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					Personal Backup Strategies

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Personal Backup Strategies
April 3, 2002

By Joel Strauch

As a writer, too many times I've known that horribly empty feeling of not being able to retrieve a nearly-completed article from a corrupt hard drive, or having Microsoft Word's auto-recovery function not work after rebooting from a system crash. You know the one--where you feel like you've been punched in the gut by a young Mohammed Ali. I wouldn't quite say that these experiences have left me paranoid, but do the truly paranoid ever realize the extent of their suspicions? I prefer the term "extremely cautious," having made backing up my data an almost religious responsibility. But it is estimated that less than ten percent of all users back up their personal data. If you fall into that lackluster majority, take heed and read. Most users can take advantage of their current hardware and software to at least create a minimal backup set that will directly save critical data and indirectly save fistfuls of hair. This two-part series will outline various hardware and software solutions that you can adopt to reduce the data sacrifices otherwise intended for the ether. Whether it's simply saving your work to disk or scheduling complete backups of all your data, everyone needs a personal backup strategy and the tools to implement it. The first action item on the list of backup needs assessment is ascertaining what data you're planning to back up. The occupants of your hard drive can be divided up into your operating system, your applications, and your own data. Your data can be anything that you've added to your system Word files, Excel spreadsheets, Photoshop images for Fark.com, MP3s ripped from your bootleg audio CDs. It's basically anything that you can't replace from a CD or easily download from the Web. As you peruse your hard drive, you can take stock of your personal data and gauge how much size it takes up when glommed together. Most of us have more of this "stuff" than will fit on even hundreds of floppy disks or perhaps even multiple CD-Rs, so it's important to note how much backup room you'll need. In general, you'll want to backup to a location with twice as much space as you currently need, giving you room to grow without having to change your backup strategy. When you're creating your list of important files, don't forget e-mails, address books, Web site bookmarks, and anything else that you've added to or changed on your system. You can use the Windows Find tool to search for errant .doc or .xls files that may not have settled into your My Documents folder. Browse through your Program Files--a lot of applications save your creations in their own folders. Consider all the possible information that's on your system and what it would take to get it back to its former state. Make sure you have the dialup number for your ISP, for example, as well as login information for Web sites that may be saved as cookies in your browser's folder. And don't forget the Registry. Backing up the Registry frequently can save you a lot of headaches if something goes wrong. In Windows 98 and ME, use RegEdit to create a backup copy of the Registry. With Windows 2000, you can use the Backup utility to save the Registry. And in Windows XP, use the export option in the Registry Editor. You can create a backup folder on your hard drive that contains copies of all the files that you back up--this will make it easier to transfer them to your backup media on schedule. And most backup software keeps tabs on your personal files and will move only the ones that have changed. You can perform partial backups on your system, meaning you'll only target those personal files as they change. Contrary to the moniker, partial backups involve more work, since you have to take the time to distinguish which files to leave and which ones to back up. Comprehensive backups, on the other hand, are much easier to implement--just save it all--but they take up a lot more space on your media since you're saving the extraneous OS and program files. We'll look at different ways to perform both of these types of back ups. Next, you'll want to determine the frequency of your backups. While the uber-paranoid may advocate daily or even hourly backups, you can set your own schedule depending on how often your data changes. For the average user, backups performed on a weekly basis with critical data backups implemented as necessary during the week should adequately cover their needs. An easy way to figure out how often to back up is to ask yourself how many days of data you can afford to risk losing. If it really is one or less than one, then you might need to back up at the end of every day. Regardless of your backup frequency, stick to your schedule. There are backup applications that will automate much (or even all) of the process, but if you're not using one of these, make sure that you follow through on your end of the deal. A plan that only looked good on paper doesn't hold much credibility when you're trying to recover lost data. Depending on the size and the frequency of your backups, you'll want to choose the appropriate backup medium. And you don't have to spend much extra money for a backup solution. If you've already got a CD-RW drive in your system, then you probably don't want to look any further for a simple, yet effective means. If the space required for your backup is constrained by CD-RW's 650MB capacity, then take a look at DVD-Rewritable drives as they come down in price. And while they're not as common as they used to be, tape backup drives still handle large amounts of data in a cost-effective manner.

