This month’s TAPAs column focuses on backing up your information. If you do not back up regularly, you should start doing so immediately. Not doing so could put you out of business or, at least, make it very hard to continue in business for a while. If you do not know if you have a reliable backup system in place, you should test it immediately. If you wait until disaster strikes, you will have waited too long; you cannot back up your information or your system after you have lost it to hardware failure, software corruption, or the intervention of malware or a hacker.
Tip 1: Get a Good Back Up System
You have many to choose from. The choices work differently depending on whether you seek to back up a single computer or a network full of computers. Due to the limitations of the space afforded to this column, we will focus on backing up your computer(s) and not multiple computers used by others. If you need to back up many computers networked together, we recommend that you seek the assistance of an IT consultant if you do not have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the process as it is far more complex. If you use the Mac OS, the built-in Time Machine software does everything you need and works at least as well as anything else we have found. If you use Windows, we like Carbonite. Recent iterations of Windows have built-in back up features, but they do not work as easily as Carbonite. FYI, Carbonite also works on Mac computers, so if you have computers using both the Mac OS and Windows, you might want to use Carbonite for both for simplicity’s sake. If you want extra security, you can use more than one system concurrently. For example, we use both the Mac OS’s Time Machine and Carbonite for backing up Mac computers.
Tip 2. Your Backup System Should Work Automatically
You should not have to remember to back up your computer. The computer should do it by itself without any human intervention after you set it up.
Tip 3. Your Backup System Should Allow You to Recover the Entire System or Specific Files, Depending on the Need
If your computer hard drive fails, you will want to restore everything to the replacement hard drive. If you inadvertently delete a file, you will want to have the ability to just get that file.
Tip 4. Make Multiple Backups and Stagger the System’s Use of Them
If you only have one backup and it is in your office and you lose access to the office due to fire, flood, earthquake, a terrorist act, or whatever, you effectively have no backup. If you have multiple backup copies and stagger the system’s use of them, you reduce the risk that contamination of your drive with malware infects your backup (you may lose some, but hopefully not all). We use external hard disks for most of our backup work, but we also use the cloud (see Tip 5, below).
Tip 5. Store at Least One Backup in Another Location
If you have several backup copies of your computer with staggered times and they all sit on your computer desk, you risk finding yourself without a backup when you need it. Make sure to store at least one backup in another location. The cloud has proven an excellent venue for this purpose as you can access the information wherever you have an Internet connection. The one disadvantage of using the cloud is that it works much more slowly than backing up to a physical hard drive. While that may change in time (Internet access speeds continue to increase), it is a fact of present-day life. Nevertheless, you should take advantage of the opportunity, as it may end up saving you one day. Besides, the only time you will notice it is when you have to download and replace your entire system. It should not be an issue for single file replacement. We also like the idea of a physical backup in a separate location. One possibility is a small portable hard disk (they now come in pocketable multi-terabyte versions at quite reasonable prices). We have used that technique for some time, creating a physical backup that we do not update except once every few weeks. This does leave the last couple of weeks information at risk, but it also provides additional protection against all your backups becoming infected by a single malware attack.
Tip 6. Test Your Backups Before You Need Them
The only way to ensure that your backup system works is to test it. This has the double benefit of ensuring that (1) you know how to use it, and (2) it actually works. If you test it and confirm it works before you have an emergency, you should sleep better at night. If you test it before you need it and find a glitch, you can fix it and be in good order when an emergency occurs. If you wait until the emergency to find out it does not work, you are pretty much up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle. In the bad old days, people used to back up computer drives to tape systems. Back then, testing your backup imposed a very time-consuming burden most charitably described as a pain in the gluteus maximus. As a result, many (most) did not test their systems. When disaster hit, many found that the systems did not work. These days, backup usually occurs to an external hard disk or flash drive or to the Internet. Testing it for single file restoration takes little time or effort. Restoring the entire system will take more time, but not all that much effort. A word of caution, however: Do not restore from your backup to your current computer drive, as that will erase the contents on the drive, and if there is a glitch, cause you problems. The best approach is to get a separate external hard disk, create a boot disk on it, and boot into it and then restore to it. That protects your current computer drive and its contents.