How Do I Create a Backup of My Computer?

So why make a backup?  If you store nothing of value on your computer and have the installation disks (that came with it when you first got it), then you may believe you need not bother.  However, it is rare that there is nothing of value stored on your computer, whether it is emails, photos, configuration settings, personal or business information.

How often you make a backup depends on how often your valuable data changes. 

Although its bad practice to store any company data on your computer where must you should at least to take at least a daily backup. So that in the event of a system failure have the ability to restore the data from the last previous night’s successful backup. Although it’s important to backup your data to a separate drive or resource.

Making a backup does not need to be difficult.  First you should decide what it is you want to back up.   Do you just want to back up your data or do you want to back up the whole system?  A data backup, although can be quicker, but the event of a serious problem on your computer you may be required to rebuild it to have the same look and feel as before.

To resolve this backing up the complete operating system will allow you to retain applications and data. With the introduction of Windows 7 onwards this is now easily achieved through the systems control panel and can take a little as thirty minutes to fully complete. When this this is employed it is important to also create a system repair disc or USB that is used to initialise backup recovery, as without this you won’t be able to initialise a backup recovery on a failed system. It is generally accepted in best practice to carry out a system backup weekly compared to a data only backup each evening.

Once you have decided to make a backup, there are a number of options out there to help, and for the most part, they aren’t complicated, once you get used to using them. 

If you only have a small amount of data to backup, then taking a manual backup may be appropriate (copying the files you want to back up to a USB drive)

However in a business environment the use of USB drives are generally frowned upon due to their security and as such should not be used unless authorised by your IT department. Where authorisation is given you should label it clearly and store it somewhere suitable (more on that later).  

A good backup system is one that is easy to use - the best backup systems automatically perform incremental backups so you don’t need to think about it. Here are some options: 

Bootable Backup (or “Clone”) 

A "bootable backup" or "clone" is a complete copy of your computer’s primary hard drive. If the primary drive stops working or becomes corrupted, you can replace it with the clone.

This is done through specific software that creates a direct mirrored copy of your primary drive. This provides a complete recoverable solution to your operating system, data files, software applications and configuration settings. A common and easy solution for this is to use Windows System Image as detail previous that comes with Windows 7 onwards. It is recommended that a system image backup (aka Bootable Backup or Clone) is carried out when you first setup your computer prior to its use. Allowing in the event of a problem, you can easily resolve the any problem you encounter. It is important to note that this is a onetime snapshot of your system where significant changes made to the computer afterwards will not to be applied to the backup. Where changes have been made, a new clone or system image may need to be ran. This can be mitigate by the use of the ‘Windows System Restore’ option to resolve minor issues compared to a full system image recovery.  

External Backup Drive

You can use an external hard drive to create an archive of your changed and deleted files. An archive is different from a clone in a number of ways: first, it isn’t bootable; second, it isn’t a "snapshot" of your entire drive at one point in time. Instead, it can be used to store incremental backups, which keeps up to date and are updated as you work. This is similar to the “Windows Shadow Copy” option where enabled within companies that allows you to recover specific data that’s been changed or deleted. External drive backups are primarily intended to backup your data files (documents, spreadsheets etc.).This type of backup only checks certain folders, such as your home directory, so that if files on your computer’s hard drive are changed or deleted, you can go back and undo the changes or even recover the deleted files. If your computer is corrupted or dies, you can take the external backup drive, plug it into a different computer and immediately have access to all your files, as well as the history of changes and deletions.  While this has the advantages of giving you an up-to-date backup data availability, the main shortcoming with this type of backup is that if there is a piece of malicious software such as ransomware, it is likely to have been copied to the backup and contaminated it before you discover it. 

System Built-in Backups Options  

All computer operating systems come with their own individual backup software.  On Microsoft Windows system, accessing the Control Panel, System and Security, Backup and Restore will allow you to create system or file backups according to your requirements. Apple Mac systems use “Time Machine”, which will run every hour and check for changes.“Time Machine” like Microsoft’s backup solution allows scheduling to automate hourly, daily, weekly and monthly backup’s schedules to occur. You backups should always be made to an external drive or resource where this is an option for both solutions. Where a portable drive is not an option such in the case of laptop users an alternative offered by Apple is the “AirportTime Capsule” (a Wi-Fi router with built-in hard drive), enabling back-ups over Wi-Fi.  Although this can be very slow depending on the size of your backups and is generally avoided.

Advantages of using a local external drive are that once you have bought it, the only cost is your time; also you control the drive and can immediately access it if you need to recover your data.   Disadvantages are that you can only store a finite amount of data on the drive, so the number of previous versions or deleted files you can store is limited. You also have the problem of security as portable drives have shown to be a security threat in common business environments as all your data is stored upon it and easily lost or stolen. Due to this portable encrypted drives are now available to help mitigate this this threat although most companies still won’t allow this backup type and consultation with you IT representatives is advisable. Although where employed offsite storage of external drives is advised as if you have a fire or theft and the disk is next to the computer, you will probably lose your backup too.Finally, external drives are particularly liable, over time to develop non-operational problems due to wear and tear and as such should only be used as a last resort.

Cloud-Based Online Backups

Having a backup on an external drive that sits next to your computer is a good start, but your best protection is to store another backup somewhere else, away from your work or home location. 

Backups to the cloud are probably the easiest to create and maintain. You simply create an account with the respective service, download the software, enter your account details and set your preferences. Once the setup is complete, you do not need to take any further action, as the software automatically backs up your computer when it is connected to the internet.  Your Cloud backup files are encrypted so no one else can access them.

In this solution files are synchronized from your computer to the cloud store. Where your computer should fail you cloud backed up files at instantly available from the cloud web portal.  The main benefit of this over traditional backup solutions is instantly availability to access files with controls in place to stop virus contamination through its version control. A proven technique to recover from ransomware and virus contamination.

One of the main issues with off-site (Cloud) backups is  internet bandwidth limitations,where synchronize backups or recovery of files or system images to a local system can take a considerable amount of time, depending on the size and amount stored within the cloud resource.

With cloud backups, you don’t have to buy hardware or work out how to configure it. There are many providers such as One Drive for Business (https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-gb) , Idrive (https://www.idrive.com) , CrashPlan (http://www.code42.com) , and Carbonite (https://www.carbonite.com). An online search will show you lots of suppliers, but take care to ensure what they offer meets your needs, including how much storage you are allowed.  

What is the best data backup option? 

Depending on your needs, you may want to consider a 3-2-1 strategy: 3 copies of your data, 2 stored on-site and 1 offsite. If you choose only one, an online synchronized backup is always recommended.

 

For added security, you may wish to encrypt your data locally such as with windows built-in encryption ‘BitLocker’ or an alternate external third party solution, so any back data will also be encrypted. 

Once you’ve got yourself organised and set up your backup regime, there is one final thing to do - check that it works!  Compared to online instantly accessible backups where you can view the files online. Local backups should be checked to ensure recovery is obtainable and the files are accessible pf recovery. Many people have faithfully backed-up their systems only to later discover their backups are corrupted.