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The nature of the backup medium depends somewhat on the type of data. If your critical data consists mostly of text-heavy Word documents and spreadsheets, then even low capacity devices such as Zip drives may suffice. On the other hand, the family photo album or the music video you've been editing may require more substantial space. Some of us are fine with keeping our backed up data in the same room as our PC. It's unlikely that data thieves will break into our dens to steal the latest Enterprise fan-fiction. One of the most common causes of data loss is a hard drive crash. Even if the MTBF of your hard drive is rated for decades, it could still crash tomorrow. Or today. Having your data on CDs sitting on your desk will protect you in this situation. But in order to prevent a total loss of data in the event of a fire, flood, or other disaster, keeping at least one copy of backed up data off-site may not be an exorbitant precaution. You can rotate between a set kept with your PC and another kept off-site on a monthly or even a weekly basis. This is especially important if your home PC does double-duty as a home business or work-at-home system. In that case, you have no excuse not to have a rigid backup strategy in place, assuming you want to keep your customers or employer happy in the event one of the aforementioned problems occurs. Whether it's physically moving backup CDs or tapes to another location (such as a safety deposit box or a friend's house) or uploading data to an online storage location, consider keeping your most sensitive data away from your PC. As we mentioned before, if your backup needs aren't too extensive (i.e., you don't have to back up 8 gigs of data) and you've already got a CD-RW drive in your system, there's no need to go out shopping for other backup hardware. The media is inexpensive - even with the recent settling out of the blank CD-R price free fall, they still sell for change, and blank CD-RWs can be had for around $1 each. Single-use CD-Rs are best for burning data that won't be changed (such as your old Master's thesis) or for storing drive images under 650MB in size. CD-RWs on the other hand, can be rewritten to anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 times depending on their quality and the care of storage. High quality CD-RW disks and high end drives can handle data backups at decent enough speeds for your weekly backups. At the end of day Friday, just drag and drop your backup folder to a CD-RW and let it spin away. You can burn a more permanent CD-R to periodically take to your off-site location (they're less susceptible to problems from adverse external conditions).
Plextor 24/10/40 USB 2.0 external CD-RW

DVD-rewritable drives are becoming more common as they also become less costly. The first type of DVD-rewritable drive on the market, DVD-RAM, is also most useful as a backup means. Rather than the 650MB limit of CD-recordable media, DVD-RAM cartridges can house 2.6-4.7GB of data single-sided, or up to 9.4 GB double-sided, making it more viable for storing the entire contents of your hard drive. DVD-RAM media isn't cheap--they typically sell between $15-$25 for double-sided media each--but they can be rewritten to up to 100,000 times and their expansive space takes some of the edge off the cost. Sustained transfer rates for most DVD-RAM drives are 1.38MB per second. DVD-RW (and DVD+RW) drives are also becoming more prevalent. Most popular for burning your own DVD-R movies that will playback in many newer home DVD players (which the earlier DVD-RAM drives couldn't do), these drives can also burn to DVD-rewritable disks. DVD-RWs offer a storage size of 4.7GB and can be written to at speeds ranging from 1 to 3 megabytes per second--that upper end being much faster than any CD-RW drive. The competing formats and multiple combinations mean that you'll want to do a little research before spending the $275+ it will take to bring one of these drives home. But DVD-RW and DVD+RW media is less expensive than DVD-RAM disks - you can purchase individual disks for around $3 to $4 each - although they're each only rated for around 1,000 rewrites compared to the 100,000 of DVD-RAM.
Panasonic ATAPI DVD-RAM HP DVD-100i Internal ATAPI DVD+RW Que external firewire DVD+RW

