Is the explosion picture a bit much when referring to backups? I think not.
Admittedly this is a long read. However, backups, second only to a heat beat, are one of the few things in life that truly matter.
The Short Version
- At the minimum, you must create a full backup – data, programs, operating system – to be fully secure. The backups must be made automatically where the only thing you have to do is let the computer run. Anything less is very unreliable.
- Do not depend solely on “cloud backup” for your backup needs. Cloud backup is considered secondary, not primary.
- Cost is anywhere from 225 – 300 installed, including a full service, installation, and testing.
- Pricing varies based on your situation. Roughly, it’s $59 for the Acronis backup software and anywhere from $75 to $150 for the drive to store the backups. Labor is typically in our average range which includes testing the backup and a full service.
What’s a backup?
A backup is nothing more than a copy of your files such as documents, pictures, videos, bookmarks, etc saved on another device such as an external hard drive, flash drive, or a second, separate, internal drive. It’s a COPY of your data. Simply moving your data to another device is not a backup and seriously endangers your data. When you have your data stored on one device, and that device fails, you’re stuck with no data.
Stuff you create. There is a difference between a program and data. A program creates the data. Quickbooks is a financial program that is installed. You then enter your financial data. The program itself can be reloaded at any time. The data cannot be “reloaded” if lost. It must be recreated from scratch as if you’re starting over. This is an extremely important distinction.
When we have to “make the call” informing a customer that their computer’s storage device failed, the first thing I ask about is backups. 99.9% of the time the response is “What?”. I then proceed with data recovery in an effort to recover files. It’s an expensive and time consuming process, but usually we manage to get what we need. However, there are times when it’s not possible and the data is truly lost. Examples of data might be:
- Saved keys, passwords and account information
As a last ditch effort, there are dedicated data recovery services such as Ontrack that we have used to recover data. However, it’s a very expensive service ranging anywhere from $400 – $2,000. Our most costly, successful, recovery was $15,000 for failure that could have been prevented with a $100 backup drive. Although that was successful, they cannot guarantee the data can be recovered for everyone.
How is data lost?
- Drive Failure due to mechanical issues, theft, fire or water.
- Accidentally deleting, editing or overwriting data
- File Corruption, known or unknown.
- Infection or Encryption Attack
- Lost, broken or failed flash drive, camera card, internal or external drives
- Locked out of a computer, laptop, tablet, or phone.
- Locked out of your email or social media accounts.
- The program freezes and the file was never saved the first time.
- Failure of online/cloud backup services including loss of login information or maxing out your service and not realizing it.
- Online services that go out of business or disappear overnight.
- Backups that have not worked for days, months, or years or no backups at all.
- Lost access to accounts and phone numbers that were used to recover forgotten passwords.
- Data saved to an unknown or forgotten location or device.
- Non-booting computer or server with an encrypted drive.
- Non-booting computer or server with a non functioning Raid 1 array or worse yet, Raid 0.
- Running flash drives through the washing machine – bonus points for the dryer too!
- New and creative ways we have not seen yet.
What’s the wrong way to backup data?
A typical way is to insert a flash or external drive and copy your data to it. This is, without a doubt, the most unreliable and dangerous way to backup your data for the following reasons:
- Prone to making a copy of the data everywhere except the backup drive due to “fumble fingers” and mis-clicks.
- Entirely possible to simply move the data instead of copying it, resulting in no backup and missing data.
- Making a mistake and over-writing new data with old data.
- Not understanding the concept of overwriting old data with new data, which is what you want to do but often people get scared and don’t do it, resulting in the new data not being backed up.
- It relies on good intentions to manually backup data at regular intervals, which has never worked in the history of the world.
What is the right way to backup data?
We have seen every backup scenario there is combined with every possible way to lose data, that is until a new way is found. Because of that hard won experience, there is only one way to truly backup your data and that is to take a snapshot of the entire computer automatically, including programs, operating system, and files, and copy that snapshot to a secondary hard drive.
Nothing less will do.
Why do it this way, you ask? Why not “cloud” backup? Haven’t you heard, it’s the new, new, new thing? It’s cloud! Everything is better in the cloud!
Nonsense. There are many aspects of backing up including the fabled “Cloud” backup. Ignore everything you’ve heard up to this point.
- The only backup worth a damn is a full image, made daily, automatically, and stored on a second storage device. No moving the data. No “I’ll get to it later”. No cloud. No “just backup the data only”.
- You need to backup the entire computer including programs, data, operating system, keys, passwords, everything – in one go.
- It should be a backup where if the hard drive eats itself, you can restore your entire computer from the backup in such a way that after completing the restore process the computer is up and running like it was when the backups ran. No reloading anything.
- Cloud backups, manual backups, free backup programs – all are considered secondary and welcome, of course. But, without a full image backup of your entire computer at regular intervals, your backup strategy is seriously lacking.
- Assuming a daily, automatic backup schedule is maintained, the most you will lose is a day’s worth of changes, not a lifetime. With some additional steps, that might be trimmed down to an hour or less.
What you need to make good backups
You need two things – a storage device and the program that reads everything on your computer then saves it onto the storage device.
- Acronis is the software needed to make full image backups. Nothing else works as well. We have tested countless backup systems for personal computers and Acronis is the best. They offer a one time purchase for $59.
- You will want to make sure the storage device has enough space for several days worth of backups. This device can be a second internal drive ( Desktops, if there’s room ), an external drive ( Laptops or Desktops ), or if the backups are small enough, a large capacity flash drive.
