Years ago, I felt like a hypocrite for urging readers to back up their computers. I didn’t do it very often myself.
In those days—unless you had one of the expensive external mass storage devices available then—backups were done on floppy disks. Backing up required feeding floppy disks into the machine as needed, like putting quarters in a slot machine. It was just too much trouble.
Nowadays, external hard drives are so inexpensive—I just bought a 250GB model for $100—that there's really no excuse for failing to back up a computer. Heck, I even do it myself these days.
Today’s software pretty much automates the process. If you buy or own an external hard disk, it will have its own backup software. For instance, the $100 Maxtor One Touch 4 (I just bought it for my wife) has backup softwarealready loaded.
I recommend using the software that comes with your hard disk—with one exception: I really like the built-in backup program that comes with Windows Vista. It works seamlessly. Windows XP has backup software, but it’s not worth the trouble.
So far, this has been pretty simple. Get an external hard disk and use it. If that’s all you do, you’re in pretty good shape.
But for those of you with data that just can’t be replaced—maybe family photos, financial records or the bookkeeping data for a small business—there are extra steps that lessen the chances of disaster.
Here’s why these extra steps may make sense. If a power surge or lightning strike hits your computer and the external hard disk is attached, odds are both the internal and external drives are gonna get fried. There goes your backup.
At home, I use the next layer of protection by disconnecting the external hard disk after it backs up my machine.
That’s more work. It means you have to start the backup yourself, rather than let the automated software do it. Still, a lightning strike can’t hurt a disconnected external hard disk.
Even that’s not foolproof. If a tornado or a fire destroyed my house, I would almost certainly lose both my computer’s internal hard disk and the external one.
The way around that: Online backup storage.
You can find several websites that store backups. You’d use the external hard disk but also store an extra backup online.
While some of these sites will store small amounts free, you’ll probably end up paying for the storage. I am not going to recommend a specific service, since I haven’t used one myself in a while. But you can get a feel by visiting ibackup.com, usdatatrust.com or idrive.com. You can find more with Google.
Perhaps you like the idea of having a backup copy away from your home or business, but—for whatever reason—don’t want to use an online site.
There is yet another way. Just buy two external hard disks and use one for a month, then swap it out for the second one for a month. Store the external drive that’s taking the month off with a family member, a trusted friend or at work. That gives you physical offsite storage.
Worst case, if disaster destroys your home, you have data that’s just a month old. Bill Husted
©2007/The New York Times