Somewhere I read that first thing they teach you in medical school is to wash your hands frequently. I think that first thing that should be thought to computer users is to make automated backups. I can feel the pain of people that have lost their data every time I see the email message requesting the registration message or software download because they had catastrophic disk failure. It happens more than you think.

Its not fun, yet few have backup of their machines and can recover from disk crashes. I decided to write this post based on my experiences and things that worked for me with hope that it will make somebody’s life easier. Modify the procedure and process I outlined below or use it as is, but just do something to backup your data.

If its not automatic it will not get done

That sums up my thinking about backup. It must be completely automatic or you will simply not do it. If you are burning DVD’s, switching tapes, inserting thumb drive to copy files etc. I bet you are not consistent. I can skip one backup, I backed up last week, what can happened, right?

When creating backups you should use two pronged approach. You want to backup files that change daily, meaning emails, source code, documents, even tools that you’ve used and downloaded. This should be done multiple times a day completely automatically without any thinking or initiation on your part. “Set it and forget it” is what you are looking for.

You should backup your static data as well, meaning all applications and operating system. You want to be able to recover your system completely the way it was before the crash. Very likely your system does not change very often once you have it setup the way you want it, so this backup should be done weekly, or even monthly. Must be automatic as well.

Backing up files you use daily

I use the Seagate Mirra which is personal (or small office) backup and sync/share server. Two models are available at this time: 320 GB ($280) and 500 GB (~$350). You can find it on Amazon, NewEgg, Buy.com and many other stores. Use price watching services like PriceGrabber to find best price.

Mirra is dedicated backup server and you cannot use it as file server to copy the files onto it. While it might seem like limitation, that is why I like it. It is used for backup and backup only.

You attach Mirra server to your network, install the software on ANY number of your machines (including Macs) and choose folders to backup. Backup happens automatically and you do not need to worry about it. Mirra saves couple of versions of your files as well, so you can recover, I think, up to 8 versions. That is really, really useful.

Now, Mirra does not have redundant RAID disk inside but since you have data on both your source disk and Mirra server it is not very likely that both of them will fail.

Nice thing about Mirra is that you can use it to sync and share files between multiple machines. For example, if you have desktop and laptop machine and you want to work on same set of files, using Mirra software you setup sync and share and all happens automatically. I must note here that Mirra software uses DotNetBar :-) And, No, there is no conflict of interest here, Seagate bought DotNetBar licenses and I bought the Mirra Server on my own so we are cool. Another nice thing about Mirra server is that it lets you access your files over the web through mirra.com. Say you went on vacation and need to access files from home.

If you are on budget and cannot afford Mirra server, get at least external hard-drive that you automatically backup to. I used and can recommend SecondCopy and Backup4All software. Both perform similar functions and are inexpensive. Backup4All has more features while SecondCopy is easier to get going with. Using any of them you can setup the automatic copying of selected folders to an external hard-drive or network drive. It is cheap way to get your data backed up and if you have only single machine Mirra server might be too much for you.

I recommend also going with the online backup service for your critical files. This is just in case that both your computer hard-drive and backup drives fail. I use and can recommend Mozy. They have completely free 2 Gigabyte backup account and software is easy to setup and it will backup your files continuously. Paid accounts are I think $60 a year for unlimited storage. This works for me very, very well. Note that online backup is much slower than backup that goes over your internal network or to the external hard-drives so backing up lot of data will take time. I would recommend using this for critical files only.

Backing up your Operating System and all your Software

You should backup your complete OS installation weekly or monthly. I backup monthly my machine setup rarely changes and I do not install new software very often. I can recommend two pieces of software for this: Acronis True Image (starts at $49) and Norton Ghost (starts at $69). Both will backup your complete OS, but note that this will be huge backup. If you have lot of disk space this can be completely automatic as well. You backup your OS into the folder each week or month and Mirra backups the backup. Or just get external hard-drive that you use just for this purpose.

I know that some of my strategies here might be overkill or seem redundant but this is what worked for me so far, and hey it makes me feel safe :-)

If you have your backup strategy setup like this, you will have much better chances of recovering from hard-disk failure with all your data and spending least of your time doing that. I hope that this information helps you or at least makes you prepare some kind of backup strategy.

What are your backup strategies? What worked/did not work for you? Feel free to comment below.

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