- It must be set to automatically backup. Do not rely on human nature and good intentions.
- Enable the Windows 10 File Backup service. It’s free, comes with Windows, and makes an excellent secondary backup service using the same device the Acronis software uses. It’s more of a file history backup and works very well.
More on the storage device
Again, the storage device for your backups is simply the device where a copy of your files are stored. The idea being that if the hard drive fails, you can refer to the storage device to retrieve you data. If the storage device fails, it can simply be replaced and new backups created normally.
A good backup device is a 2 Terabyte ( 2,000 Gigabyte ) or more storage device for the following reasons:
- The cost is $100, more or less. Cheap insurance.
- You can store multiple backups, meaning if something goes wrong and you don’t notice it right away, you can go back several days or months and retrieve the data.
- The storage drive can be a second, internal hard drive if room allows, or an externally attached drive for laptops or desktops.
- We like Western Digital internal or external drives. Seagate externals are also an option.
- Some external hard drives come with free backup software. They are sketchy at best. Use Acronis.
What about “Cloud” backup?
The “Cloud” is another name for the Internet. Nothing more. Backing up “to the cloud” means you have a program of some sort running in the background on your computer that automatically makes copies of the data you create and sends that data to a storage service on the Internet using your normal Internet connection.
An advantage with this service is that theoretically you can be anywhere in the world with an Internet connection and get to that data. Backups made locally are, by design, not easily accessible to the world. In addition, if your computer fails, you can still access that data using a different computer.
As a secondary backup, “Cloud backup” is a viable option. However, many think they can backup there entire computer – programs, operating system, and data – entirely to the cloud. Nonsense. For something like that to happen, you must use a service that makes a local backup to a device attached to your computer or network, then that device sends the backup to the cloud for storage. You will never be able to somehow restore your entire computer, from scratch, using an entirely Internet based backup.
You most definitively can, however, use a cloud based backup to copy your picture and document files. They might call it file sharing such as Dropbox or Google Drive. The idea is to use software running on your computer to make a copy of your files and store them on the Internet. If the computer fails, your files are safely stored on the Internet for retrieval after you get running again. It’s a backup in every sense of the word because the files stored are copies of your data, which is what a backup is.
To make Internet based file sharing/backups work, you most often have to store your files in a particular folder. That folder is monitored for any changes by the backup software running on your computer. Those changes are then copied to the Internet service. Changes include adding, removing, or editing your files. Google Drive is now “Backup and Sync” where it’s a “two in one” thing. You can make backups of selected folders or synchronize data only in the designated “Google Drive” folder. We feel for simple storage on the Internet, Dropbox is the most reliable.
We have found that Dropbox is the most reliable cloud storage service. It just seems to work without too much hassle. You simply store the files and folders you want to store in the Dropbox folder on your computer. You don’t have to “share” anything and by default it does not allow others access to your files. For backup purposes, think of it as a copy of your data on the Internet somewhere – no sharing allowed unless you permit it, which you won’t.
When you add, delete, or change the files, Dropbox automatically synchronizes your computer and the storage location at Dropbox. Just install the software , create an account, and you are good to go. Any existing files may be moved or copied to the Dropbox folder and automatically saved in your Dropbox account online.
Any files not in the Dropbox folder remain exclusively on your computer only.
Google Backup and Sync
Google has software called “Backup and Sync” that works just like Dropbox – you save the files you want copied to the Internet in a folder called Google Drive.
As the name implies, Google also offers a more robust backup than Dropbox where select folders are chosen to backup to Google.
We have found that the Google service mostly works but can be hit or miss where not all files are synchronized for no apparent reason. We find that Dropbox seems more reliable. If you already have a Google account and loath having to create yet another account, Google drive may be an option.
We have several customers that use this service to store and share data among employees. It offers various levels of access but is a paid service. One customer has 100 GB worth of data stored on their account among several employees.
There are other services such as Box.com, Datto, and even Acronis offers cloud backup storage and\or sharing. Our main issue is things work fine in a perfect world with monster Internet bandwidth and someone to babysit and check for proper operation at all times. But not everyone has big Internet speeds.
Since we like Acronis as your primary backup, it’s natural to employ their cloud service. We have tested this and it works, except the initial upload takes a long time to complete even with big bandwidth available. That applies to any cloud backup service, not just Acronis.
Windows 10 Backup
Windows 10 has a built-in backup program that we always implement when setting up Acronis backups. It’s built into Windows, it’s free with the computer, it uses your existing backup device, and it makes an excellent secondary backup system.
At the very minimum, even if you do not use a formal backup program such as Acronis or a cloud storage program, everyone should have an external drive attached with Windows 10 backup turned on. It’s much better than nothing. Check out this article about how to set that up.
A word about manual backups
Human nature rears it’s ugly head when talking about manually backing up your data. First and foremost, it won’t get done. That’s why one of our requirements is to use automatic backups.
Manual backups have their place, however. For example, many programs have a built-in backup function such as Quickbooks, the financial software. After entering financial data, we insert a simple flash drive and run the built-in backup. Takes a minute or two.
With that, we now have our normal, full system backup and a backup with just Quickbooks data. We even alternate backups between two flash drives so if one is lost, we have the other. We keep those flash drive stored off site ( at home ) so if the worst of the worst happens and your entire business is lost, you still have your Quickbooks data on one or both of those flash drive.