Backups – Ideas and Opinions


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Backup Confusion

There has been a lot of discussion and misunderstanding of late regarding backups. Having a backup is all-important, of course, but understanding what a backup is can be just as daunting a prospect. Also, there are many differing ideas of how a good backup scheme should be implemented. I am here to offer some ideas and opinions about how this process should be approached. There are no instructions as such– you are on your own. As always, the decisions you make will be influenced by the way you use your computer. The variance is as wide as is the number of people on the planet.

There are people on this beautiful blue globe who deem backups a total waste of time. My dear brother is a prime example of this notion. Apparently, he feels that nothing on his computer is worth saving. Could be… one never knows, does one?

Backups vs Images

The first thing that some people seem to confuse are Images vs Backups.

A hard drive or partition image is basically a snapshot of the drive in its current state. An image is, of course, a backup. A backup, on the other hand, is not necessarily an image. A backup may consist of merely a few files or a much more complex system of directories. A main difference between the two is that generally a backup is not able to handle files that are currently in use by the system whereas taking an image will.

For the purposes of this article I will use the term “backup” to encompass both. Making an Image as opposed to a Backup may require entirely different types of software.

Types of Backups

There are three types of backups commonly available to you: Full, Incremental, and Differential.


  • Full Backups: This is just what it sounds like. It creates a complete backup of the folders and files that you choose to include
  • Differential: This will create a backup of only the files that have changed since the last Full Backup
  • Incremental: This will create a backup of only the files that have changed since the last Incremental or Full Backup

Note: The perspicacious readers among you will notice that on the first occurrence of a Differentail or Incremental backup the result is identical.

Differential vs Incremental – Pros and Cons

Personally, I like Incremental backups because they are relatively fast. There are some potential drawbacks, however.

Differential Backups

Pros

  • Only the last Differential backup and the original Full backup are needed to complete a successful restoration

Cons

  • It takes longer for Differential backups to complete

Incremental Backups

Pros

  • They are faster to complete

Cons

  • They require every Incremental backup in the sequence to offer a successful restoration

The 1-2-3 Backup Plan

There is a common convention among backup proponents, including myself. Is is called the 1-2-3 plan and it goes like this. If you have only one copy of a file, then you have no backup at all.  At first observation this may seem patently dim-witted. You may discover that many people overlook this bare-faced fact. Somehow, they seem to willfully blind themselves to the idea that  it could possibly happen to them. The inevitable hard drive failure, that is. Sadly, it happens in so many variations of life as well.

The idea here is that you should have your original copy, a second copy on some removable media, and a third on media located at an off-site location. The third option protects you from an “Act of God” such as fire, flood, etc. The second option protects you from hard drive failure which will ultimately occur.

My Plan

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Your individual backup solutions will undoubtedly differ from mine which is totally dependent on your personal needs. Here’s what I do:


  • I have an Incremental backup scheduled at 3 p.m. each day. I use Acronis True Image to accomplish this. It is a commercial program and not free of charge. There are free backup solutions “out there”. I have no affiliation with Acronis and only recommend it because I happen to like it. The interface is a bit quirky and takes some getting used to, but it works flawlessly once you get the hang of it.
  • Once a week, I have Acronis create a Full backup and clean up all the old Incremental backups.
  • Once a month I create Full backups to place on DVDs.

The end result is that I always have a backup no older than one day. In the worst-case scenario, were it that all my hard drives broke at once, I would still have a backup no more than one month old. That is acceptable considering how unlikely a total hard drive failure may be. Besides, restoring from a backup in an hour is preferable to several days of re-installing Windows and all the programs I use on a regular basis.

Your Plan

What you need determines your backup plan. If you change very little of your data, programs, and all-important gaming information over time, then you don’t need frequent backups. If your changes occur at a rapid rate, then your needs increase accordingly. It’s all up to you and how you use your computer that determines your particular backup requirements.

I hope I haven’t muddied the waters too much and hopefully may have enlightened a few,

Richard

About the Author

Richard Pedersen

Richard received his first computer, a C-64, in 1982 as a gift and began dabbling in BASIC. He was hooked! His love for computing has led him from the old “XT” boxes to the more modern fare and from clunky 10MB hard drives to smooth and fast modern day SSD drives. He has run BBS services, Fido mail, and even operated his own computer repair business.

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