There’s an old saying from a poster about Murphy and computing:
He who laughs last usually made a backup.
I cannot stress how important frequent backups and archives are. You don’t really need to make backups of your windows system and installed software since that can always be recreated. In fact, it’s more likely to work if completely reinstalled. I always divide my disk in to two partitions or use two disks: one with the OS and installed programs, and one with my data. Note, however, that Windoze keeps your profile under the “Documents and Settings” directory on the system partition, so you still have to grab a copy of that once in a while as well. <sigh>
When planning for the recovery of lost information, there are two things to consider:
- Backup: This is a copy of all your latest information. If your drive crashes, your computer is stolen, or a meteor lands on your home, you can go to the backup and restore all of your information. The best backups are off-site or they can be stolen, burned, or crushed by a large space rock right along with your primary.
- Archive: This is a sequence of backups going back a certain amount of time. These protect you from deleted or corrupted files that you do not notice until after you’ve made a new backup. A “backup” can be one point in an archive. It also should be stored off-site.
There are many ways to implement these and for true reliability, you should have several. For example, here’s my personal backup/archive strategy:
- RAID: My user data is stored on a RAID5 system. This ensures that if any one drive fails, no data will be lost. I can replace that one drive and the array will automatically rebuild itself. My system is made of four 80GB drives for 240GB of usable space. If I were doing it again today, I’d use two 300GB drives in a RAID1 (“mirror”) configuration for simplicity, lower power consumption, and even greater reliability.
- External HD: Once a week I plug in a 300GB external USB 2.0 hard drive and run a script to sync my primary to the external. In addition, instead of just deleting/replacing files on the external, my script moves them to a separate directory tree on the external. Thus, I have an archive of all previous versions of changed files on that drive. If the drive is getting full, I just delete the oldest archive. When the process is complete, the drive is hidden in a closet. The rsync program does the heavy lifting inside my script.
- Tape Backup: About twice a year, I make a full archive of all my work on to 40GB tapes which get stored in a safe-deposit box in a bank vault. This provides my off-site backup.
- CD-ROM/DVD-ROM: I periodically grab as many of my new files as will fit on a CD or DVD and burn them to disc. I then store this disc at an off-site location (my sister’s house). I’d store these in the bank vault, too, but safe-deposit boxes were made in the days of envelopes and very few are actually big enough to store a 5″ CD/DVD.
It’s not a perfect strategy. The biggest risk is the time interval between when files arrive and when an off-site copy is made. The external HD backup/archive has been of great benefit and I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to improve the reliability of their data and/or hates complicated backup strategies.
There are also on-line backups from various companies, but I haven’t tried this yet. If you’re willing to trust a third party with your data, this can provide a daily, off-site archive of all your important files. I’m interested in hearing comments from those who do use these services.