Backups and you – A love story All about backups, what they are, and how to live with them in the real world

Explosion signifying disastrous data loss

This is a longer article because it’s a fundamental subject with a ton of false information floating around out there. It’s starts with a summary for those who don’t have the time.

I don’t want to read all this!

Okay, this is what you need to know.

  • Everyone loses data. The question is how it’s recovered, if the decision is made to recover it. Backups make recovery infinitely easier.
  • Everyone should have a backup of their important data if losing that data would cause severe pain.
  • We use automated backup systems – let the computer run  and it just works.
  • Cloud storage is the buzz word today, but there are things to know.

That’s it! Read on for more thorough explanations.

What’s data?

Backups and data storage remain a mystery to most people. First, let’s define data:

  • Pictures
  • Documents
  • Music
  • Favorites or bookmarks
  • Videos
  • Mail
  • Anything you have created that cannot simply be ‘reloaded’.

Stuff that is not technically ‘data’ but is just as important and often overlooked includes things like:

  • The entire operating system, such as Windows 7, 8 or 10.
  • The programs you use. If you don’t have the means to re-install those programs after a drive failure, they get lost just like data.
  • Saved passwords, key numbers and account information.

The common thread is that all of it is stored on a computer’s hard drive. Yes, there is such as thing a cloud storage and backup, but let’s put that aside for now and think of the classic computer with all your stuff stored on the internal hard drive.

What’s a backup?

A backup is nothing more than a COPY of your data, preferably stored onto some other device or an Internet service ( The ‘Cloud’ ). Please note that we said a COPY of your data. Simply moving your pictures to some other device or service is not ‘backing up’ your data. That device or service can fail just like anything else and when that happens, the only copy of your data goes with it.

A proper backup of your data must be a copy of your data so if one of the devices holding your data fails, such as the hard drive in your computer or a backup device such as an external drive or flash drive, you have another place that can be used to retrieve the copies of your data. If you backup device fails, which it can just like anything else, you still have your computer running normally and can create fresh backups. If your computer fails, you can retrieve your data from the backup device and copy it back to the computer.

In recent years there are Internet services that will make copies of the data on your computer and send it to the ‘cloud’, which is apparently the new name for the Internet all the cool kids are using. It can be thought of as nothing more than an external hard drive on the Internet that holds copies of your files. The copying process is typically done automatically by installing a program on your computer that sends a copy of your files to the cloud service.

Both ‘local’ backups and ‘cloud’ storage have their pluses and minuses. 

Which service should I use?

‘Local’ backups in the context of this article means that you make backups to a device attached to your computer internally as a second drive, a USB cable, a wireless connection, or through the network cable.

‘Cloud’ storage means copies of your data are sent to a service on the Internet  that stores your files using their software.

Typical Local Backup Options

  • Acronis, EaseUS or Windows built-in backup programs are used to run the backups.
  • Some sort of device that holds copies of your data.
    • A second, internal drive is the fastest and most reliable backup.
    • The next option is an external USB connected hard drive.
    • The third option is wired or wireless connected backup device. Not typically recommended unless circumstances warrant it.
  • Laptops typically use external drives for backup purposes since fitting another internal hard drive is not possible.

Typical Cloud Backup Options

  • “Google Backup and Sync” or “Dropbox” are used to make copies of data only, not the full computer.  
  • There are countless other options that vary widely in price and what gets backed up. It depends on your requirements.

Local storage advantages and disadvantages.

  • Local backups can create full system backups including data, programs, and Windows itself much more easily, faster and more reliably than cloud storage.
  • Full recovery from a failed drive is much easier with local storage than cloud.
  • Local backups are a one time expense. Cloud storage is typically subscription based.
  • On the downside, local storage is susceptible to fire, water damage, and theft of the computer or storage device. In 25 years we have seen this one time due to fire, so it’s rare. However, we were able to recover the data in that instance.
  • Local backups cannot easily share your files with others on the internet.
  • We consider full, local backups a requirement. Everything else is secondary.

