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 is.

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, right?

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 simply shut 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 component.  

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.

System restoration

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 condition.

Backup routines

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 your computer. 

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.

Manual backups

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 time.

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 data.

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.

Complete safety

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.




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