The Art of the Data Backup – Options for Keeping Your Data Safe and Available

A woman with her hands on her bowed head.
Spare yourself a headache – make sure you back up your data!

Your computer is making strange noises and the hard drive sounds like it’s trying to grind coffee beans.

But it’s no problem for you. You can sit back, safe in the knowledge that you have all your data backed up.  If the hard drive crashes, you’ll just put in a new one, re-install Windows and reload all your valuable data.

That’s how it would work in a perfect world anyway.

Unfortunately, for the majority of computer users, a “backup strategy” consists of crossing their fingers and telling themselves that a hard drive crash will never happen to them, if it even crosses their minds at all.

If that sounds at all like you, then please keep reading!

Even though there’s a bit of effort to start with, backing up your data is both simple and quick. Plus doing it regularly will save you from heartbreak and a headache in the future.

In this article, we’ll explore the most common types of backup storage solutions, their pros and cons, and also look at what, exactly, you need to backup.

Windows Backup (Windows)

The latest versions of Windows, starting with Vista, include a simple utility (aptly named “Windows Backup”) to create data backups on either your local hard drive or on CDs and DVDs.  Obviously creating a backup on your hard drive is pointless, but making a quick backup on DVD could save you a major headache one day.

The Pros

Since the utility comes as part of your operating system, you’re not paying anything other than the cost of the CD or DVD to safely create a back up of your data. Once you set up the tool initially, with the files and folders you wish to save, it’s just a case of inserting CDs or DVDs when Windows tells you to.

The Cons

The downsides of this method are twofold.

First it’s completely manual and your data is only as good as your last backup.  If you skip the backup utility every week, you’ll lose newer data.

The second downside is that the backup discs are kept in your house.  Unless you find a way to store them off-property, this limitation could be a problem if your property is ever destroyed.

Time Machine (Mac)

Mac users, your backup tool, Time Machine, operates in much the same way as the Windows utility and has the same pros and cons.

External Hard Drive

Huge capacity external hard drives cost about as much as feeding a family of four at Outback. Maybe even less if, like me, you have two teenage boys with no off-switch on their stomachs.

The Pros

Even the larger, 1 terabyte drives fall into an affordable, $100 or less range.

Many also include backup software to help automate backups for you. And some try to make it goof-proof by putting a button on the device itself to trigger the backup.

The Cons

The included backup software is better than nothing, but it’s often limited in functionality to encourage you to spend another $100 to buy the full version.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

These devices connect to your router and make a massive hard drive available to all the computers on your network.

The Pros

NAS devices often have built-in software to schedule automatic backups on all your machines.  Not only that, but you can also use them as media servers and cloud devices.

The Cons

While they make automating backups easy, the NAS devices can be a lot more expensive than an external hard drive.

Cloud Backup Services

By now, nearly everyone has heard of Google Drive or Sky Drive, both of which are small cloud storage systems.  They don’t offer backup functionality and aren’t intended to be backup solutions.

However, if you take this idea, make it bigger, add in some automatic backup software, you have a cloud backup solution.

The Pros

Providers like Carbonite are market leaders in offering cloud backup solutions.  Your files are backed up in near-real time and are ready if you ever need them.

Services like Carbonite offer one huge advantage over all the other options above, they are not stored locally.  If disaster strikes your property, your backups are safe in the cloud.

The Cons

The Pro is also a Con, depending on how you look at it. With a cloud storage solution, your data is in the “Cloud” and while it’s stored securely, we all know that bad things sometimes happen to good data.

What to back up?

Now that we’ve explored some backup solutions, let’s talk about the files you need to keep safe.

Most people think to back up their documents, music, videos, etc.  But who remembers their email archives or browser favorites?

Don’t try to back up your programs and applications as they will need to be re-installed.  Any data they create however, should be backed up.  Most Windows applications store data in one of the following locations

  • Vista/Windows 7 – c:\Users\yourname\AppData
  • XP – c:\Documents and Settings\your name\Application Data

Don’t worry trying to find all these files. Most good backup software will dig out all your important files and protect them for you.

Confused or have questions about the best backup solution for you? Give us a call at 1-888-863-3033 or email us at and we’ll be happy to help you.

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Photo Credit: Microsoft Office

8 Responses to “The Art of the Data Backup – Options for Keeping Your Data Safe and Available”

  1. Jess Welch

    Thanks for the info. Recently we bought an external hard drive and I didn’t like it, but it was cost effective. What about online sites that charge roughly a $5 fee to backup everything for you? Is that worth it? It is such a headache for me to THINK about backing everything up. Or what about Dropbox- do you think that is a good option? Thanks again!!

    • jon

      Hi Jess,

      As you found out a hard drive is one alternative but will not copy itself. If you want the an easy alternative then cloud services are the way to go. Dropbox will not provide you the full backup you need as it only has limited capacity. One of the better services available is Carbonite for data backup. This service backs everything up for you by installing a small piece of software on your machine. You start it and it takes care of everything. If you want to try it out, click the links we provided above to start a free 30 day trial so you can test it yourself.


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