Are you feeling a bit anxious? That’s likely today, March 31, is World Backup Day — originally a made-up day to raise awareness of data backups and the increasing role of digital information in daily lives.
In all seriousness, keeping backups is important. So today is one of those special days we should appreciate daily, like every day should be an International Women’s Day we had earlier in the month.
And we can make every day World Backup Day — backing up data daily doesn’t require much effort. There’s no need for flowers, chocolate, or being extra nice, though those things don’t hurt.
And we have made progress. According to statistics, 30% of users didn’t make backups by this time last year. This year, that number has lowered to 21%.
If you’re not part of that well-adjusted 79%, remember that data backup has never been more important, considering how ransomware has run rampant in the past few years.
You’ll learn more about data backup in this post, and hopefully, when through, you’ll find a way to ensure your data is safe. Consider this post a public service announcement.
Dong’s note: This post was first published on March 31, 2020, and has been updated annually to add up-to-date information, the last time being on March 31, 2023.
So, what’s a backup?
Philosophically, data backup is like a health or car insurance policy. We need it, yet, we hope you’ll never have to resort to it.
Physically, in a nutshell, a backup is an extra copy of the data you put away, separate from the version you’re using. The more copies you have, the safer your information is, and you generally need at least one additional copy.
And the more often your data changes, the more regular backups should be performed. Depending on your needs, there are different ways to make a backup.
How do I back up?
The simplest way is to manually make a duplication of your data and place it somewhere else. Copying files on a thumb drive and then tucking it away will do. Or, for a small document, you can even email it to yourself.
Ideally, though, you want a backup solution that happens automatically, without you having to get involved, after the initial setup.
So, the best way to handle this important task is to set up a backup scheme, which is easy enough and relatively cheap to achieve nowadays. You can indeed set up data backup once and then forget about it.
Types of backups
There are generally three types of backups: Online, local, and network. They all have pros and cons, but any is better than having no backup. And it doesn’t hurt to use all three.
Let’s find out more about each.
1. Online backup
Online backup, often goes by the misnomer “cloud backup”, is when you upload your data to a remote server — a computer or computers residing elsewhere in the world. Typical examples are Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive.
You only need to sign up for one of the three. After that, download the software for your platform, run it, and follow the self-explanatory instruction.
Online backup: Pros and Cons
Online backups keep your data safe from disasters like fires or floods — your data is stored offsite at the service provider’s data centers.
You can perform a backup, and access your files, from anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection. One online account can work for multiple machines, and you can even sync data between them.
And finally, you won’t need to worry about the maintenance of the backup destination. But with that comes the catches.
Due to the constraints of the Internet speed, it takes a long time to back up or retrieve a large amount of data.
The backup process also strains your Internet connection’s upload pipe. So, it’s not ideal for those with a slow Internet connection.
On top of that, most providers give you a limited amount of free storage space — typically a few Gigabytes — before charging you a subscription fee.
And finally, using an online service means you will, for the most part, have to surrender your privacy, and your data is susceptible to hacking.
Specifically, if your leak your account credentials (username and password), the bad guy can obtain that vital document or those private photos. That has happened.
Who should use the online backup?
If you use a smartphone, chances are you’re already using some online backup solution via Apple’s iCloud (iDevices) or Google’s Drive/Photos apps (Android).
For those using a computer, this type of backup is excellent when you have small amounts of lightweight data, such as Word or Excel documents.
If you have more, consider getting a fast broadband connection and prepare to pay for the extra online storage space.
2. Local backup
This type of backup is the easiest and most popular.
A typical example is using an external drive, such as a portable drive that connects directly to a computer using a peripheral port, namely a USB or Thunderbolt.
After that, use Time Machine on a Mac or File History on a Windows 10 machine. These two applications automatically back up your data regularly, as often as every few minutes.
Some portable drives, such as the WD My Passport series, include third-party backup software you can also use.
