Core Tech: Creating a Backup Strategy

Moving your life to digital formats is a big step, but once you have all your important documentation, photos, music, videos, home movies, and other content on a computer's hard disk, finding and distributing that content around the house is much easier to do. However, the digital lifestyle has a dark side. Hard disks fail. And you don't want to be on the receiving end of a hard-disk crash only to discover that you just lost all the digital photos you took over the last year.

But you don't have to be a victim. Instead, develop a backup strategy that will ensure that your memories and other important data can survive even the most devastating of accidents. Be sure to keep in mind these three important concepts:

  • Schedule backups. Backups aren't useful unless they occur regularly. You must back up your data on a timely schedule.
  • Ensure redundancy. Be sure to make one or more copies of your data. The best backup, probably, is a second hard disk, but you should also be copying your data to removable media such as writeable CD or DVD.
  • Go off-site. Keep a second backup of your data off-site, in a separate physical location. This location can be a family member's or friend's house, a bank safety deposit box, a drawer at work, and so on. It just can't be inside your house.
Here's what I do. Because I've amassed over 750GB of data, I use a server to store all my documents, music, photos, videos, and other data. Some of that data is replicated to other PCs in my home, including my computer, my wife's computer, and the Media Center PC, and it's regularly updated from the master server versions. When I go on trips, I load up the laptop I'm taking with a new subset of that data, so I have it with me on the road.

For offsite-backup purposes, I purchased two 1TB LaCie Bigger Disks with FireWire 800 interfaces and added a Firewire 800 card to my server. Each Sunday, I back up all the data on the server to one of the disk drives and bring it over to my parent's house, which is convenient because they live in the same town. Then, I bring home the other drive, which I'd stored there for a week and contains last week's backup. When I get it home, I wipe it out and do a full backup again. A week later, I repeat, swapping the drives again. It's like clockwork.

Your data storage needs probably aren't so vast. But that's good news: Companies such as Western Digital and Maxtor sell one-button external hard disks designed specifically for backups. And they're relatively cheap. If you can afford to buy two, do so. If not, invest in a good dual-layer DVD writer and use that to make secondary backups. Whatever you do, be sure to store one set of backups off-site. Don't make the mistake that so many make by adopting a backup strategy only after you've lost data.

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