Getting Started with Computer Backup
A Practical Guide for the Everyday Person

When it comes to protecting our most valuable computer data, most of do not us know that we should be making regular backups because a system failure would cause unthinkable hardship. Do you live through each day without a backup for your accounting data, customer databases, digital photos and other data that is important and irreplaceable?  Why do we work hard to create new information and not take an extra moment to make a backup copy...just in case? Most people don't know what to backup, where to backup, what to use to make backups or how to use them.

Hopefully this will help improve your understanding and maybe even motivate you to reward yourself with a new backup routine. The first time you need to restore a lost file or recover a crashed system, you'll be glad you put forth that little extra effort to backup your data.

Now, let's help you answer some questions and find the best backup solution for your needs.

Where to Backup?

In order to have a backup, you must have some type of storage device to save the backup copies of your data. You have lots of options to choose from, but each one is a little different, so we'll help you find the device that will best meet your needs. There are a number of factors guiding you to select the most appropriate option, but let's just review the options first.

Device Cost
Media Capacity
Media Cost
3.5" Floppy Drive Built-in to most PCs 1.44 MB Removable Media $0.50 Slow Nice for small amounts of data. Cheap and portable media.
CD-R/W $149 - $299 (Built-in on many new PCs) up to 700 MB Removable Media $1.00 Moderate Great backup device and wonderful for making your own music CDs too. Large backups will require multiple CDs.
DVD-R/W, DVD+R/W $299 - $599 (Built-in on many new PCs) up to 4.7 GB Removable Media $3 - $5 Moderate to Fast Another great backup device similar to CD-R/W but with even greater storage space. This media is more in line with backing up today's average hard drive capacities.
Hard Drive (Primary) No Additional Cost. Built-In to ALL computers up to 160 GB and growing. Commonly under 60 GB. Fixed Media Fast Allocate some space on your current hard drive. Good for recovering files, but not good for total system failures since your original and backup data are on the same physical device. (If you have more than one computer networked together, you can backup data to a different computer over the network.)
Hard Drive(Alternate) $50 - $599 Can be installed inside your PC or an external device. up to 160 GB and growing. Fixed Media. The device and the media are one and the same. Fast New hard drives are cheap and somewhat easy to install if you know what you're doing. External drives save installation problems, but cost a little more.
ZIP® Drive $149 (rarely built-in with a new PC.) 100 MB or 250 MB $10 each Removable Media Slow This is a floppy on Steroids. The most popular high-capacity floppy-disk type device.
Tape Drive $299 - $3000+ 4GB to 110 GB $10 (4 GB) to $100 (110GB) Removable Media Fast A great high-capacity removable media. Generally used by more sophisticated users.
Internet Backup Uses your Internet connection to send data to a secure remote server Unlimited storage available, but costs and Internet speeds impose practical limits Roughly $20/month for 500 MB Moderate
Depends mostly on internet connection speed.
No devices to mess with. Most people have Internet connections. Data is off-site.
Printer Any printer will do. Unlimited pages $15 for 500 pages $40 Ink/Toner Very Slow Now this may seem silly, but a paper backup is better then nothing at all.

What to Backup?

When it comes time to decide exactly what needs to be backed up, everyone is a little different. If you can decide what you MUST be able to recover in the event of a system failure, that can help narrow your options for selecting a backup device. And if you don't like your options after deciding what you want to backup, maybe you'll have to change your expectations to make your options more acceptable.

Here's a few different ways to decide what to backup. What fits you best?

Type of Backup
Best Devices for this
Entire System (Image-based) Protecting your entire system usually takes more time and larger capacity backup devices, but it provides a smooth recovery from total system failure. It's not ideal for occasional file recovery. CD-R/W
Hard Drive
Tape Drive
Also great for making copies of systems.
Entire System (File-based) Protecting your entire system with a file-based technique combines complete system recovery and individual file restoration from the same program. Backing up more data will require more time and a high capacity backup device. CD-R/W
Hard Drive
Tape Drive
Best of both worlds.
Data Files Only Limiting your backups to just your critical files gives you the essential protection you need and gives you the broadest options in terms of backup devices that you can use. ALL Devices Initial setup takes a little time, but saves time and money with each backup.

When would you like the backups to run?

This is a simple question of whether or not you'd like to be involved in every backup. Scheduling your backups could help you remember to do backups and keep you disciplined enough to continue backing up. If you're comfortable enough to remember doing your own backups, than a backup scheduler won't be as important for you. Keep in mind, if you are backing up to a removable device and the amount of data that you are backing up is larger that the capacity of your backup media, you will need more than one piece of media to complete the backup. This is called "spanning" and most likely requires that you physically insert a new piece of media when necessary. This could put a damper on things if you were planning to run an unattended scheduled backup. To avoid spanning, you have to use one piece of backup media that has enough capacity to store your entire backup.

  • Scheduled Backups - The backup software allows you to select a backup schedule, such as 9 P.M. every weekday, to automatically run a backup of your files.

  • Manual Backup - This means that you'll run the backup yourself without any reminders.

Simple Backup Management Tips

Once you've established a backup routine, it would be wise to keep these few safe backup tips in mind.

  • Test your backups!
    When you think of it, try restoring a few important files from your backup, just to make sure that your file selections and your backup media are performing as expected. We've heard plenty of horror stories that could have been avoided by occasionally running this simple test.

  • Check your backup logs.
    Most backup software provides a log file after each backup. Log files can be somewhat complicated to read, but you can quickly scan it to look for any problems. If you see words like "Error", "Failed", "Unable to...", etc. you should take a closer look. If you have problems contact our technical support...It's Free!

  • Keep a backup off-site!
    We all hate to think of it, but things like theft, fire and other natural disasters can destroy your entire work area. Taking your backup media off-site is a good idea. Storing your backups in a safe deposit box is great, but an off-site dresser drawer would suffice. To avoid the hassle of transporting media off-site, you might want to consider BTR Services Online Backup service. Your data is transmitted over your Internet connection to a private and secure off-site storage area.

Definition of Terms

byte A unit of computer memory. One character is equal to one byte.
CD-R/W An abbreviation meaning Recordable or Rewritable Compact Disc.
DVD-R/W A high-capacity optical disk format; also : a recordable or re-writable optical disk using such a format and containing especially a video recording or computer data. Digital Video Disc.
GB An abbreviation for Gigabytes.
Gigabyte A unit of computer memory equal to one billion bytes.
Hard Drive The primary data storage unit in a computer. You may call it your C: Drive. It has high-speed magnetic storage discs that are completely enclosed in a metal case.
MB An abbreviation for megabytes.
Megabyte A unit of computer memory equal to one million bytes.
PC An abbreviation for Personal Computer, like those sold by Dell and Compaq.
ZIP® Drive A high-capacity removable disk drive made by Iomega.