By the way, if you get a few external drives and remove them from the computer after a full backup, that’d be an excellent offline solution that will keep your data safe against ransomware.
Local backup: Pros and Cons
Generally, you can back up a large amount of data easily if your computer has a fast USB/Thunderbolt peripheral connection or when you use a secondary internal drive.
Also, there’s minimal setup or configuration, and you don’t need the Internet.
Finally, if you use a RAID 1 solution, such as a desktop external drive like the My Book Duo, your data is safe, even if one of the internal drives on the backup storage dies.
As the name suggests, local backups can handle only one computer at a time. It requires a drive to connect to a computer directly and therefore is inconvenient for mobile users or multiple users on a local area network.
Additionally, ransomware attacks can render any connected local backup drive useless. Its content is affected like the rest of the computer.
Who should use the local backup?
Desktop users will benefit the most from a local backup. But mobile users can also get an ultra-portable drive, like one of these portable SSDs, to back up their notebooks.
Some portable drives also work with Android or iOS devices. However, in this case, they are too clunky to rely on.
Here are some options for the local backups — many of them are on sale on World Backup Day:
- Pick one of these top portable SSDs if you want to back up a laptop on the go. You can easily move the drive between multiple computers.
- A desktop external drive is a better fit if you have a desktop. Consider the WD Mybook or My Book Duo (with RAID options), which recently has upped the storage space to 44TB.
3. Network backup
This type of backup uses a network-attached storage (NAS) server that connects to your router or a switch, allowing users to back up multiple devices simultaneously.
A NAS server can also work as your cloud storage for you to back up data to it over the Internet. It’s like having an online backup service of your own.
Network backup: Pros and Cons
Using a server is by far the most comprehensive backup solution. It has the speed and convenience of local backups and the safety and minimum privacy risks that you can hardly find in online backup.
Some servers can also protect your data in case of ransomware attacks by keeping versions of your data via shadow copies. (I detailed that in this post on server data security.)
Those with lots of data and fast Internet connections can even use multiple servers at different locations and sync data between them to have automatic offsite backups. Or you can use your server as the “cloud storage” — as the online backup solution — for your remote friends and family members.
Finally, a server can give you lots of storage space and different RAID options to deliver performance, redundancy, or both. And you can also have the ability to scale up the capacity as your data grows.
Setting up a backup server requires networking and computer know-how.
Additionally, the initial cost is higher than a single backup drive for local backup.
While you can turn a Wi-Fi router into a mini NAS server for relatively cheap, this solution lacks the major advantages of a real NAS server, including redundancy, shadow copies, and more.
Who should use network backup?
Anyone with a major need for storage space and backups will benefit from network storage solutions. So a good NAS server is in order if you have a large family.
Looking to dabble into network backup today? The related-post box below will give you additional resources and many hardware options.
Tend to your backups
Using any of the backup types above — online, local, or network — is better than having no backup.
Depending on your data type, you should use all of them when appropriate. I used cloud backup for critical data, network backup for essential data, and local backup for everything.
All of my desktops have a second internal drive for backup and are set to back up the entire system once a day.
If you’re worried about the backup to drive running out of storage space, use a backup destination with enough space for at least 150 percent of your data. Most backup programs can auto-rotate, meaning they will delete the old backups when needed.
While most backup schemes are set-it-and-forget-it, checking on your backups occasionally is a good idea. You can do that by performing a test restoration or copying a file or two from your backups to ensure they have been in the intended state.
If your backup software has a verification function, you can set it to run after each backup job.
One moment things are working fine; the next, your computer might not even boot up. Take my word for it.
Like a flat tire, an accident, or a health scare, losing data is the kind of lesson best to learn from the mistakes of others. And you’re welcome to learn from my years of first-hand experience.
Disasters tend to strike in an instant. The slow and steady process of regularly backing up your data is the sure (and only) way to ensure you won’t be caught off-guard. Do it! Today! Now!