How to Store Your Data Backups the Right Way

Pretty much everyone knows or has heard of someone who has suffered a major hard drive crash and lost their most prized files. As we delve deeper into the Information Age, many of us are frequently plagued by the amount of time needed to update, maintain, and troubleshoot computer issues and yet data backups are largely ignored because they can be viewed as a low priority. That is, until your files go up in smoke. Vasts amounts of personal information are now stored exclusively as millions of carefully arranged zeroes and ones, but the options for data security available today can be so overwhelming, it's easy to remain hesitant about committing to one or more backup methods. The list below contains the available backup types on the market today, one or more of which is bound to fit your needs.

1) Recordable CDs/DVDs - These discs are lightweight, easy to transport, and hold large amounts of data (anywhere from 650MB for CDs and 8.5GB for dual layer DVDs). Some discs can only be written to once like CD-R, DVD+R, and DVD-R discs while others can be written to one or more times such as CD-RW, or DVD+RW discs. Make sure you buy the correct blank discs that correspond with your writable drive. Although some Windows operating systems have built-in software to burn discs, software titles like Roxio's Easy CD Creator and Nero's Burning Rom make life easier. Although most common DVD and CD players can read multiple disc formats, before you decide to play your written disc on any drive/player other than the one you used to record your disc, you should check to see if it supports format of your disc. The only problem with CDs and DVDs is that they can be scratched easily although Blu-Ray writable discs are much harder to scratch.

2) Flash or Thumb Drive - These little USB drives are so small, they can fit on your key chain. They are an easy way to transport data from one computer to another. Plug one into your computer and you have an instant portable hard drive. Copy your files over to it and you are set. Although they allow you to transport your files between computers easily, it isn't practical to use them as a backup medium since they are fairly pricey for the amount of data they can hold.

3) External Hard Drive - An external drive is pretty much the same as the hard drive you have inside your computer except it sits on the outside of your computer and connects to the back of the case via an eSata, USB, firewire, or some other interface cable. External hard drives are portable and instead of getting their power source from inside the computer, they require an electric outlet for their own power plug. These hard drives have the largest capacity of any type of storage medium today (up to 1 Terabyte or larger) so if you don't like the idea of backing up data onto several discs at a time, this may be one your best options. They can also be used for large data transfers, like flash drives though they are physically larger.

4) RAID 1 - RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) controllers widely come in two formats: as an add-in card for the computer or as a built-in component on the motherboard. RAID 1, also referred to as mirroring, is what the big corporations sometimes use to secure their data. The idea is to have two hard drives, both of exactly the same storage capacity. When the RAID controller is set to "1", whatever data is placed on one drive will automatically be placed on the second drive as well. Using RAID 1 takes the hassle out of remembering to backup your drive since backups are done in real-time without any additional effort. The downside here is that if your files become corrupted by a virus, you will automatically save those infected files to the second drive without any means of prevention.

5) Online Server - Why fuss with backing up your data when some online server can backup your data? Not only can you automatically backup your information, when you choose and how you choose, but you can access it anywhere you have a connection online. Of course if the server gets hacked, your data may be compromised but most online backup services are adequately encrypted for maximum protection. And for the low low price of 15 cents per stored gigabyte (as advertised on with no minimum charge, you almost can't go wrong.

Since these five solutions all have their own strengths and weaknesses, the strongest protection would involve a combination of these options. One of the smartest plays would involve the following combination: 1) Setup a RAID 1 configuration so that if one hard drive fails, you have the second to fall back on with very little inconvenience to you (just replace the bad drive). 2) Use backup software (such as Acronis's Drive Image) to create images (or snapshots) of your hard drive and save them to an external hard drive once or twice a week. Appending your newest backups to older ones will save you storage space. By doing this, you can restore your computer back to a previous version of windows prior to a virus intrusion but with very little, if any, loss of files. 2) Use to automatically backup any non-system files such as mp3s, pictures, videos, and anything you may want to access from a different computer once a day. Not only will an online server give you full access to all your most important files from anywhere, but in the case of a fire or theft, all your pictures and other most valuable files will be retrievable. Your operating system, on the other hand, is always replaceable!

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Mark Cruz
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Posted on Mar 8, 2012