Other removable media options that may already be in your system include the older LS-120 as well as Iomega Zip and Jaz drives. Zip and LS-120 have begun to fade from the marketplace. The 120MB storage capacity of the aptly named LS-120 drives and even the 250MB of the newer Zip drives can't compete with the low cost and near-ubiquity of CD-RW drives and their media. If you've already got one of these drives on your system however, they work well for spot backups - using one Zip cartridge for your e-mail messages and another for your data files, for example. Iomega Jaz (discontinued by Iomega a while ago) and its 1 or 2GB capacity were once a viable option for backups, but the high cost of the cartridges was prohibitive. The drive itself used to cost between $300 and $400 (depending on the interface) and additional cartridges (still available on Iomega's site) were around $100 for 1GB, and $125 for 2G, though you could do better elsewhere. This is an outdated solution, and various reports indicated the drives were unreliable. Iomega also offers their Peerless hard drive cartridges, with 10 or 20GB storage sizes and USB or Firewire interfaces (for transfer rates of up to 15MB per second). Unfortunately, the solution is very pricey, with the drives costing $360 to $400 and the cartridges running at $160 to $200 each. An alternative is the Castlewood ORB, which maxes out at 5.7GB per cartridge, but a single cartridge is "only" $59. If you're really serious about performing comprehensive backups, the traditional media has been tape. While tape drives can often store entire hard drives on a single tape, backups to tape can be performed swiftly and effectively, and additional tape cartridges are relatively inexpensive, it's often

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an overkill option for personal users. Unless you're running a business off of your PC, you probably don't need to make the $800 to $2000 (or more) investment for a high-end tape drive, and then implement a strategy to swap out 80GB tapes at the end of every day. That said, there are certain types of tape drives and tape technologies that have dipped down into the realm of personal user affordability. Internal tape drives such as Seagate's TapeStor Travan 20 can be had for a little over $300 list, for IDE and USB versions. A SCSI-2 drive is a bit more. Both drives handle 20GB tape cartridges that sell for around $35 to $40 each at list. Tape drives also implement 2:1 compression that can often come close to doubling the capacity during backups. DAT drives tend to be much more expensive, but cartridges are cheaper, with 40GB compressed DDS4 cartridges available for under $20. Cost per GB makes tape media less expensive than CD-RW or rewriteable DVD media, and even the low-end tape drives offer transfer rates of around 2MB a second. Another consideration is a second hard drive--either internal or external. Your cost-per-megabyte ratio for internal drives is much lower than with any other backup means (although off-site storage is less of an option), and the transfer rates between hard drives are also beyond compare. And if you pick up an IDE RAID adapter card, you can automatically set up that second internal hard drive to mirror any changes made to your original drive. Make sure to pick up the same size and model of hard drive for your second RAID drive. While some RAID cards allow you to have a different size/model for the second drive, it's not a good idea to mix and match. If your main concern with your backups is portability, you can consider adding an external hard drive. For example, Maxtor offers both Firewire and USB 2.0 connectable drives with fast transfer rates (both about 30 times faster than USB 1.1 in real-world use) and high capacities that let users hot swap from machine to machine and carry their backups with them. USB 2.0 and FireWire external drives at 80GB capacity range from $150 to $300, so shop carefully. However, unless you have a specific need for portable backups, you're most likely better off with less expensive hardware.
Que USB 2.0 40GB hard drive

Whatever your final choice for backup hardware is, make sure to have extra blank disks for removable media options and choose high quality media--you don't want your backups to fail because you got such a "great deal" on the 50-pack of CD-Rs. That's it for Part I. In the next segment we'll cover backup applications, online backup solutions, OS built-in backup features, and various backup tips and scenarios.
Personal Backup Strategies
April 8, 2002

By Joel Strauch

In Part I we discussed the basics about backup, what data should be backed up, how often, and to what medium. We also highlighted common backup hardware solutions based on different backup needs. In this segment we'll get into the software options. There are a variety of applications out there to help you perform your backups, some bundled with your backup hardware, others available as standalone products. After you've assessed your backup needs, you can examine these tools to see if they fit into your personal backup strategy.
Compression Software