Cloud storage advantages and disadvantages

  • Can be a free service up to an allotted amount of data. Ex. Dropbox is free up to 15 GB of data.
  • Allows sharing files with others over the Internet.
  • May be a better option on portable devices such as laptops.
  • Requires a reliable Internet connection in order to copy your data to the ‘cloud’.
  • Recovery of files is straightforward, but archiving data for long periods requires additional services.
  • Cloud backup is typically limited to certain folders designated for backup or synchronizing. The downside of this is few people understand that in order to backup your data, you must store files in a certain folder or folders. This can vary among the different services. Google’s backup is a bit different in that you can designate multiple folders to backup.
  • Cloud backup does not easily allow a total computer backup and recovery, if at all. Some cloud services allow full computer backup and recovery, but it’s typically done using a local storage device in conjunction with an Internet service. These are paid services for businesses and it’s outside the scope of this article.
  • Cloud storage is a major security issue because your data is stored on the Internet. Anyone can try to break into your account. See the occasional celebrity or business data breach stories. Often times people don’t know their phone is storing their pictures on the Internet. I’m looking at you Apple and Google. Hence, people are shocked when their pictures become public.

How does our recommend setup work?

The best setup is a hybrid approach using local storage as the primary, full system backup and cloud storage as a secondary, data only, offsite backup.  For most people, a local backup system is all that’s needed.

A full backup is a ‘snapshot’ of your entire computer which includes every single file including the operating system itself, programs, data, and registration information. Normal cloud storage services typically make copies of your data only, and only selected data at that.

Our recommended local storage systems automatically make backups in such a way that if there is a complete drive failure, we can get you up and running with little, if any, loss of programs or data. This is often called a ‘bare metal recovery’, meaning the original drive has failed and a new, empty drive had to be installed. After installing a replacement drive, we restore the entire setup to the new hard drive from the backup.

Windows 10 also has a file backup system we use that acts as a second, local backup of your data using the same storage device. This backup is data only and makes copies hourly. The idea being in the event of total disaster, you may only lose, at most, an hour’s worth of work.

With cloud storage, copies of selected data are made using the vendors software that’s installed on the computer. This is often done in near real time, automatically. You do not have to initiate the backups. This process is also known as “syncing”, meaning synchronizing or copying your data to the cloud. To use Dropbox, you install the Dropbox software. To use Google’s Backup and Sync, you install their software. Both require you to have an account with them.

Your programs, operating system, keys, passwords, etc will be lost in the event of sudden, total drive failure using cloud storage only. Those items have to be re-installed from scratch and all registration information must be re-entered. That’s when you find out what kind of documentation exists for all the various programs and accounts you have been using.

Again, there are cloud storage services that are more complex than simple, selected, file backup. However, nothing beats local storage for a complete backup. Rebuilding a computer from scratch with only the data backed up can take countless hours, especially if there is no documentation regarding accounts and passwords.

What do I need for backups?

For local, full System Backups

  • Software that creates an entire ‘snapshot’ of the computer.
    • We currently use Acronis and EaseUS.
  • External or internal 2 Terabyte hard drive to store the ‘snapshot’.
    • We typically recommend Western Digital 2 Terabyte drives.
    • We use the higher grade, WD Black Edition drives for internal use.
    • 2T drives enable saving multiple backups that go back days or months.
    • You may not need something of that size so we adjust accordingly.

For local, small, on-demand backups

  • Used for quick backups when a full system backup is simply not necessary.
    • Examples would be Quickbooks, Quicken, school files, etc.
  • For this type of backup, typically a flash drive with the capacity to hold whatever amount of data you need to save would be required. These drives are also known as ‘thumb’ drives, ‘pen’ drives, ‘stick’ drives, etc.
  • Common flash drive capacities are 8gb, 16gb, 32gb, and 64gb.
    • For financial data backups, 8gb is usually more than sufficient.
    • We like to use a pair of flash drives and alternate backups in the event one of the drives is lost or fails. Mon-Wed-Fri and Tue-Thu type of thing.

