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A backup plan

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Make a backup plan!Backing up your data should be at the top of your computer maintenance list, right next to virus protection. We are all much more reliant on computers for both work and at home. If a computer has ever developed a fault, you will know how worrying it can be that your important information is safe. It is only then will you realise the importance of a backup maintenance plan. You only lose essential information once before you institute and maintain a backup of your data. Most people think about backing up data about 10 minutes after it's too late to do any good.

There are a number of reasons that you can lose information from a physical drive failure to a power surge or a virus. You should run on the premise that you will suffer as loss of data at some point and therefore backup your files on a regular basis.

File housekeeping

Before you can even think about creating a backup, you have to get your files in order. This doesn't mean you need to obsessively rearrange every file in every folder but you should make certain all your essential data files are stored in one easy-to-find location. Make sure that you know where on your hard drive your important files are stored and make sure that whenever you install a new piece of software on your system, the data files should all go into this known location. Many people use the default windows “my documents folder” which is acceptable but just check where these documents are actually stored; usually in C:\Documents and Settings >> then user name (in windows).

Quarantine the operating system

As you will be aware, the operating system can be the piece of software that suddenly corrupts and brings down your whole computer. The operating system is continually accessing the drive so it can therefore render it more liable to fail. Many people therefore either keep their documents on a different physical drive in their computer or they partition their main drive. This has the advantage of allowing you to reformat and reinstall the operating system safe in the knowledge that your files have not been wiped clean.

What should you backup?

Many people think that they don’t have very much of importance to lose on their machine. However, the loss of this information can focus the mind into realising that there was, in fact a great deal of vital information. The following is a list of important items to backup:

1. Your contact addresses and emails: these may be stored in an outlook (normally one .pst file) or outlook express file (usually contained in more than one file).

2. Office documents (Word , Excel, PowerPoint): especially documents such as your curriculum vitae.

3. Photos that may be stored and you have never printed them out.

4. Music files: for example you may store your MP3 files on your computer to synch with your iPod.

5. Logbook files: an important part of your continuing professional development that you cannot afford to lose.

There are a variety of ways that data can be backed up. The method that you choose should suit the amount of information you have and the speed of transfer you require.

How frequently should you backup?

This question can be difficult to answer, but in essence, you should backup more regularly if you use your computer on a frequent basis. If you use your computer everyday then you should really backup on a daily basis. However, some people find this a burden and only back up once weekly. Less frequent than once a week leaves you open to significant data loss. The backup software that you choose can help you minimise time by only copying the changed files and thus keeping the time down to a minimum. It is also possible to get software that copies open files so this allows you to continue working.

What backup software should you use?

There are hundreds of backup programmes to choose from. If you are a windows user then you may like to use the built in backup software. Many external drives also come with backup software. However, a software package that is very reliable and only copies changed files is call SynchBack. There is a freeware version of this programme that you can try out. It is worth upgrading to the full version as it has a host of useful features such as backing up open files. See the following link for a list of features:

Other retail backup software includes Norton Save & Restore which can schedule automatic backups, restore from system failures, automatically monitor and optimize backup disk space and finally encrypt backups to help keep them secure.

What backup media should you use?

The oldest and worst way to back up is to save your data to floppy. Floppies only hold limited information and can fail quickly. Better options are as follows:

1. A CD Rom: these can generally hold upto 800MB of data which still may get filled quickly.

2. A DVD Rom: these can hold between 4-8GB of data which is much higher than CD Roms. However, both CDs and DVDs have the risk of getting scratched and thereby rendering your information inaccessible.

3. An external hard drive: these have increased in frequency in recent years and have dramatically reduced in cost (between £50-£200). They can be connected to your computer in a variety of ways (via USB, firewire or Ethernet connection). The advantage of this type of media is that it can store very large amounts of information. Many now start at sizes of 250 GB.

4. An external tape drive: these are the gold standard of backup and provide a secure method of backing up your data. However, they tend to be quite expensive for home use with prices starting at £300 and going up to many thousands of pounds.

External hard drive options from Amazon

We have listed a few of the best options in each size category below from Amazon that are adequate for home use (ascending price). Click on a link to be taken to the Amazon site.

HD Ext Storage Barracuda 320GB USB2.0 RT

Price: £79.99


Western Digital My Book 320GB Essential USB 2.0 External Hard Drive

Price £91.00


Buffalo DriveStation - 500Gb Serial ATA (SATA) Hard Drive, External, High Speed USB 2.0 HDD

Price: £174.75

Western Digital My Book Pro 1terabyte Dual-Drive storage System

Price £349.99 (expensive but huge capacity!)



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