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Backing Up: More Than a Necessity

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Thomas Zucker-Scharff
Veteran in computer systems, malware removal and ransomware topics.  I have been working in the field since 1985.
"Any files you do not have backed up in at least two [other] places are files you do not care about."

I often write about backup and invariably comment about backup in some way when answering questions on Experts Exchange.  When presented with the opportunity to make some micro tutorials for EE, I ended up making a series on ways to backup.  I may go a little overboard on this subject, but I have never known a situation where there were too many backups; in my experience there is no such animal.  As long as you keep your backups straight, you can’t have too many.

 

I mention backing up before you do anything enough, that I thought I should write an article explaining my thinking and some of the ways to go about doing what I suggest.  It also makes it easier to refer to the article instead of retyping the same advice over and over again.

 

The first thing you might ask is what is backup, at least what does it mean to me?  The definition I use is that backup is basically the way in which you store a copy of your current working data.  But why should you backup up at all?  It can be summed up in a single sentence, “Any files you do NOT have backed up in at least two places, are files you do not care about.” This means two places OTHER than the originals. And the reasons you might sometime want those backups are too many to list, but several of the categories the reasons would come under are:


  1. Catastrophic loss
  2. Irreparable harm
  3. Virii
  4. Accidental deletion
  5. Changes you cannot rollback

 

But, you ask, how does one backup?  What software should you use? What about hardware?  In terms of Software, there are a plethora of options available, but there are several Free tools you should not miss using (especially if you are a home user). 

 

  1. Free
    1. DriveImageXML from Runtime software
    2. CrashPlan local from Code42
    3. Windows built-in backup tools (Microsoft)   
      1. Windows 7     
        1. Windows Backup which also creates an image to restore from
        2. You can also create restore disks from this tool
        3. System Restore is your friend – never turn it off, but remember that it won’t save those restore points indefinitely. And SR is generally the first thing that is targeted by virii.     
      2. Windows 8.x     
        1. Does everything that Windows 7 tools do
        2. File Backup acts like MAC Time Machine, but only for specified files
        3. Windows 8.x can go back to factory defaults even if you have never backed up.
      3. Windows 10
        1. Acts pretty much the same as Windows 8 in terms of backup facility     
    4. Paragon (depending on who you are and what you do, this software may be free for you - Experts Exchange members with at least 50k points can request free copies from here
  2. Paid (to name a few)   
    1. Paragon
    2. Novabackup
    3. Crashplan 
  3. Hardware   
    1. Raid - RAID is a type of automatic backup.  It is setup, depending on the type of RAID, to allow you to have multiple disks so that if one fails you can replace it and the other disks will repopulate it with the data it needs.
  4. Where should one backup to (in all cases storage space is the limiting factor)   
    1. Local     
      1. USB drive - larger and larger external USB drives are available for very little money.
      2. Network drive
      3. Thumbdrive - unless you have a very large thumbdrive and a small hard drive/SSD you will most likely not be able to make a complete backup with this method.     
    2. Cloud (most cloud plans have an unlimited storage option), I have listed a few     
      1. Amazon Web Services (AWS) http://aws.amazon.com/
      2. Crashplan http://www.code42.com/crashplan/
      3. Spideroak https://spideroak.com/
      4. Carbonite http://www.carbonite.com/
      5. Comodo http://www.comodo.com/home/backup-online-storage/comodo-backup.php
      6. Druva inSync http://www.druva.com/products/insync/
  5. How often should I backup   
    1. Before making any major changes
    2. If possible, before any changes
    3. At least once a week   
  6. What is the difference between backups and archives? This may sound like semantics, but the difference is important. Most general users only create backups, while most professional information technology people use both backups and archives. Whatever someone does, a specific and exact plan is a necessity.   
    1. Definitions     
      1. According to SNIA’s online dictionary, the terms are defined as follows:       
        1. Backup: A collection of data stored on (usually removable) non-volatile storage media for purposes of recovery in case the original copy of data is lost or becomes inaccessible; also called a backup copy.
        2. Archive: A collection of data objects, perhaps with associated metadata, in a storage system whose primary purpose is the long-term preservation and retention of that data.             
      2. From ironmountain.com blog (read more from this blog)       
        1. Backup – When backing up your data, you are protecting both active and inactive information which encompasses all of your production data.  As part of the process, you are copying your vital information to a backup target such as disk or tape.  It is critical to recognize that a backup is a copy of production information and the actual data still resides on the production storage systems.  Thus, if your backup system suffers a catastrophic data loss, your operations could still continue normally since your production data would not be impacted; however, you would be operating at an elevated risk.
        2. Archive – Archive solutions solve a different problem.  These technologies are typically used to maintain older or inactive data for extended periods of time.  Archive systems typically move older or inactive information off of primary storage to dedicated systems which are optimized for low cost long-term storage.  A key differentiator from backup is that the data stored in an archive is actual production data and hence a loss of an archive system will result in permanent loss of production information. (To be fair, the information will likely be older and less active, but unlike backup, it is the only copy of the data.)                
    2. Plans/Planning - No matter what you do, you will need to plan out how you will implement your backup strategy. There are various ways to backup, the most common is disk to disk backup. Disk to disk backup means just that, backing up from one disk to another. The second disk is many times not quite as good as the "working" disk, whether this is because of speed, capacity or something else, in this case it doesn't really matter. The second disk is usually a USB external drive for home users, that should be kept away from the computer when not in use (preferably in a separate room). Disk to cloud is another very common option (crashplan, spideroak, comodo, etc.). Many times D2D and D2C are combined (for instance, disk to disk to cloud).  D2C has the added benefit of keeping another copy at a physically different place than the original. Some Information Technology professionals (at least those concerned with backup) will implement either disk to disk to cloud or disk to disk to tape backup scenarios. In many cases the final archive is stored at a place like Iron Mountain.    
    3. Bare-metal versus File Backup - I include this section because all too often people confuse these two types of “backup”. Many programs that can do BM backups can also do file backups, but not necessarily the other way around. For instance,     
      1. Paragon software can do       
        1. Partition/disk backup which can then be extracted file by file
        2. Partition to Virtual machine (P2V) backup
        3. Bare-metal backup
      2. DriveImageXML can do both       
        1. It creates a bare-metal backup which can be extracted in toto or file by file.
        2. Bare-Metal Restore definition on Wikipedia
        3. Bare Metal restores can be made to the same or different hardware (depending on the software that creates the bare metal backup), but either way the restore contains the Operating system and all programs and setting that were on the system that was backed up (imaged).
        4. File Restore is a file by file restore of data to the same system or to a different system, but either one must already have an operating system installed       
  7. Testing: Whether you are a home user or an IT professional, a backup is only good if it works. It is imperative to test out your backup and restore plan to completion. If your backup strategy is an excellent one, but when it comes time to restore and it doesn’t work, you have been wasting your time and resources. This doesn’t have to be gut-wrenching.  If you don’t have a second system you can test this out on, make a backup of your primary system then test it that way. The best time to do this is when you just buy a system, so that if it doesn’t work there is not a lot to do to rebuild it (most of the time there is a recovery partition that will do it for you, if there isn’t one you can create one with a tool like Paragon suite or Acronis home edition).
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