For cloud backups

  • You’ll need software installed on your computer that synchronizes with the Internet service that stores your files.
  • A reliable internet connection.
  • The initial synchronization of your data may take hours, days or weeks depending on how much you have.
  • Most services are free up to a point, then you have to pay for more storage. It’s still remarkable inexpensive.
  • We have used Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox with good results.
    • Requires an account be created.
    • May require a paid subscription for a large amount of data.
  • Programs such as Carbonite have been used by several of our customers with some success.

FAQ

  • Can I still use the computer while it’s making a local backup?
    • Yes, but it’s not preferred. The computer will run slower while the backups are running.
    • With cloud storage it’s expected that the computer will be in use while synchronizing.
  • Can I use a wireless backup device or network attached storage?
    • Yes. We always prefer internal or USB connected devices, but wireless or network cable backup is possible at greater expense.
    • Wired is always more reliable and typically faster.
  • Can the backups be automated to run at certain times?
    • Yes. We prefer to run full backups nightly when the computer is not being used. However, backups can be scheduled to run at any time.
    • Cloud storage tends to sync constantly.
  • Do I have to backup daily?
    • No. If no vital data has been created or modified, no need for backups.
    • Frequency of the backups is determined by how many days of data can be lost until pain starts to set in. If we would lose more than a day of data, for example, that’s painful to us so we backup daily.
    • Cloud storage backs up or synchronize selected data frequently throughout the day, but only select data.
  • Do I need to be connected to the Internet to make backups?
    • Only for cloud storage services. Local backups do not need the Internet.
  • Does the computer have to be on when a backup is scheduled?
    • Yes, and not “sleeping” or “hibernating”.
    • Laptops should be using the A/C Adapter when backing up.
  • Will I be notified of successful or failed backups?
    • It’s an option whether to be notified or not. For single computer backups, manually checking for good backups is simple enough. A calendar reminder to check backups every Friday, or whenever, would suffice.
    • Email notification requires a compatible, existing account. If none exists, a Gmail account can be created for the sole purpose of notifications.
  • How do I recover a file from a backup?
    • When recovering a file from a full system backup or a backup made using the built-in Windows backup, all that needs to be done is to open the backup file on the storage device and ‘drill’ down your normal folder structure to the exact file to recover.
    • For cloud backup, you may have to log into your account or open the folder that holds the data that has been synchronized.
    • We strongly suggest calling us first to discuss recovery. There are mistakes people make where data is recovered improperly such as selecting the wrong file or over-writing good data with bad.
  • Can I manually backup my data?
    • Yes. However, we have found this to be extremely unreliable. Human nature says that manually backing up is tedious and will not be performed after doing it once or twice. It is fraught with the potential for error and inadvertent clicks.
  • Can I backup just what I need and not all of my data or computer?
    • Yes.  For example, after making changes to financial information, such as Quickbooks, we always backup to a flash drive using the built-in Quickbooks backup program. This is just another backup that we do religiously at the end of each day, separate from our main backup systems. We use a simple flash drives for this, alternating between two flash devices just in case one fails or gets lost.
    • If all you use a computer for is one thing, such as Quickbooks that has it’s own backup program, then that’s the only data you need to be backed up. However, a single use case like that would be very rare indeed.
  • What is the cost of the backup package?
    • It varies from machine to machine but click here for estimates.

Conclusion

  • We have seen every type of failure there is and countless backup schemes. Local backup systems are the best with cloud as a secondary backup.
  • Our recommended local backup system keeps multiple copies of the backups just in case you don’t notice a problem the day after it appears.
  • Both local and cloud storage systems are automated with relatively easy confirmation that both are working.
  • For local backups, there are several methods available. Ignore all of them except one – the ‘Full Backup’ option. Don’t mess with the other backup schemes such as ‘differential’ or ‘incremental’. Those types of backups are typically reserved for servers being used 24 hours a day or they have a massive amount of data to backup.

Contact

If you are interested, take a peek at our estimated pricing here. It varies considerably based on what you require and your current setup. Feel free to contact us at (920) 794-7221, send us an email, or just stop in and chat.

Author: Roaming Gnome

I sneak around the shop and watch everyone.