6 Key Elements for any Backup Strategy

Dennis Faas's picture

Continued from Choosing a Backup Solution: An In Depth Look.

As I outlined in my previous article, there are many backup solutions available -- but few that are designed to meet the requirements of virtually every computer user. Therefore, it's important to establish your backup strategy ahead of time before choosing the backup solution that is right for you.

Whether it's a short term or long term solution, and for home or office use -- here are 6 key elements you can use in formulating your own Backup Strategy:

1. Determine the Frequency of your Backups

Most (but not all) backup solutions on the market offer an automated scheduling mechanism. Depending on how often you use your PC, scheduling a periodical backup is a great way to provide peace of mind and ensure longevity of data. At work, my frequent file-by-file backups are automatically scheduled for every morning at 9AM; at home, I use a drive imaging software to backup my entire hard drive once a week.

2. Choose your Backup Medium

Deciding on the best media type for your backups should be dependant upon how much data you wish to backup, how often your backups are scheduled, and the shelf life of the medium.

For simple file-by-file backups (consisting of my utmost most critical files, such as documents, address book, emails), I chose to backup my data to a USB memory drive. The USB drive is not only ultra portable [smaller than a pen and easily fits into my pants pocket] -- it's also rewritable, relatively fast, virtually indestructible, has a shelf life of 100+ years, and is perfect for retaining small to medium sized files.

When it comes time to backup my entire hard drive, however, I chose to use an external CD-RW writer for my laptop. CD-RW media is a perfect solution for large data backup because each disc is rewriteable and holds 700MB of information; the media is relatively inexpensive (at less than $1 per disc), and because the media type is expendable, I can use as many discs as I want for my backups.

3. Always Check the Source Data for Errors

Before backing up any data, it is absolutely critical to ensure that the integrity of the data is valid; otherwise, all your backups will be in vein! If you're backing up data on the hard drive, scan the drive for file system errors (hint: use CHKDSK for Windows XP, or Scandisk for Windows 9x/ME); it is also equally important to scan for viruses and Spyware using anti-virus and anti-Spyware software.

4. Rotate your Backups whenever possible

Since my disk image backups don't use any more than 5 CD-RW discs per backup session, I chose to rotate my backups onto a different set up medium every 2 weeks. In this scenario, I use a total of 10 CD-RW discs: a set of 5 discs one week, and then another set of 5 the following week (repeatedly). This way, if one of my backup sessions somehow corrupt during a restore, I could refer to the previous week's backup session.

A rotating backup scheme in this sense can also work well for any backup medium that is external, portable, rewriteable [preferably], and financially feasible (example: DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, ZIP disks, and Jazz disks).

5. Always Test the Integrity of your Restore

Even though the data is backed up, what guarantee is there that you can restore the data when disaster hits? All too often, most folks don't ask themselves this question before it's too late -- resulting in loss of data, time, and money.

Aside from physically restoring the data back to the hard drive, the best way to ensure the 'restorability' of your data is to use a backup solution that has bit-level verification (such as WinBackup 2.0 by Li Utilities). In essence, the software first backs up the data and then automatically performs a mock 'test restore' on your backup medium to ensure that every bit and byte of your data has been copied has rock-solid integrity.

6. Store the Backups in a Safe Place

Once the backup is complete and data integrity has been checked, store your backup in an atmosphere friendly place -- safe from fire, water, or direct sunlight exposure (hint: almost medium is best kept in a cool, dry, dark room). For ultimate backup protection, you should also keep one set of rotating backups off-site (example: one set of backups at home, one set at the office).


[ Continued in the next Gazette: Backup Made Easy -- A Six Point Guide to Buying Backup Software ]

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