What is a backup and why should
I do it?
by: Jeremy Trogg
Does your computer need to be
backed up? If you keep all of your financial
records in one filing cabinet, imagine walking in one day and
finding out that someone has either stolen the cabinet or burned its
contents to a crisp. If you are like most people, your options
would be to panic, yell, or just sit and cry.
The same thing can happen to your
computer. You may not realize it but you keep quite a bit of
information on that box sitting next to you, even if you don't keep
your financial records there.
You may have
emails or email addresses, passwords, files, pictures, letters/correspondence,
or other important information that you simply cannot replace.
You may not access it often, but when you need it, you know where it
The infallible computer?
Many of us take a look at that box
with all its whirling, humming, bumps, and grinds and consider it
virtually infallible. Aside from the occasional restart and
vacation when it is turned off, it's been going 24 hours a day for
the last two years.
It sounds healthy... no different
than yesterday. It still looks good. Not a dent or
scratch on it. Everything opens and closes the way it should
and all the programs start up just fine. It's never burned out
a light bulb, the chrome looks great, and by golly, there's still a
sticker on it from the factory. Surely, nothing's going to
happen to it while there's a new factory sticker still on it.
Besides, even if something did
happen to it, all you need to do is take it into the computer shop,
they'll fix it and you are good as new again in a couple of days,
The infallible computer... NOT!
Wrong on all counts.
First, your computer could shut
down before you read the end of the next sentence. I mean
down, turn off, with no warning, and not a thing you can do about
it. It could be running fine right now and when you shut it
down, but when you start it up again, the only thing you get is a
few beeps. That's not to scare you, but it is possible just as
it is possible that your television decides to croak right in the
middle of your favorite show.
So many things have an effect on
your computer that it could take pages to discuss them all.
Common ones are, moisture, dust, animal dander, heat, or
electrostatic discharge from someone that touched an internal
Quite often damage to one component
causes damage to another. Bad fan motors are a good
example. When they stop cooling the system, it can cause the
processor to overheat and crack.
Viruses, trojan, worms, adware, and
bad programs can also permanently cause
data loss. They can infect your files, either deleting them or
making them unusable.
Probably the worst potential
problem that you may encounter is a hard disc failure. When
your hard disc goes, it generally gives no warning at all.
It just stops. If this happens, not only will you not be
able to access your data, your computer won't even start.
Such damage is often not reversible.
In other words, once the damage is done, it cannot be undone.
If you have a relatively new
computer operating system such as Windows XP or Vista, you already
have system restoration software on your computer.
System restoration software makes
routine backups of your entire hard drive that allows you to restore
it to a condition when you know everything was alright. A
great example of when this would help would be if you acquired a
virus and it damaged your system files.
While Microsoft's version of this
software is better than nothing, I highly recommend a separate
software package called GoBack by Norton.
GoBack allows more options for restoring your system and in my
tests, I found that GoBack's backup is less likely to be damaged by
the worst virus disasters.
Another advantage of GoBack is that
you can restore any single file to a previous condition without
taking the whole system back. Let's say that you changed a
document last week and now want the original version. With
GoBack, you can change only that one file back to original
The answer to keeping your files
completely safe is to implement a backup routine. A backup
routine is simply a manual or automated process that creates a secondary file
that you can access if the first one becomes damaged.
Keep in mind though, that if your
backup data is on your hard disc, and your hard disc crashes, your
backup data will be gone as well. It's kind of like putting your
spare car key in the glove compartment.
Backup routines should
always be done to an external drive like a zip disc or another
storage device that you regularly remove from your machine. To
be totally safe, the back up should be moved completely away from
Many applications like QuickBooks
or ACT! have built in backup routines. If such routines are
built into the application, you need to use their backup routine
separate from any other backup that you might do. A standard
back up of your computer won't touch the necessary files for some of
these applications so do them separately. Most of these type
of applications create a special backup file type that can then be
imported into a new setup. Your typical back up routine won't
support this function.
For other files, I highly recommend
keeping them in one folder such as My Documents, even if you
separate them into sub-folders. That way, you only have one
document folder to backup, making your job that much easier.
Automated backup routines
Some systems have the ability for
you to automate a backup. In other words, the systems will
perform this operation without your interference at given
intervals. If this isn't available on your system, it can
still be accomplished but will probably take a networking
professional to accomplish the job.
You may still do backups without an
automated routine, but you will have to discipline yourself to do
it. If you don't have that discipline, wait till your computer
crashes the first time, you will find the discipline for the next
Doing backups has also gotten a lot
easier lately. When we used to have to do it with floppies or
even writing it to a CD, this was a real bother that could take
hours depending upon how much data you were moving.
Note: If doing a CD
backup, it is often best to use the CD writing software to copy the
Now with decent size flash drives
of 2 or more gigabytes and free-standing hard drives of 200+
gigabytes, there's just no reason for you to not back up your
computer on a regular basis. Backing up your data is a
breeze. Just plug the unit in through the appropriate USB or
firewire port and it becomes just like another drive, and is
accessible from your My Computer folder. Be sure to remove the storage
medium after the operation has completed. Leaving it still
attached could subject it to the same damage as your computer.
You may have data on your computer
that you simply cannot do without. Tax, business, or other
such important files must be protected at all costs.
In this case, make sure that you
take the most recent copy of your data to work with you and leave it
there, give it to a relative, or at least put it in the car.
However, if it is potentially accessible to others, you might
consider learning how to password protect those files.
Should the house burn or be flooded, you will still have the most
recent data backup that you could have.