Q: I bought an external hard drive to back up my files, but how do I know if it’s working? — Kerry
A:In the world of computers, there are only two types of hard drives: Those that have failed and those that are going to fail. (Which kind do you have, reader?)
The process of backing up critical files is one of the most overlooked essentials of owning a computer even though everyone realizes how important it is. It’s astonishing how many people fall victim to human nature every year. (“I’ll get around to it…”)
Data recovery on a severely crashed hard drive can cost several thousand dollars to recover, so addressing this before your next crash is a lot less expensive.
The fact that you’re asking if it’s working suggests that you may not completely understand what you bought.
Here are the top backup mistakes made by most users:
Mistake #1 — Buying an external hard drive but not buying any backup software.
Too many companies are selling external hard drives as ‘backup systems’ but they don’t bother to include the all important backup software that is essential to success.
The reason they don’t include the software is to appear to be a cheaper alternative and assume that the user understands that some form of backup program needs to be set up.
Add to the equation that most folks don’t read instructions and you have a recipe for disaster.
THE most important part of the backup process is the backup software, but the industry knows that people buy based on price and they don’t read packaging or instructions, so they play on those behaviors.
Mistake #2 — Installing backup software but not setting up the automatic scheduler.
If you think that you can rely on a human remembering to run the backup software, you should think again. In our service business, the most common thing we hear from folks in need of data recovery is “I meant to run a backup, but never got around to it.”
How often should you set your scheduler to back up? The answer is based on what you are willing to lose. If you back up once a week, you are saying that you are OK with losing up to a week’s worth of work.
Mistake #3 — Not verifying your backups.
Assuming that everything is working fine is a very dangerous way to live. The only way you will ever know if your backup system is actually doing its job is to verify the data that is being backed up.
It can be as simple as manually looking for a recent picture or document that you created to see if it’s on the backup drive or better yet, turning on the ‘verify’ option in your backup program.
If you turn on the verify option, after each backup the program will go back and compare the files against the originals to make sure they are the same (this is also a good way to be alerted to a failing backup hard drive).
Activating this option essentially doubles the amount of time that it takes to back up, which is why many folks turn it off — but that’s a huge mistake. Set your scheduler to back up and verify in the middle of the night so you don’t care how long it takes.
Mistake #4 — Only having one copy of your data.
Redundancy is a critical part of a good backup strategy or you will have very little time to discover file corruption issues. If you back up over yesterday’s backup with today’s data, you won’t have any recourse if you corrupted a file during the day (the bad file will overwrite your last good version).
Understanding the difference between a full backup and incremental backup sessions and how to schedule them is critical. (Read your manual or get some help!)
Mistake #5 — No off-site data sets.
Businesses should especially incorporate some form of off-site data sets in case of fire, flood, theft, or any number of business interruption possibilities.
With today’s plethora of online backup services, both consumers and businesses would do well to include an online backup of some sort to compliment any localized external backup system.
A well designed backup strategy is one of those fairly complex issues, so don’t take it lightly. If you’re not comfortable making decisions on what to use or on how to setup a good backup system, ask someone for help. This one is far too important to leave to chance!
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show