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How to Back Up Your Data Effectively

What to back up, and what to lose

The oldest “computer expression” is that there are two kinds of computer users, those that backup their data and those that will. Often, it takes a “data disaster” to compel otherwise responsible people to make a regular habit of backing up their data. Still, the majority of computer users do not back up their data.

According to Computer World, the annual cost to recover lost data per laptop is over $800.00 per year. This amounts to billions of dollars per year spent nationally to recover (or not recover) data that has been lost due to users not backing up their data. Critical data files are often stored on personal computers and laptops and often not subject to regular backup.

If backup is so important, then why don’t most people do it?

The truth is, backing up data from your computer to CDs, memory sticks, other computers, and network hard drives is inconvenient. It takes time out of a busy day. Most backup utilities require the users' attention to start, monitor, and close the process. Backup takes time from the user that can be better spent doing something else. Backup is boring, since it may disable or tie up your computer while the backup is taking place.

So what data should I back up?

The simple answer is any file that you would miss if you did not have it. This includes documents, presentations, spreadsheets, accounting data, and other data files. Also include your Favorites folder, telephone directory, appointment calendar, and tasks. It may also include pictures, music, family video, and any other data that is significant, especially if lost.

Look at all of the programs that you use regularly. Find the data files that these programs create and mark these for regular backup. Often these files are not behind your "My Documents" folder.

For example, if you use Quicken or QuickBooks, the important data files are saved in a folder behind the Quicken or QuickBooks program. In Microsoft Windows XP, these files could be under "Documents and Settings/User/Application Data". In addition, the Application Data file may also contain important information that helps you use many of your favorite programs. If you do not know how to get to these files, consult an expert to help you determine what files to choose for regular backup.

How often should I back up?

Think of this question another way – if my hard disk crashed, or I dropped my laptop, or it got stolen at the airport, how much time will it take me to re-create the active data that I just lost? What would it cost you to lose a day’s worth of data and to recreate it? How much time would it take to reconfigure your computer with the tools, configurations, short cuts, and links that you have spent years accumulating? Remember the Computer World data, the average cost per laptop for lost data is $800.00 per year. What is your billing rate? How much will it cost you to start over?

Some of us use our computers the entire day. That means that if we back up daily, then the most time that we would spend redoing the work would be less than a day’s worth of time. If you are an occasional user, then you may need to backup less frequently.

Once you have made your list, then you are ready to back up. Here is my partial list of backup files that would cause me great pain if they were not backed up:

  - Outlook.pst - Emails, Tasks, Contacts, and Calendar My Documents - Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, Quickbooks

 - Favorites (these are my Internet bookmarks that I have spent years building up)

 - Documents and Settings/user/application data (be selective here. You will most likely not need temporary files generated from web pages).

 - Goldmine data files and email attachments

What’s the Solution?

The answer is to find a backup solution that is invisible to the user and does not create a “backup event” that must be scheduled from a person’s busy day. So hold this thought for the moment.

Once you have determined which files to back up regularly, you must decide where to store this data. In the early days of computing, we used to back up to floppy disks. Now, our files are huge and often too large for floppy disks. CD ROMs are popular for backup and will now hold over 750 MB of data. DVDs can also be used for backup and how many times more data than CD ROMS.

At the beginning of this article, I said that backup is inconvenient and that is why most people don’t do it. Therefore let's find solutions that are convenient. Not just convenient, but invisible like an insurance policy that just works.

If you are a lone computer user and are not on a network, the best solution is to get an external hard drive that plugs into your USB port. These data storage devices are relatively cheap for the benefit that they provide. Follow this link for examples of these products:

When you travel with your laptop computer, leave the USB hard drive at home. Never carry it in your computer bag. If you are backing up your desktop, take the USB hard drive with you – or at least store it at a location separate from your desktop in case of fire or other disaster.

If you are on a network, such as a home or business network, set aside some backup space on a hard drive on the network or on another computer. Hard drives are cheap. If you need more space than is available, buy another hard drive and install it on another computer.

What’s the bottom line on backup?

The bottom line on backup is that it is absolutely necessary for everyone that has something to lose if his or her computer was lost, stolen, or simply failed from regular use. There is a wide variety of solutions in the marketplace to keep your data backed up. Spend the time to explore and implement your back up solution. If you are not technical, hire an expert to create a solution that works for you. It will be some of the best money that you will spend.


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