Your data is as good as your last backup.

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If you ask health experts for fitness advice, they will tell you to eat right and exercise. If you ask computer technicians for advice, they will tell you to back up your data often. In spite of the sound advice offered in both cases, reasonable people still fail to act on it. It is hard to imagine that backing up your data could be any easier than it is today. Windows even includes a backup program and a scheduler to automate the process. DVD recorder drives and memory sticks are all convenient and practical devices for storing large amounts of data. If you feel that backing up your data is likely to become your first New Year’s resolution to crumble, then ask yourself, “When is my data valuable.” If your answer is “every day,” then you should back up every day. Cloud backup is automated and is the best backup choice.

Backup Basics

Your hard disk will crash. Count on it. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And when it does you will be happy you have a backup copy of all your data and important files. You have an up-to-date backup, don’t you? You don’t? No worries. Here are the simple rules of data recovery for people who hate to back up.

I recommend using removable media or a cloud service for your backup. If you can’t take it with you, it’s not a backup. I know a famous author who lost an entire novel because her backups were stored next to the computer when her house burned to the ground. You can back up to DVD or memory stick if you have no other choice, but a cloud backup is the best option because most people will put off backing up until it’s too late.

I also want to have long-term archival storage of my data. DVD burners are cheap enough now that everyone has one.  A CDRW disk holds about 650mb of data, DVD burners hold about 4.7 Gigabytes of data.  The CD’s are cheap and easy to transport.  They are not affected by magnetic interference. Besides the fact that it’s easy to copy your data to a cd for offsite backup and archival which will last probably forever, the burners can serve as a means of transporting documents and presentations to clients or customers.  Many people burn their music on CD-R disks to listen to their custom music in their automobile as an added advantage.

But now let’s answer a key question: What should you back up?

Businesses make backing up simple. They buy big tape drives and back up absolutely everything all the time. When the inevitable hard drive collapse happens, the system administrator can restore the works in a matter of minutes. For businesses, where every minute of downtime means dollars lost, that might make sense. But most individuals aren’t willing to pay the money or take the time to back up everything all the time.

For the rest of us, the essential rule of backing up is, “Make a copy of anything you can’t otherwise replace.” That means you make copies of your personal data. Don’t make copies of Windows or your applications (unless you no longer have the master disks). If you lose your hard drive, you’ll have to take a few hours to rebuild it from the original program disks. That’s not the end of the world. The key is to also have a recent copy of your precious data, so that you can restore that, too.

Some things you’ll want to back up every time you make changes. I make a copy of my Quicken data every time I balance the checkbook. Other things can be backed up weekly or monthly. I’d strongly recommend backing up all your data at least weekly and saving a copy of that backup offsite.

The moral of the story is, “All disk drives will fail eventually.” And they always seem to do it when you need them the most. Protect yourself by backing up. You’ll be glad you took the time to protect your data.