Making backups is essential. Even a tiny mistake or sudden hardware failure can mean you lose hours or even months of work if you don’t have backups to fall back on. This page provides general information and in-depth tips and tricks on how to organize your backups.
The reason to make backups is quite straightforward: minimize or prevent data loss.
- More than 30% of all computer users have lost most or all of their files due to events beyond their control.
- More than 1 in 20 computers suffer an episode of data loss in any given year.
There are various possible causes of data loss. The main causes are listed below:
1. Human error. Accidentally deleting or overwriting a file for example, or dropping your laptop. It’s easy to make a small mistake.
2. Hardware failure. Especially hard drives are prone to failure: they’re mechanical devices that may easily break, often without warning. Memory cards and USB-sticks can also break.
3. Software/virus corruption. Virus or malware infection, faulty software, failed backups or configuration complexity can all cause files to be deleted. See also: Security.
4. Theft. Lost or stolen laptops, hard disks or memory cards/-sticks. Especially laptops and laptop bags are prime targets for theft. When you’re travelling your belongings are particularly vulnerable to theft.
Guidelines for a sound backup strategy
The general principle is that you should have at least one extra copy of all your essential files, preferably at a different location from the original.
This principle can be further improved along three vectors: more copies, more locations and different media. One extra copy is just a bare minimum.
Keep one basic rule in mind: backups on the same hardware or location as the original are no good!
When travelling: never bring both the original and the backup on the same trip!
To keep things manageable, we recommended to split your file management into three tiers (levels):
Make regular copies of the data you’re working on (parts of your current project). This is data you are actively working on: if you aren’t going to change it anymore (any time soon), move it to the next tier. It should be straightforward to make these backup versions, so it preferably should be done automatically, with no or minimal user intervention.
Size: the total volume of this backup should be relatively small.
Schedule: at least every day (that you are working), up to every hour or more
Medium: you could either choose to backup files to an online service (requires an internet connection) or back up the data to a portable device, such as a USB memory stick.
Recommendation: use dropbox (or equivalent) or automated syncing to a USB memory stick or your TU delft webdata folder. See below for links to these solutions.
Make backups of the current project you’re working on and maybe some loose ends of a previous project. This action may require some user intervention, but do schedule it, so you will be reminded when you have to take action to run your backup.
Size: the total volume should be moderate. Try to reduce the number of files if you have many versions (first round of cleaning up).
Schedule: at least once every two weeks, preferably once every week.
Medium: if the total data set is relatively small, you could use an online backup service. For more massive data sets, a portable hard drive or network storage device (NAS or server/computer) that you keep at home may be preferable. If you can, keep it in a different room. We recommend using two backup devices of which you store one off-site.
Recommendation: use an external hard drive that you keep at home (preferably a rugged 3,5″ inch model)
Move all old projects and personal files to your archive. Most of this data shouldn’t change any more.
Size: All of your essential data is in your archive so that it will be the largest data set. Reduce the number of files as much as possible, only keeping important, essential versions (second round of cleaning up).
Schedule: at least once every six months. Preferably once every three months.
Medium: you could use an online service, but this might be expensive and requires a fast internet connection to transfer large amounts of data. Alternatively, write the files to an external hard drive (not the same one as the one you use for your repository).
You should store your archive at a different location (off-site)!
Recommendation: a second external hard drive is beneficial if you want easy access to your file archive.
What to back up
- Files of current projects
- References and Documentation
- Bookmarks and Address-book
- Pictures and Movies
- Personal files (administration, password vault)
- Templates (e.g.: for InDesign, Word, AutoCAD)
- Configuration and License keys
Online storage and backup services
Storing your files and backups in an online location is both convenient (can be accessed from around the world) and safe. The only possible drawback is when you have a lot of data: transferring it to and from the online storage service may be slow, and the available space is, in most cases limited to several gigabytes.
Some examples of online storage/backup services:
More alternatives and details: Five Best Online Backup Tools (Lifehacker)
Software to make backups
Making backups should be easy. There’s lots of software that can automate this task for you. A brief overview of the available software:
Software to synchronize between two or more locations (for example a folder on your laptop and an external hard drive):
- Crashplan Central
- Big5Sync Syncless
- Botkind AllwaySync
- Create Synchronicity (Open Source)
- CodeDroids OneSync
Backup software (intended for scheduled copies of selected folders on your computer to a backup location, keeping previous versions in case of changed or deleted files):
You can choose to make regular system images (snapshot) of your operating system and installed programs. You need special software to do this; just copying all files in your hard drive will not work. Examples of software that support making complete system images are Apple Time Machine, Windows Backup, Restore and DriveImage XML.