Data Doctor: 5 things to consider when backing up data

Q: We've got a new college graduate with lots of stuff to be backed up off her computer. Should we use cloud or external hard drive?

A: Making sure you have a good backup seems to be universally understood, however, knowing the best way to get the job done keeps many from getting started.

There are more ways to backup your data than ever before, but your circumstances, type of information, amount of data, and the user's level of comfort with technology all play a role in make the best decision.

In general, there’s no such thing as too many backups; the ultimate solution usually includes both an external storage device and some form of off-site backup, cloud or otherwise.

There are pros and cons to every form of backup, so making sure you minimize your exposure to data loss is the key.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to backup, so avoiding these common mistakes may be the best advice I can give you:

#1 – External hard drives used as primary storage

Far too many people refer to their external hard drive or large USB drive as their backup, when in actuality they are simply saving all their data directly to the drive. This means that only one copy of the data exists and only on the external device. If you can’t locate two copies of your data, you don’t have a backup!

#2 – Installing Backup Software But Not Setting the Scheduler

Our service technicians are routinely presented with a backup drive during an emergency that is supposed to have the most current backup stored on it, but often it was a backup from many months or even years ago. Because there was not a scheduled automatic backup that was being verified by someone on a regular basis, many just assume it’s doing its job.

#3 – No Versioning of Files

If your backup process overwrites previous versions of files every time, you don’t have much of a window when someone accidentally overwrites an important document or when a virus that infects data files hits you. Your backup system should allow you to keep several versions of your files stored to protect against these types of scenarios.

#4 – No Offsite Copy of Your Data

An external hard drive or USB drive will be faster than a cloud-based solution when you’re working with a large amount of data, but a fire, flood or theft could render your backup useless. Laptop theft is common at universities, so often the laptop and backup are stolen or lost together leaving your student with no where to turn for their data.

#5 – Fear of the Cloud

The most common reason we hear for not having an off-site Internet-based backup is “I don’t trust the cloud”.  While it can be argued that cloud-based backups are much more secure than an external hard drive plugged into your computer, there are alternatives that don’t store your data on someone else’s backup servers. File syncing utilities or private cloud backup systems can use computers and hard drives that you own in multiple locations (i.e. work, school or home) to effectively provide an off-site backup that you totally control.

Since your child is going off to college, the school may be using cloud-based services such as Google Docs or Office 365 for assignments. The more they live in the cloud, the less they are beholden to their specific computer to get to their critical files.

BTW, just as important as backing up is installing tracking software on your child’s mobile devices so you can locate, lock and send a message should they get stolen or go missing (I highly recommend Prey to parents: https://preyproject.com ).

A well designed backup strategy can get fairly complex, so don’t take it lightly. If you’re not comfortable making decisions on what to use or on how to get things properly setup, ask someone you trust that has the technical expertise for help. This one is far too important to ‘assume’ it’s being done.

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