Plan Your Backups

No matter what kind of a backup system you end up using, you need to start with a plan. To be successful, there are a couple of things that need to be ironed out first:

  1. Where is your data now? Do you keep your data organized in your Documents, Photos, Music, and Videos folders? Is it on a NAS device? External hard drive? While not essential to performing backups, knowing where you keep your data is going to make the process easier. The more it is spread out, the more difficult it is to back it up – not impossible – but more difficult. Some of the built-in backup tools assume your files are in fact in your user folder, or at least your libraries, so take the time now to figure out where your important data is. Other backup programs will scour the entire computer for files, so if you have files everywhere, there are solutions for this as well.
  2. How important is your data? Is it all about equally important, or is there some data where you don’t want to lose it, and other data where it’s crucial you don’t lose it? It’s possible to do full backups to a local backup target, but also back up your most important data offsite.
  3. How much risk do you want to mitigate? The easiest backups will be to an internally or externally attached hard drive, which will protect against equipment failure, or user error. Moving up, you can back up to a NAS on your LAN, which will add a possibility of mitigating theft (but certainly not a guarantee) as well as giving you the option of backing up multiple machines. For ultimate protection, some sort of offsite backup is required. This is the only way to mitigate the risks of fire, flood, theft, and natural disaster. If the data is extremely important, you may even want to ensure the data is backed up to multiple geographic areas to ensure recovery from a natural disaster.
  4. How much space are you going to require for backups? If you are doing Image Level backups as well, factor in that you will need a backup target larger than the total amount of data you want to back up. The more space you have, the more versions of files and the farther back in time you can go to perform a restore. It would be prudent to start with a backup target that is at least twice as large as your total data to be backed up.
  5. What is your RPO? Are nightly backups good for you, or do you need to perform backups more often? Do you need continuous backups? It is essential to define an RPO that works for you.
  6. What is your RTO? Cloud based backups are wonderful because they are offsite, but the amount of bandwidth required to recovery multiple terabytes of information will be quite significant. If you aren’t worried about time, then it may be fine for you, but if time is a factor you may want to ensure you have some sort of local backup as well as offsite. RTO also factors in to the backup equipment decision. Optical media can be used as an offsite backup method, but recovering the data will be labor intensive and slow.
  7. What is your budget? For a single PC, you can configure a backup using just optical media, or an external hard drive, either of which will not be overly expensive. For multiple PCs, you may want to invest in a NAS or server to back up to. You can also expand the backups to the cloud for monthly or annual fees depending on the backup system you decide to go with. Just remember though that the cost of your backups may potentially save you from a much higher cost if disaster ever strikes.
  8. How much time are you willing to spend performing backups? Actually, this is a trick question. While it is possible to do a backup plan based on burning files to a DVD, and then storing these discs for later use, the fact is that unless a backup system is completely seamless, odds are that it’s not going to be used. In this day and age, there are many ways to perform backups without having to do anything but the initial set up, and for this reason there isn’t much point in doing anything manually.
Introduction Built-in Backup Tools - Windows 7
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  • cgalyon - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Previously I used Dropbox to sync between three systems, including my file server, and then periodically do a manual backup to a dedicated backup drive. Recently this failed me for the exact reason stated early in this article: user error. After doing a restore on one of my computers, Dropbox then synced forward and wiped out one of my folders almost completely because the computer was restored to an earlier date. I didn't notice for a long time and the rollback period on Dropbox had elapsed. I would advocate a different solution or more frequent archiving. Reply
  • pirspilane - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Re. Windows 8.1: 'Unfortunately, you can’t add user defined folders here which you do want backed up.' True, but can't you add those folders to a library that gets backed up? Reply
  • peterfares - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Yes. You can also create as many libraries as you want and put whatever folders you want in them. Reply
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Hi. I've updated the guide to reflect this and make it more clear. Thanks! Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    My system is a bit more complicated but it works for me:

    1) Office documents and such are stored in OneDrive.
    2) OneDrive sync to my Synology NAS with BittorrentSync.
    3) Time Machine Backup on my Synology NAS whenever I am home.
    4) Synology NAS backup nightly to Amazon Glacier with Glacier Sync.

    This provides multiple local backups as well as a cloud backup that's mostly automatic. I don't directly back up to the cloud from my MacBook Pro simply because when I am out an about, internet connection usually sucks too much to bother.
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I didn't really mention Glacier, but it's easily the most cost effective cloud storage. Obviously it has it's drawbacks but price sure isn't one of them. Are you happy with Glacier? Reply
  • SeanFL - Friday, May 23, 2014 - link

    some have found Glacier pricing difficult to figure out. I have about 100 gig in pictures that I wanted to backup but was warned on some photo forums that the per item pricing can get costly and I should zip by year or some other form so not as many individual files were transferred. Sounded like too much human interaction so I passed on Glacier inside my Synology NAS for now. Reply
  • dado023 - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    how come nobody mentioned https://copy.com?r=uABGaD ?
    You get so much space, especially if you invite people to it, atm i have 62GB, and i will get more if you use link above, plus you get 5GB via referral link.

    I use it for my photos, this way i deliver photos to my client via public link.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I use Windows Home server, with DrivePool to duplicate data across random drives. The automatic backups work great - and it stores backups for the last 3 days, a backup from 3 weeks ago, and one from 3 months ago, for each PC in the house. it works perfectly, and I never have to think about it, and pulling out data from a backup is easy. Reply
  • ander111 - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Okay, let me see if I understand this clearly: A "backup" is when you copy your important data to a different storage device, so that if anything happens to your original device, you still have a copy of your data, right? And there are various ways to do this, but they all basically involve copying your data from one device to another. I think even I can understand that.

    Still, it's important to have articles on things like this. It keeps writers busy and off the streets—so naturally, crime goes down... Good thinking!
    Reply

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