The first key to a successful backup system is that it must be a system that you actually use. If you don’t use it, it could be the cleverest system ever created and it won’t help you. Once you commit to a system, the next step is to match the type of files you are dealing with to the type of backups you create.
Two key distinctions are archives and working files. These two types of files need drastically different types of backup systems to be effective. Failure to make this distinction results in overall failure of the system for far too many people.
Archives are going to be the bulk of your files. A file qualifies for an archive if it is 1)unchanging and 2)kept for reference. A classic example of archive files would be your digital pictures. You probably take hundreds of them, since your digital camera makes this so easy. Even if you delete the bad ones later, you still have many gigabytes of pictures over the years. They do not ever change, but you pull them out once in a while (reference), and it would be catastrophic for you to loose them. Another example of an archive file would be a final copy of business proposals or reports. Although they may be used later for reference, or as a basis for a new document, they are going to be kept unchanging “just in case”. If you use them again, you will still keep the original.
Your working files are the files that may be changed, and relate to work in progress. For example, this may be your resume, business documents you are working on, or even the pictures you just downloaded from your camera that are not yet at the archive stage of their life cycle. The category of working files definitely includes your email and your financial programs like Quicken or Microsoft Money.
Why is this important? Your archive files are not changing, and yet many people throw them into their all-purpose backup solution and back them up. It seems reasonable, since you do need backups, and yet that massive quantity of data can be overwhelming. It is also a huge waste of time and resources (and possibly money) to repeatedly backup files that do not change. Often people simply give up the whole idea of backups when they get stuck at this point. So how should archive files be backed up? They should either be copied to another hard drive or burned onto a DVD (or two). My personal choice is to copy files to another computer, burn a DVD for my storage cabinet, and burn a DVD for my safety deposit box. Because your archive files are unchanging, it is ok to make these backups periodically, as long as – and this is key – your files are treated as working files until they are archived.
So what do you do with those working files? You back them up with your choice of “set it and forget it” style software that will do daily backups for you automatically. My choice for this is Mozy.com online backups. My files are backed up each night, and as long as I keep it under 2G, it’s free. Henry lists 10 sources of online backups in his article. Any of them should be fine, just pick something that works for you and use it.
Between these two – DVD for my archive files and Mozy for my working files – I am assured that all of my important files are safe from disaster. What is your system? Leave me a comment and let me know.