A computer’s hard drive is the most important part of the computer since that is where all the owner’s hard work is stored. Yet it is the least reliable part of the computer. Why? Hard drives are mechanical devices with lots of complex moving parts. Any time you combine complexity and moving parts you have a recipe for disaster. Why do we subject ourselves to this obvious danger? Because hard drives are still the most economical way to store all of the gigabytes of data we create.
What does it mean to back up?
Backing up simply means making a copy of your data in a separate location. When (not if, WHEN) your hard drive dies you will need to recover your data from this separate location.
What hardware and software are needed to ensure a proper backup?
To backup a single computer my ideal solution is to use a USB external hard drive. Multiple computers should use a NAS (network attached storage) device. This is basically a hard drive which sits on the network and is available to all computers.
For software, I like Acronis True Image Home 2010. The most important feature for any backup software is the ability to backup and restore. Check. It handles these functions like a champ. What seals the deal are the extras like fine granularity in scheduling, email notification, network backups, and integrated online backups (more on online backups later).
Whatever backup software you end up choosing just make sure to use it regularly and test a recovery at least once a year.
On-site or off-site?

There are two types of backups to understand: on-site and off-site. On-site means your backup is stored in the same physical location as your computer. This is a popular option because it is convenient. Backups can be made quickly and recoveries can be quick as well. The risk of on-site backups is from natural disasters or burglaries. If something happens to both your computer and the backup at the same time then your data is gone for good.
Off-site means your backup is stored in a different physical location from your computer. The inconvenience in choosing this option is due to the logistics of keeping the off-site backup updated. Normally this involves rotating the backup medium by keeping one off-site and another on-site. Periodically you would rotate the devices so that the off-site backup remains current.
Another option for off-site backups is online backups. These services will backup you data using your internet connection. Now that broadband is becoming the norm this model will work for many people. Online backups remove the requirement to rotate off-site storage. Instead your backup is little more than a few clicks away. The one downside to online backups is the speed. While broadband is fast it still takes hours if not days to backup a few gigabytes of data.
To be continued…
Come back next week for tips on how to successfully plan and execute a backup.