Plan Your Backups

No matter what kind of a backup system you end up using, you need to start with a plan. To be successful, there are a couple of things that need to be ironed out first:

  1. Where is your data now? Do you keep your data organized in your Documents, Photos, Music, and Videos folders? Is it on a NAS device? External hard drive? While not essential to performing backups, knowing where you keep your data is going to make the process easier. The more it is spread out, the more difficult it is to back it up – not impossible – but more difficult. Some of the built-in backup tools assume your files are in fact in your user folder, or at least your libraries, so take the time now to figure out where your important data is. Other backup programs will scour the entire computer for files, so if you have files everywhere, there are solutions for this as well.
  2. How important is your data? Is it all about equally important, or is there some data where you don’t want to lose it, and other data where it’s crucial you don’t lose it? It’s possible to do full backups to a local backup target, but also back up your most important data offsite.
  3. How much risk do you want to mitigate? The easiest backups will be to an internally or externally attached hard drive, which will protect against equipment failure, or user error. Moving up, you can back up to a NAS on your LAN, which will add a possibility of mitigating theft (but certainly not a guarantee) as well as giving you the option of backing up multiple machines. For ultimate protection, some sort of offsite backup is required. This is the only way to mitigate the risks of fire, flood, theft, and natural disaster. If the data is extremely important, you may even want to ensure the data is backed up to multiple geographic areas to ensure recovery from a natural disaster.
  4. How much space are you going to require for backups? If you are doing Image Level backups as well, factor in that you will need a backup target larger than the total amount of data you want to back up. The more space you have, the more versions of files and the farther back in time you can go to perform a restore. It would be prudent to start with a backup target that is at least twice as large as your total data to be backed up.
  5. What is your RPO? Are nightly backups good for you, or do you need to perform backups more often? Do you need continuous backups? It is essential to define an RPO that works for you.
  6. What is your RTO? Cloud based backups are wonderful because they are offsite, but the amount of bandwidth required to recovery multiple terabytes of information will be quite significant. If you aren’t worried about time, then it may be fine for you, but if time is a factor you may want to ensure you have some sort of local backup as well as offsite. RTO also factors in to the backup equipment decision. Optical media can be used as an offsite backup method, but recovering the data will be labor intensive and slow.
  7. What is your budget? For a single PC, you can configure a backup using just optical media, or an external hard drive, either of which will not be overly expensive. For multiple PCs, you may want to invest in a NAS or server to back up to. You can also expand the backups to the cloud for monthly or annual fees depending on the backup system you decide to go with. Just remember though that the cost of your backups may potentially save you from a much higher cost if disaster ever strikes.
  8. How much time are you willing to spend performing backups? Actually, this is a trick question. While it is possible to do a backup plan based on burning files to a DVD, and then storing these discs for later use, the fact is that unless a backup system is completely seamless, odds are that it’s not going to be used. In this day and age, there are many ways to perform backups without having to do anything but the initial set up, and for this reason there isn’t much point in doing anything manually.
Introduction Built-in Backup Tools - Windows 7
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • tribunal88 - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Any reason that CrashPlan wasn't considered?
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    1) "Of course this list is certainly not exhaustive, with many companies now offering online backup solutions. A quick search in your favorite search engine will provide dozens of options. Be sure to choose the one that works best for you."

    2) Look at the 5th item on the bulleted list above the paragraph I just quoted...
  • antef - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    CrashPlan is fantastic. I used to use JungleDisk with S3, but the software was forgotten and became problematic and buggy. I gave it up and switched to CrashPlan. The client is easy to use and backups seem to happen fast and reliably.
  • Kenazo - Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - link

    Crashplan's friend to friend option is amazing. I have 3 or 4 people backing up to my home NAS, and my personal pictures and important documents all back up to my PC at work.
  • Haravikk - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    For most regular consumers, CrashPlan is something I'd definitely recommend; it's pretty easy to use and has unlimited storage, plus if you like you can specify the encryption key that is used (though of course you then have to find a way to keep that safe instead). Given the pricing of cloud storage it's also pretty well priced. I'm sure there are other cloud backup services, but CrashPlan is what I'm using.

    Personally though I've gone for the total overkill approach; I have my Mac's main system volume which I'm about to switch over to RAID-5, a Time Machine backup volume on RAID-5, a Synology NAS (no RAID since it's only two-disk), and the NAS is also configured to heedlessly run CrashPlan to backup my files. So I have a total of three redundant copies of my data, albeit one in the cloud that is usually a day or two behind, and would take weeks to re-download, but in the event of a fire burning down everything else I'd rather have that off-site protection.

    Still, I'd personally recommend local back-up drive + NAS for most serious computer users, especially if working with that computer is your job, as a single backup isn't enough IMO, as the last thing you want is to be in the middle of restoring your system, only for the backup to fail as well.
  • NonSequitor - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Be really careful about RAID-5. It protects very well against a complete drive failure, but drive corruption or a drive that starts returning garbage will trash everything on the disk. You need a RAID level that does double parity or checksums, such as RAID-6 and RAID-Z, to actually protect against almost all hardware failures. Of course it still is not then a backup.
  • pdf - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    The bigger problem is that with large modern disks, a drive failure in RAID5 means that you're extremely likely to encounter unreadable sectors trying to resilver a replacement disk. A drive that starts returning garbage during regular operation should cause no problem with any competent RAID implementation though.

    Also, RAIDZ is single-parity - RAIDZ2, RAIDZ3, etc are the multi-parity versions. The other bonus with ZFS-based RAID implementations is full checksumming of all data and metadata on-disk, plus COW snapshots, and the latter means it can actually serve the role of a self-contained backup solution, using something like zfs-auto-snapshot to provide granular, aged snapshots of changed data.
  • Morawka - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    i havent heard RAIDZ recommended for 10 years
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    What are you even on about?

    ZFS was only widely available in November 2005.
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, May 23, 2014 - link

    Guess that's only eight and a half years then.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now