Fine Art, Luxury Framing, Impeccable Design.Subscribe Now

How to Make a Computer Backup the Correct Way

Losing your files because of hard drive failure, theft, fire, or some other unpredictable event can be a devastating experience; all of that hard work accomplished over the years can be gone forever if you are not prepared with a redundant computer backup solution.

Whether you’re a photographer, a software developer, a digital music collector, a student, or someone who has a computer that just wants his or her data protected, this guide is for you; a computer backup should be on everyone’s short list.

Hard Drive Cloning is the Safest Way to Backup

I am not referring to copying a few files manually to a thumb drive, either. I’m talking about hard drive clones on separate volumes that can be stored within your home in a safe location, offsite backups, and RAID 1 arrays that provide redundancy to workspaces that require 24/7 online availability.

Each piece of a computer backup plan is like a chain link – you must complete each step to ensure the safety of your precious files. If you don’t and those links cannot form a circular chain, you could be at risk of data loss.

The good news is that forming a backup plan is really simple and the only variable you will need to factor into your backup plan is the amount of data you have right now. This will give you an approximate idea how much space your external hard drives need to be.

Step 1: Choose Your Backup Hardware

Now that you know how large your data footprint is, it’s time to choose some hardware. I prefer G-Technology external hard drives because they are built really well and look nice on the desk next to your Mac. G-Technology hard drive cases are made of aluminum so you won’t find any of that plastic garbage from those other hard drive manufactures here. OWC makes some really nice stuff for a great price as an alternative suggestion.

Since space is cheap, I would opt for the largest drive you can afford so that you have space for the future. The G-Drive can store up to 4 terabytes these days so partitioning the drive out for clones will still leave plenty of room for growth.

Redundancy is the word-of-the-day, so pick up two of your chosen hard drive. Use one for on-site purposes and one for off-site storage; this will cover you in case of a natural disaster or theft. It’s also worth noting here that cloning to two separate hard drives is not the same as using a dedicated RAID1 NAS. You’re at the mercy of the NAS enclosure if a fan or some internal component fails. Choosing separate drives in its own enclosure mitigates this scenario.

Step 2: Partition the External Hard Drives

I recommend partitioning your external hard drives so you can effectively leverage their space. Doing this will allow you to create backups of different internal hard drives onto one physical drive. For example, I have a 240 GB SSD boot drive with my OS and applications and a RAID 0 striped LIVE drive with my documents and media. So, I would create a logical partition named CLONE-BOOT-Onsite of 240GB and another partition with the remaining space available named CLONE-LIVE-Onsite. Now I can use those logical partitions on the same external to back up my boot drive and work drive.

Perform the exact same steps for your other physical external hard drive naming the partitions CLONE-Boot-Offsite and CLONE-LIVE-Offsite.

Step 3: Select Computer Backup Software

I’ve mentioned the term clone a few times now so let me explain… if you’re simply dragging files to a thumb drive, this isn’t cloning. A clone is an exact replica of the source drive. By exact, I mean, hidden, system, preferences, and your work files. If you’re cloning your boot drive and are on a Mac, this will allow you to run the computer from a USB connected clone if your main drive fails. Cloning is systematic and equates to maximum availability which might save you from a potentially missed deadline.

I’ve dedicated a separate article to drive backup software solutions for both Windows and OSX operating systems so that you can get a feel for the software I use in addition to some of the other options available.

Step 4: Schedule Your Computer Backup

Once you’ve chosen your computer backup software, it is time to schedule the backup job. I typically run a nightly backup to all my external drives unless I know I won’t be using my computer for a few days. In this instance, I will manually turn off the external drives because there is no need to backup unchanged data. The backup software will pick up with the next scheduled backup once you power the drives on.

As long as you schedule a daily backup systematically at your chosen time and ensure your drives are powered on between data changes, you should be good to go. You now have the previous day’s backup, which you can use to restore your boot drive, work drive, or even perform a full system restore.

Those transient file edits and versions while you work are still at risk so let’s do one better. Let’s backup your working versions in real-time.

Step 5: Mac User? Use Time Machine

Ever since the release of OSX 10.5 Leopard, Apple has bundled a backup utility into the operating system by the name of Time Machine. This utility essentially makes incremental backups from the last hour, the last day, and previous weeks. The idea is to set up a dedicated drive, assign it to Time Machine, and forget about it until you need to go back in time to find something. I like Time Capsule for this task because it is always on and ready to backup.

If you require a more structured computer backup for specific work files that differ from minute-to-minute, you may want to look into some sort of versioning utility like SVN or CVS with dedicated hardware. These are on-demand versioning tools that will maintain copies of your baselined changes so you never lose a revision. You must explicitly check files into the repository so this is something you must remember to do and should only be used if you can follow the practice.

Step 6: Add a Cloud Backup For Additional Protection

Once you’ve completed each link in the backup plan above, you can always add more computer backup solutions to your plan to further reduce the risk of data loss.

Cloud backup or online backup is another option that is gaining popularity and has come down in cost considerably. These online backup services usually offer a wide assortment of plans that can be tailored to your specific needs. Online backup services like CRASHPLAN, Mozy, or Carbonite are great places to start your research.

For photography, SmugMug will store your JPG versions for a yearly subscription fee. SmugMug is great to use if you want to display your portfolio and backup your final JPG versions.

Free online storage solutions like Dropbox may also be a good alternative for storing specific files for backup if you want to save some money and don’t require the robustness of a paid service. You can always scale up with a Pro or Teams account if your needs change.

Final Thoughts on Computer Backups

You now have the know-how to implement a solid computer backup solution. You may want to carry out each step individually instead of doing everything at once. At the very minimum, make sure you have an on-site and off-site computer backup that is current at all times.

External drives fail, too. So, it is really important that you validate your backup drives and pay attention to any problems during a scheduled job. That might be an indication the external drive is failing and needs to be replaced. I’d say to play it safe, make sure you update your computer backup drives every few years; it’s a necessary expense for your data integrity.

Return from How to Make a Computer Backup to Learn Photography and Computer Tips and Tricks