Compression software, such as WinZip, can be a simple way to reduce the size of your backups. Depending on the types of files you'll be backing up, zipping them can save you anywhere from a few megs to multiple gigabytes of space required on your backup media. It's also a good way to organize smaller files, such as Word or Excel files. Moving one zipped archive can be a lot easier than transferring several hundred Word documents. Many full backup programs contain their own compression algorithms, but if you're handling your backups yourself, you can save space on your media by zipping first. Note that compressing files adds time to both the backup and restoration end, so build that into your backup schedule. WinZip also lets you span compressed archives over a series of floppy disks or Iomega Zip disks, a simple way to backup files normally too large for your media.
Drive Image Creation Software

Image creation software, such as Norton Ghost, can be an excellent tool for performing comprehensive backups. Image creation applications take a snapshot of your entire hard drive and save it as an image file. The image file can then be transferred to another hard drive, a backup tape, or a CD-R disk. Then, if something goes wrong with your system, you can restore it to its exact state from the drive image. Creating images doesn't work as well for periodic backups – you don't want to create a new image each time your data is changed – but it's good to have an older copy of your system to roll back to. This is particularly useful if you're a Windows XP user, as you can avoid the product activation step when restoring from a major system crash.
Partitioning Software

Partitioning software can also be a useful backup tool. While it won't protect your data in the event of a total hard drive crash, having a second partition on your drive to transfer personal data to and from can make reinstalling your operating system a much easier task. Then if an individual file gets corrupted, you have a backup copy right there at hand. You can create multiple partitions on your hard drive with the basic OS tools or you can purchase third party software such as Partition Magic to simplify the task.
Backup Software

As for software that aids in the actual backup process, depending on the hardware you plan to use for your backup, you may already have backup applications installed. If you're using an Iomega Zip

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or Jaz drive, for example, the bundled IomegaWare software includes automated backup applications that allow you to select a backup set of files and folders, save your settings for next time, and then perform laissez fair backups on schedule. Similarly, tape drives will usually ship with advanced backup software, such as Dantz Software's Retrospect Express or Veritas's Backup Exec. Retail versions of these programs can be purchased for use with CD-RW or DVD-RW drives (which often only include basic writing software such as Roxio's DirectCD and Easy CD Creator – fine for normal burning, but they don't offer any scheduling, restoration, or other backup tools). Both Retrospect Express and Backup My PC (the desktop version of Backup Exec) let users set up filters to create lists of files for partial backups. Files are automatically compressed before being backed up, backups can be scheduled to run when you're not there, and disaster recovery CDs can be created that let you boot up and restore your system in the event of a serious crash (although Backup My PC currently doesn't offer this option for Windows XP). Various shareware libraries also contain demos of versions of retail and shareware applications for creating backup sets, saving your Registry, and scheduling backups. This will give you a chance to try out some of these backup applications to see if the cost is worth the efficiency of not having to take the reins during every step of the backup process. One solution that appears to address a lot of the requirements of successful backups including off-site storage, capacity, and automated scheduling is online backup. Whether you take advantage of the dwindling free storage sites out there or subscribe to an online backup service that will increase storage capacity and automate your data transfers, storing your data online, especially via broadband access, can be worth the upload effort