Of all the computer maintenance activities out there, having a backup of your important data is the one you really, really should take seriously. Anthony Hill, Head of Technology at Geeks2U, says that “lightning strikes and cryptolockers are the most common forms of data loss” he sees on a regular basis. Precious family photos are lost forever. Vital business documents vanish along with the money they would have generated. It’s events like these where you’ll be grateful to have planned ahead and made a backup.
What is a backup anyway? It’s simply a 2nd copy of the original file. If the original file disappears you get the copy of the file you made earlier and put it back where it belongs. If you want to a proper backup however, you need to become familiar with the 3-2-1 rule: three copies of the data, two of which are local but on different devices and one copy off-site. The 3-2-1 rule should be your mantra if you want a backup you can trust.
Both Windows and Mac include built in backup software. On Mac it’s called Time Machine and in Windows 10 it is File History. Both require the use of an external hard drive or network drive to store data on. There are also 3rd party software options that provide more advanced options. Carbon Copy Cloner, Arq and Super Duper are popular on the Mac. Acronis, Veeam and EaseUS are useful for Windows users.
External hard drives are cheap and easy, but for laptop users in particular, it’s worth investigating network attached storage, also known as a NAS. These little boxes sit on your home network and act as a hard drive that you don’t need to plug in to your computer as they’re always available. This avoids the scenario where you forget to connect your backup drive at the same time you realise you deleted a file or your computer breaks!
By enabling Time Machine or File History, you now have two copies of the data, but the data is still on-site (no good if your house burns down!) and because it’s connected to your computer, technically are not on difference devices. The easiest way to fill in the gap in your 3-2-1 quest is to use cloud storage services.
As more premises in Australia get the NBN and have access to fast upload speeds (e.g: 20mbit+), cloud storage is finally feasible for home and small business users. OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and iCloud Files are popular cloud storage options. Backblaze is also highly recommended due to its low price and comprehensive breadth of backup options.
When selecting an off-site backup location, Anthony Hill reminds us that “depending on the sensitivity of their data small businesses need to be aware of how their data is stored on external servers. For example, privacy regulations and differences between local and overseas jurisdictions”.
Despite how important our data is these days, not everyone has a backup. When a hard drive fails or a super important file is deleted and no backup exists, there are ways to get that data back. This process is called data recovery and depending on the circumstances of the file no longer being accessible, can be relatively routine (e.g: an accidental deletion that’s noticed immediately), expensive (e.g: broken drive) or painstakingly slow, risky and expensive (e.g: fire or flood).
Software like EaseUS and Recuva can restore accidentally deleted data if you’re quick to notice. The software doesn’t cost much and is easy to use, but only if you stop using the computer right away and can connect the disk with the missing file to another computer for retrieval. Broken hard-drives that fail (a very common experience) or damaged drives can be operated on in a clean-room by technicians, but this can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars and the process isn’t guaranteed to retrieve your data.
Smartphones are often forgotten as a device that needs to be backed up, but they hold so much important information like photos, contacts, text messages and notes. For most people, if they lost the data on their smartphone they’d be devastated! Luckily smartphones are also easy to backup.
iPhone users should enable iCloud backups immediately, so all their data is kept safe. It’s just an option in the iPhone settings. Take note, automatic daily iCloud Backups will only occur when your iPhone is on wi-fi and connected to a charger. You’ll also need to pay for extra iCloud storage space, as Apple only gives you 5GB for free. Android users can use Google Drive to back up the contents of their smartphone to the cloud. Google provides 15GB for free (which includes emails stored in Gmail), with the option to purchase more space for a monthly fee should you require it.