It’s like brushing your teeth after every meal… Everyone knows it is good practice and you should do it, but so many people rarely do.
In this post, I’ll be talking about DATA BACKUP instead of dental habits, but the old adage applies. But in this game, the stakes are much higher than getting a cavity filled. You could lose precious photos (which can never be replaced), critical documents (which could causes substantial financial loses), and more.
First, it’s worth understanding what a hard drive is. You have one or more magnetic discs (called platters) that spin between 5400 and 10000 times per minute in most drives. These are read from or written to by a head (the small rectangle at the end of the arm):
(image courtesy of Wiki Commons)
The gap you see there between the read head and the platter is about 50 NANOMETERS – which is MUCH smaller than even the thickness of a single strand of the hair on your head. The gap is actually created due to the jet of air that is created from the fast spinning. It’s a very delicate balance that must be maintained for proper operation.
This is why it’s SO important that you be gentle, especially when moving around a running laptop.
Backup your data – save yourself a headache later: Having ANY backup plan that you follow (follow being the key here) is a good idea. Usually just “wanting” to have a backup plan is not sufficient to save your data. It doesn’t matter if you burn DVDs, use a flash drive, or use online backup – just DO IT regularly.
Schedule it or run it regularly: How often you do it or schedule it for is up to you, but understand that when you need the backup, you’re going to lose everything up to the last backup. That means if your backup runs on Sunday’s at 3 AM, #1) make sure your computer is on Sundays at 3 AM and #2) your computer will have a complete failure on Sunday at 2:59:59 AM – so you will lose 7 days worth of work. If you can deal with that then no problem, but if you updated Quickbooks and downloaded pictures on Friday, you better be running your backup nightly, not weekly. Extend this line of thinking if you are a power user and if you make big edits and saves throughout the day. If you cannot afford in any way to lose what you did this morning (let alone last week), then your backup should be scanning for updated files and backing them up every two hours instead of each night.
So why doesn’t everyone just schedule their backup to run every hour? There are considerations of CPU usage, bandwidth, hard drive thrashing, and more… so suffice it to say that you should schedule it to run as often as necessary, but don’t go overboard and schedule it for every 5 minutes continuously.
Forget to checkup on your backup: Don’t wait until a drive fails to see if your data was being backed up properly. I’d say HALF of the people that come in with what should have been their backup find out that it was not running as intended.
Leave your data and sole backup copy in the same physical place: Putting all your eggs in one basket is a very bad idea. If you are backing up using RAID only, or you just have an external drive connected to your computer, then in this case the “basket” is your home or office. And the basket could catch on fire – that’s why you have fire insurance. The fire insurance is dandy for getting you a shiny new Hard Drive, but what about the files that were BACKED UP on it? Pictures of little Timmy’s first swimming practice won’t come loaded on the new drive. So, consider doing a backup that you take off-site with you or back up directly to a remote location (like online backup).
Hard drives fail: You’ve probably heard it before: “it’s not a question of IF, it’s a question of WHEN.” The spindle at the center of your hard drive can give out, the read head may stop reading, or the circuit board on the drive may get corrosion among other things. We seem to get a lot of clients who had flooding and lost their drives that way… so whatever your disaster may be, be prepared.
The Cost of not having a backup: When drives are physically damaged, they may need to be sent to a clean room to be worked on. Prices for these recoveries usually START at about a thousand dollars.
Sometimes it really is lost: It doesn’t matter if you’re Bill Gates himself. When the head crashes and grinds along the magnetic media, your data in that part of the drive is GONE. We’ve had people cry in our stores, or try to throw more money at the problem, but sometimes there is no alternative plan if you forget to backup.
- Use a system that backs up AUTOMATICALLY – If you’re like me and don’t have the time or discipline to do backups manually, just schedule it once and forget about it.
- Do a local AND off-site backup. This might include a portable hard drive on your desk and online or FTP backup.
- For desktops, use at least RAID 1 or RAID 5 internally
- If you don’t need a lot of space on your laptop, use a Solid State Drive (which is faster and less prone to failure)
- Do NOT use one of the “Unlimited Backup” solutions (e.g. Mozy / Carbonite) if you have a substantial amount of data or a big iTunes library. I tested them and was sorely disappointed at the speed of upload (they throttle it back if you have a lot of files, so my initial backup would have taken 3 MONTHS – I called to verify this was correct with Carbonite). I use the online data backup that we re-sell (obviously there are others, I am not trying to turn this post into an advertisement): http://www.fastonsite.com/services.onlinebackup.html
- Avoid RAID 0 (for example, where you take 2 80GB hard drives to create a single 160GB volume)
- I prefer Western Digital drives. Seagate is another reputable brand of drive. Many other manufacturers relabel these drives and re-sell them with their own brand name.
- Don’t forget about security. If your computer is setup like Fort Knox with passwords, encryption, and biometric authentication but your backup is sitting on top with no security… it all effectively has no security.
- If you encrypt your data, DON’T lose the key… this is even worse than losing data through drive failure in my opinion. Your drive will be perfectly accessible but you can’t read it because you lost your encryption key.