in some cases. Even with cable or DSL access to the Internet, upload speeds are often limited, making transferring the entire contents of your hard drive impractical. But most online backup sites take advantage of compression as well as software that only transfers files (or even bits of files) that have been changed. The first time you perform an online backup can take longer, depending on the amount of data you're sending, but subsequent backups may only take minutes. And online backups can be completely automated. That means you don't have to do anything once you've set up the backup process. Even with semi-automated backups to tape or optical media, you usually need to be around for some of the steps. But online backups can be performed seamlessly with an always-on broadband link, and as frequently as you like. And they're accessible from anywhere – if you need files from your office backup set when you're at home, they can easily be downloaded to your home PC. Online backup services such as @Backup and Virtual Backup charge a yearly subscription fee based on the amount of storage space you require. Virtual Backup starts at $40 for 50MB of space (based on 50% compression) and @Backup charges $50 a year for 50MB of space. For 2GB, @Backup charges $995 per year. If you have data-intensive backups, even with compression, these do appear to be costly solutions, but you're paying for a third-party service that should hopefully make your important data much safer. These services likely appeal more to SOHO users than typical home users. Files are compressed and encrypted before being sent to the off-site servers. In the event of a hard drive crash, you can simply download the files and restore your system. @Backup will even send you an encrypted CD-ROM of your data (for $40), if you'd rather have a hard copy. These online services backup their backups regularly, giving you an additional level of safety. Just a year ago, a variety of free online backup services existed that planned to use ad revenue to pay their bills. That business model hasn't been the most healthy, so services such as i-drive, XDrive, and Driveway.com have turned to subscription-only, or have gotten out of the consumer backup business entirely. But there are other services out there that still allow you to upload small amounts of data to protect it from on-site disasters without charging for the space. They just don't go by the name of online storage anymore. For example, you can use the Web site space provided by your ISP for file storage. But then your data is just hanging out on the Web – not exactly the safest location. Some Web portals, such as Yahoo! have included password-secured storage in their suite of offerings. Yahoo! Briefcase offers 30MB of storage space (this is combined with any other items you upload to your Yahoo! account, such as photos) for free. You can add an additional 50MB for $30 a year. It's not the speediest way to perform online backups – even with a broadband modem it can take several minutes to upload large files to Yahoo! Briefcase. While these free services don't include any of the automated tools that can make scheduling your backups a thought-free task, they offset that with their cost. If you don't mind manually uploading your files to the site, it's a bargain for a small, critical-file set. Depending on your version of Windows, you may already have all the backup software you need. From Windows 98's bare-bones Backup to Windows XP's more advanced System Restore tools, you can take advantage of these first-party backup applications. The Backup tool under Windows 98 lets you perform partial or comprehensive backups on your system. You'll find it in Accessories, System Tools (you might have to install it from the Windows CD), and it works well for average backups. It doesn't integrate with any backup hardware other than a tape drive, but you can create a backup set on your hard drive and then transfer it to CD-R or RW yourself. It also doesn't have any scheduling tools built in, but you can incorporate it into Task Scheduler to create or update your backup set automatically, and then transfer it to your backup media when it's finished. More advanced forms of Windows offer other tools that can aid in the backup process. The Windows 2000 version of Backup includes a built-in scheduler, letting you backup to another PC on

