet location. Just remember to schedule the backup procedures for when the laptop is likely to be docked and connected to the Destination drive/Internet location. For similar reasons, if you are backing up to a media set requiring multiple disks, schedule the backups at a time when you will be available to swap out the disks as required.
You will likely be most happily and most efficiently protected if you back up to a hard drive, Internet location, or a single media disk (or to some combination of those choices). If your computer is connected to the Destination drive/media and the Internet (if necessary), the program can run the backup procedure at any time of the day or night without your assistance. All you will need to do is remember to swap out one Destination drive for another to provide the multiple sets you will require in rotation.


Jeffrey Allen is the principal of Graves & Allen, a general practice firm emphasizing real estate and business work in Oakland, California. He is special issue editor of GPSolo's Technology & Practice Guide and the editor-in-chief of Technology eReport. Nikki Clark is a family law attorney with the Law Offices of Shirley Jacobs in Fremont, California.

 

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