My career centres around enterprise level data protection, to the point that I wrote a book about it, and maintain a blog about it. I’m not talking security and anti-virus, though I have a typical paranoid IT person’s awareness of these items – I’m talking backing up and (if necessary) recovering your data.
Sometimes, once people find out what I do (“backup and recovery”) they ask me how they can best backup at home. This is something that I sometimes struggle to advise in, simply because I tend to take an enterprise approach even to home data protection. So, I’m not going to make my tips about “You should use program X” or “You should use cloud provider Y” – choosing what to use is different from knowing how to do it.
So, that being said, I can give you 10 key tips to keeping your home data safe:
- Keep yourself organised.Honestly, this is the most important thing you can do – have a logical and consistent layout to where you store your data. Don’t just dump things on your desktop and hope to sort them out later, or save files to whatever random folder a File|Save dialog box offers. Have a directory/folder structure that is organised enough to make sense to you, without being so anal retentive that it drives you nuts and you start to disregard it.
- Know how much you’re backing up. You need to get an understanding of how much data you’ll be backing up. Are you just going to be backing up your email and documents, or your iTunes library all the videos you’ve taken, all the photos you’ve taken, etc.? You can’t make a decision about what backup product to use if you don’t know how much data you’ll be backing up.
- Know how much it’ll cost. Classic example – some people just blithely back up to the ‘cloud’ – i.e., over the internet, to something like Mozy or Crashplan. This might be OK for you if you’ve got a small amount of data, but if you’ve got a lot, then bear in mind that you may blow out your upload limits, or take months to complete. When it comes to backup, cost appears in at least two ways: literal dollar value, and amount of time taken. Be aware of both.
- Some apps require special backups. For instance, if you’re using Microsoft Outlook or something like that, you can’t backup your mail while your mail program is active. Ask around, or touch base with IT people who use the same platform as you, and find out whether it’s safe to back your application data up while the apps are running.
- It’s not a backup if it’s not tested. Don’t just run whatever backup process or program you choose to use and blindly trust that it’ll recover the data when you need. Do some test recoveries when you’re first setting up to reassure yourself it can be done, and then try to remember every now and then to do a test recovery to make sure it’s still looking OK.
- It’s better to backup a little bit more than not quite enough. This is typically the very first thing we learn in data protection. Don’t go crazy and backup stuff you know you’d never recover, but on the other hand, if you’re not 100% sure of something, err on the side of caution. It’s better to use a few extra GB of backup space than to find out later you really, really needed something that you’ve now lost.
- Backups should be automated. As a backup consultant, the best thing I think Apple ever introduced into their operating system was Time Machine. It allows for fully automated backups to run every hour, with an easy to use recovery interface. One of the first things we learn in backups is that if you have to manually run a backup, it won’t get run. You don’t use your computer to back it up – you use it for the web, or photos, or social networking, etc. Make sure whatever backup option you come up with runs automatically. You should be able to see when it’s active, or easily check that it’s happened/have it report to you when it’s complete. If you can manually run a backup too – e.g., after you’ve just say, imported 30GB of photos – that’s good, but you need it to run automatically 99.9% of the time.
- Remember: Backup is Insurance. Doing a backup is like taking an insurance policy. You don’t get to the end of the year and think “damn, that was a waste of money, I never made a claim!” when you take out home and contents insurance. You think “Another good year”. Consider backup the same way.
- Is your backup safe? Safe has dual meanings here: is it safe from something that might take out your actual data? Do you for instance, store it right next to your computer? If so, then it’s safe from the hard drive in your computer failing, but it’s not safe from something affecting your house. Consider this when deciding how you’ll store your backup. The second meaning of safe is this: what if someone steals your backup, or it gets lost? (E.g., if your data is small enough that you’re just backing up to a portable hard drive.) If that backup contains your bank account details, etc., then you’re practically giving away information, unless you do some form of encryption.
- If you change backups, make sure to safely and securely dispose of the previous ones. You may even want to consider this in advance when choosing what sort of media you’re going to backup to. For instance, I made the mistake for a while of doing archival backup to DVD. When I was no longer doing this and needed to get rid of the DVDs, I had to scratch/destroy the surfaces of each one. With 800+ discs, that took a while: