Backup your data – an ounce of prevention

What are you talking about?

Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  This reference was related to his work establishing fire prevention and insurance in the city of Philadelphia.  While he didn’t envision the digital age, the quote is relevant to our digital lives.  Often we think about the devices we use, but we often fail to put value on the content we create.  It’s easy to buy a new computer, but it’s impossible to recreate pictures from your last family vacation.  The value of the data can often be priceless!

An ounce of prevention

It doesn’t matter what your backup strategy is, you just need one!  A successful backup strategy needs to follow a few rules; backup strategies need to be convenient, secure, and most importantly you need to be able to restore from it.  Convenient backups should allow you to identify the content that’s important, setup an automated schedule, and report any problems.  Security in a backup strategy is more than making sure people don’t break in and steal your data.  You need to think about having your backups in a separate physically secure location.  This will protect you in the event of fires and/or other natural disasters.  An effective backup solution should be tested.  You should be confident you can retrieve critical data when it matters most.

The Options – Offline vs. Online

Offline backup tools are integrated into both Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Apple’s Lion operating systems.  Microsoft has directions for their solution here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Back-up-your-files.  Apple has a great howto page for it’s TimeMachine offering here: http://www.apple.com/support/timemachine/.  These require you to have an external storage medium such as cd/dvd’s, flash drives, or external usb drives.  An offline backup is a little more hands on requiring you to insert or connect the backup storage device.

Online backups are offered by third parties and often are based on monthly or annual subscriptions.  Rather than using external storage, your data is sent into the “Cloud”, and is stored remotely with the service provider.  For the most part, the only requirement is that you have a high speed internet connection.  These backup solutions tend to be far more automated as they don’t require you to swap backup media.  The only downside is restoration of large sets of data can take longer, but in most cases having the data is more important than having in immediately.  A large number of service providers exist in this arena.  Wikipedia has a great chart comparing the various options: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_online_backup_services.

What now?

The most important part is to start now and stick with it.  My hope is that you find a solution that works for you and doesn’t become a burden.  A backup solution should allow you to rest easy at night knowing your documents, pictures, movies, and other valuable content is safe and sound.


Aaron Gagnon
Assistant Director for Information Technology Services