Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why I Recommend A Backup Program for $$

Update June 20th 2016: Changed software recommendation

Again a customer's question required an answer that might be of general interest. Thank you Carrie L.

The lady asked: 
So you would recommend the xyz external disk drive PLUS the fully automatic solution which is the software that runs the xyz drive?  Or can I just get the fully automatic solution?  If I do, where does the backup go - to a company who stores it?
I would never recommend to store backups on a third party's computer or "in the cloud" as the many Internet based services are called now. Uploads (from your computer) to the Internet are just too slow! All these advertisements are an appeal to our complacency and unabashed attempts at getting a sticky finger into our wallets. These solutions may be feasible when a company has leased a fast connection into the Internet; technically we talk about T1 lines or faster. For the average home user this is simply cost prohibitive.

Storing backup data in the computer itself does not offer any security against data loss in case the computer fails badly. Everybody who has been around computers a little bit will agree that you need to store your data files outside of your computer; for the home user that is on an external disk drive! Ideally the files should be stored in the same format that the operating system uses.

So, yes, you need an external disk drive. These disk drives usually come with some sort of backup software. Mostly these programs create proprietary formats. Whether you can restore your data files from these proprietary formats on other, new computers is questionable at best. This specific piece of software might not run on a new machine or not be available for a new operating system.

Above mentioned proprietary formats usually are compression and/or encryption schemes of some sort. This makes backed up data files inaccessible for normal, standard means of the operating system. I totally oppose any of these schemes for home use, especially if the users are "normal" people that do not have a degree in computer science.

Every other backup program I know needs to be either run manually or be scheduled to run automatically. Manual operation usually gets forgotten or postponed until it's too late; I confess, I can't do it dependably!
Automatically scheduled solutions require
  • that your computer is always turned on at the scheduled time and on the scheduled day of the week and
  • that you do not work on the computer while the scheduled backup runs (the problem here are "open" files, files you are working with whether you know it or not; many backup programs can not handle open files correctly(!) and
  • that the computer does not enter sleep or hibernation mode while the backup is running (all Windows computers are by default set to go into sleep and hibernation).
Update June 20th 2016:

All too often a backup does not get done because, honestly, to run "that darned backup program" is an additional chore. And such chores get "forgotten" too often. But this something I can not change; if you want to be secured against data loss you will have to run backups - and you will have to do backups regularly! 

And to be totally honest, you will have to learn about the different basic backup concepts and functions and their names. There are literally many hundreds of tutorials about that on the Internet.
For Windows PCs I recommend the $70 (one time payment!) program Macrium Reflect. The free version is sufficient for most home users but you always can pay to upgrade.

You may want to read additionally this article about backup devices.
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Stay safe.

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