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.
The reason to make backups is quite straightforward: minimize or prevent data loss.
There are various possible causes for data loss:
42%: Theft. Lost or stolen laptops, hard disks or memory cards/-sticks. Especially laptops and laptop bags are prime targets for theft. When you’re traveling your belongings are particularly vulnerable for theft.
38%: hardware failure. Especially hard drives are prone to failure: they’re mechanical devices that may easily break, often without warning. Also memory cards and USB-sticks can break.
13%: software/virus corruption. Virus or malware infection, faulty software, failed backups or configuration complexity. See also: Security.
12%: human error. Accidentally deleting or overwriting a file for example or dropping your laptop. It’s easy to make a small mistake.
- 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
Guidelines for a sound backup strategy
The general principle is that you should have at least one extra copy of all your important stuff, 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 traveling: 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 minimum user intervention.
Size: The total size 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 a internet connection), or to backup the files to a portable device, such as an 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 size 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 fairly small, you could use an online backup service. For larger 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 to use two backup devices of which you store one off-site.
Recommendation: Use an external hard dive 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 anymore.
Size: All of your important data is in your archive, so it will be the largest data set. Reduce the number of files as much as possible, only keeping important, key versions (second round of cleaning up).
Schedule: At least once every 6 months. Preferably once every 3 months.
Medium: You could use an online service, but this might be expensive and requires a fast internet connection in order to transfer large amounts of data. Alternatively write the files to an optical medium (CD, DVD or BluRay) or use an external hard drive (not the same one a s you use for your repository.
You should really store your archive at a different location (off-site)!
Note: Optical discs (CDR, DVDR etc) have an average life expectancy of about 5-10 years. Verify optical discs yearly after three years and make new discs to replace the originals after 5-10 years. Always store them carefully (dark, at about room temperature).
Recommendation: Burn DVD’s that you can store elsewhere. A second external hard drive is extremely useful if you want easy access to your file archive.
Tip: most online sources agree that the CDR’s and DVDR’s of Taiyo Yuden (JVC) are among the best and most reliable optical recording media currently available. TY claims over 20 years of reliable storage on their premium-line media.
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 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 and Restore, DriveImage