Eggs in a Backup

The Medieval Chicken Farmer and You!  You’ve heard the old saying about not putting all your eggs in one basket? Undoubtedly, the phrase was first coined in the middle ages by a frustrated – and soon to be hungry – chicken farmer after his son spilled the whole day’s collection across their dusty farmyard.

Alas, no omelets tonight.

I suppose, for the medieval farmer, this might have been quite the disaster since Kroger was not yet available in the rural parts of England. He was probably counting on those eggs. Luckily for him, his chickens will keep on producing and he’ll be back to eggs benedict tomorrow. But this phrase, coined for posterity, has much more serious application to us when it comes to all the data we keep on our computers.

“Don’t put all your data on one hard drive” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but the principle is the same. Think for a moment what information you have stored on your computer right now: pictures? music? important documents? the great American novel? And what if, rather than a clumsy farm boy dropping his basket, your computer met with an untimely crash? Or, worse yet, an untimely theft or house fire? Ah, now you see the connection to our 12th century chicken farmer.

Thankfully for us, our data does not have to be as irretrievable as broken eggs. We have the ability to back up our data – to duplicate it in a safe location – so that in the event of a disaster our precious pictures and documents can be restored. It’s a no-brainer.

But how, exactly, should you do it? You have some options: First, you need to decide where you want your backup to be stored and then exactly what to back up. Let’s start with decision number one.

Where to back up?

Generally speaking, there are two options for where to place your backup data. One is on an external device, usually an external hard drive or a flash drive. Both of these portable devices plug right into your computer and receive copies of your data. While this option still doesn’t protect you from a house fire or thief (which might claim both your computer and backup), they are small enough to be kept anywhere and all your data remains in your physical control.

The second option is cloud storage, which means that, rather than having a physical storage device connected to your computer, you “rent” space on a company’s servers and upload all your backup data there. Now you’re protected from the thief and the fire; no matter what happens to your physical computer, a copy of the data is safe in a distant location. The cloud also allows you to access that data from any of your devices, anywhere with an internet connection.

The drawback of the cloud option for some might be that the security of your data is now in someone else’s hands and the possibility of your individual account or the company as a whole being hacked certainly exists. (PSMail, by the way, provides all its subscribers with secure cloud storage called Cabinet, and brings some peace of mind by tying it to your secure, private email account.)

Minor drawbacks aside, these are both good options and vastly superior to the whole “eggs in one basket” plan.

What to back up?

Let’s start with the most dramatic step: a full-system image. This is when you make a copy – like a snapshot – of your entire system: data, software, system files, everything. Usually, this is done with an external drive and, for obvious reasons, it’s a large chunk of data that’s being stored. The advantage here is that, should your system crash, you can immediately take your computer back to just how it was when you took the last “snapshot” of your system: all your data, all your software, etc. will be restored to that point in time.

This can also be a drawback, of course. That means that anything you did on your computer since you made the image is lost, and as the full-system image takes quite a lot of drive space and time to create, you don’t want to be doing this on a very regular basis.

Another question with the full-system image is this: do you really need it? Much of the software on your computer probably doesn’t need to be backed up (it is often web based and so won’t be destroyed even with a computer crash), and even things like pictures and music may already be on a cloud service if you’re taking pics on your phone and buying music from something like iTunes. Perhaps a limited backup, which can also be accomplished through the options given above, will be sufficient.

When considering a full-system image or limited backup, the safest answer should probably be, “Both!” Having a full-system image saved away in case of a “full-egg-drop-disaster” while regularly backing up the data that is most valuable and irreplaceable is a solid solution.

Yikes! That’s a lot of info. Where do I start?

Recent versions of both Apple’s OS and Microsoft Windows have built in back-up systems that allow you to do much or all of what we just talked about. Since you probably already have these options sitting in front of you, it’s not a bad place to start. For a more detailed explanation of backing up with Apple, click here. For a more detailed explanation of backing up with Windows, click here.

Eggs in a Backup