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a network or to your media automatically. Both the Home and Professional versions of Windows XP (as well as Windows ME) borrowed from Roxio's GoBack and other rollback software that lets your restore your system to a previous, non-crashing state in the event of a problem. System Restore takes periodic snapshots of your system and lets you easily switch back to one of them. Since System Restore doesn't change any user-created data, all of your documents, e-mails, and other files should be safe during the rollback process. XP also integrated CD burning into the operating system, although it doesn't offer anything more in the way of backup tools than Roxio's DirectCD and Easy CD Creator (since it's based on Roxio's code). But it can be handy for manual backups to CD-R and RW. Portable users have some additional backup considerations. If you're backing up data from your notebook PC, the same software and some of the same hardware options for desktop PCs are available to you. But if you use synchronization software such as My Briefcase or a third-party application, backing up becomes less of a concern since you're keeping a copy of your data on your desktop PC. One additional type of hardware you can consider with a notebook is removable PC-card hard drives. Toshiba has a 5GB model (that sells for a hefty $400) that would definitely hold even a power user's critical file set. If you travel a lot and frequently switch between desktop and laptop, an online backup service can be an optimal solution. No matter where you are, you can perform your backups and have access to all your backed up files in the event of a system crash on the road. Luckily, the data on your personal digital assistant is automatically backed up to your PC each time you synch up. If anything goes wrong with your PDA and you have to perform a hard reset, you can just resynch and all the files and settings are transferred back. But you can also make a copy of your data set, just to be safe. The critical contents of most PDA's can fit onto a floppy disk or two. And if you've got a CompactFlash or Smart Media-capable PDA, you can pick up an extra media card (their prices have dropped well down into affordable range) to use for a backup. Although everyone's backup will be different, there are some general rules and tips that apply to any method of data saving. Following these rules won't guarantee you from any loss of data, but it will reduce the disastrous possibilities.
Test your backup. It doesn't matter how well implemented your backup scheme is; if it won't work when you need it, you may as well not have backed up in the first place. If you're using backup software, such as Retrospect Express, go ahead and run the restore functions through its paces and ensure that everything gets back into its rightful place without error. Try it on another system if you have one available, or change the names of your current folders and directories and restore the backup onto the original system. Even if you're using manual means, such as writing to CD-RW, and don't have restore tools built in, be sure that you're able to manually transfer your files back to your system. Finding a glitch on the media when you still have your original data beats the heck out of the other scenario. Adhere to a schedule. Ideally, you can use a backup strategy that automates the process so that every Friday night, whether you remember or not, your data gets safely squirreled away. Some users may require daily backups, and some may require backups more frequently. If your backup option doesn't feature its own scheduler, make the backups a part of your routine that you won't forget. Include it on your calendar software in your PDA or use a reminder service to send you an e-mail every week. Don't forget. Keep a copy off-site. Whether it's online backups, tapes in a safety deposit box, or simply dropping a CD-RW off at a friend's house, keep a copy of your backup away from your PC's environment. The likelihood of a fire or burglary may already be slim, but by keeping a backup off-site you can reduce that chance of data loss to none. Perform incremental backups. Even if you perform complete backups at the end of each week, moving any new documents, e-mails, or other files to your storage media, you can still save along the way. Many people periodically save important work in progress to their hard drives, say every half hour, but they should also save to an alternative media frequently if losing the data causes much extra work. Many of ExtremeTech's authors and editors save their stories every 10-20 minutes to hard disk, and then store the files to an alternative media like floppy, Zip, PC Card, etc. every few hours or so. Some even send email to themselves, attaching the file and using their corporate servers as a temporary backup facility (though most IT departments probably don't care for this method!). If you do such practices, be sure to clean up your mail files frequently. Better safe than sorry. An ounce of prevention . . . A bird in the hand . . . Choose your cliché, but they all mean the same thing. You'll thank yourself for having that copy when your hard drive's refusing to spin. Rotate your backup media. Keep three or four backup sets in rotation. That way it's easier to keep a copy off-site. And then if something goes wrong with the most current set, you'll at least have an older set or two to fall back on. Also make sure you have extra blanks on hand. You don't want to have to skip a backup because you're out of media. Label your backups clearly. Don't count on your memory when it comes to backups. If you tossed that CD-R because you thought it was a botched audio CD burn and it's really your latest backup, well, you know the rest of that story. Write down the contents of the backup media and enter the date of the backups as well, so you know which one is the most current. Scenario #1: Typical home PC user with Quicken for their financial info, Word documents, a few Excel spreadsheets, and e-mails. This user doesn't make a lot of changes to their personal files during the week, so a weekly backup after they've updated Quicken is frequent enough. They can send their e-mail files to the Zip drive already installed in the system. They can also back up the rest of their files to Zip, and for off-site protection, they can send the other smaller files to a secure online backup service.

Hard-core gamer with saved game files, MP3s, and e-mails. A CD-RW drive was a necessity for this user, so they can keep a CD-R of their music and CD-RW to send their other files to periodically (weekly or even monthly). A paranoid gamer might back up saved game files to
Scenario #2:

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CD-RW as well, or to a partition on their hard drive on a more frequent basis. Be wary of the physical storage requirements, though, as some games create enormous save game files. Home office user with a home network. Running Windows 2000 on two networked PCs, this user can automatically set up each PC to back up to the other's hard drive on a weekly basis. They might also consider a tape drive or DVD-RAM or RW drive for rotating backups to keep a copy of their hefty amount of data off-site.
Scenario #3:

No matter which type of user you are, you've got some files that need protecting. Whether you back them up to floppy, CD-R, tape, or the Internet, you'll rest more assured knowing that your system can be safely restored. As one sage user noted, "There are two types of computer users: those who have lost data and those who will lose data".
Copyright (c) 2009Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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