Why Backup? 9 Good Reasons (and YOUR backup questions answered)

Category: Backup

It's a good question... why should you bother to make backups? It's especially understandable if you've never experienced any sort of data loss. But I've got a list of NINE reasons, some of which may surprise you. Read on for that list, and ANSWERS to some of the best questions submitted by those who took my survey on backups...

Do I Really Need to Back Up My Files?

I wrote the first edition of my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS in 2010 because I'm passionate about making sure that important files -- programs, documents, emails, contacts, music, photos, and financial records -- are NEVER lost due to a data disaster.

My goal was (and is) to teach people how to make backups easily, inexpensively, and automatically.

I've now completed the 5th Edition, and I'm excited because I believe that my plain English explanations and instructions will guide both advanced users and even the most non-technical readers to success with backups, and trigger a "Wow, that was easier than I thought!" response when they're done.

Yes, Backup Now

I'm psyched that over five thousand of you took my survey last week, and told me your top two questions about backups that you wanted me to answer.

I'm going to answer some of those questions here, but first, let's get into my list of reasons why you need to make backups.

NINE Good Reasons for Backups

1) Hard drives don't last forever. -- Studies on hard drive life expectancy show that 22% of hard drives will fail in the first four years, due to factory defects, random failures, and parts that wear out. Failures due to factory defects tend to happen in the first 18 months of service. How old is your hard drive, and how lucky do you feel?

2) Viruses, power surges, and natural disasters happen. -- Ransomware is spreading like wildfire online. It will lock all your files, and permanently delete them if you don't pay a hefty ransom within a few days. Power surges can scramble data or zap files. Fires, floods and F5 tornados can tear the stuffing right out of your shiny gadget.

Crypto virus

3) Stuff gets lost or stolen. -- Even the most reliable hardware and top-notch virus protection won't help if your laptop, tablet or smartphone falls into unfriendly hands. Only a backup will save your bacon.

4) Mobile gadgets break or get wet. -- Have you ever dropped your mobile phone in a dirty slush puddle, or treated it to a wash/spin/dry joyride? I have. Have you ever dropped your laptop, watched it fall in slow motion, hoping that it will survive the fall? Been there, too.

5) Passwords get lost. -- You followed the advice of the experts to use unique, secure passwords for your computer and your online accounts. But then you forgot... was it "2Much-L0ve4U" or "2Much-4U-2Love"? Dang it!

6) Accounts are compromised or frozen. -- Your password was "PASSWORD" and you're surprised you got hacked? Sometimes for no discernable reason, people get locked out of their Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook or other online accounts. Was it a software glitch, a denial of service attack, or did a hacker gain access to your account? You may never know. And without a backup, you may never again see your saved emails, contacts or files.

7) Data breaches are becoming commonplace. -- Every week, it seems there's another high-profile data breach, resulting in millions of usernames, passwords and other critical data becoming public. Yahoo, Target, Chase Bank, American Express, Home Depot, Apple, Sony... who's next, and how will it affect you?

8) Human error. -- None of us are immune to the occasional finger fumble, brain freeze, or senior moment. Files or folders may be accidentally deleted, and sometimes you don't notice until it's too late.

9) Incorrrect assumptions. -- I've learned that some people just assume that their computer is automatically making backups. If you didn't do something to make it happen, it's not happening. And many users who have some sort of backup routine are not backing up the right files, or all the ones that need protection.

Your Backup Questions Answered

Did I mention that over 5000 people responded to my survey? WOW. I learned that about one third of you do backups "Never" or "Once in a Blue Moon". Another 4% make a backup once a year. (Hint: That's the same as "Never.") And you sent in some REALLY good questions. Thousands of them, actually. I haven't even had time to read them all yet, but here are some of the most interesting so far, and my quick answers:

Q: "Which free backup software do you recommend? Also, which paid one do you recommend, as NORTON and ACRONIS are surprisingly problematic?"

Macrium Reflect backup software
A: My current favorite is Macrium Reflect. There's a free version which is quite good, and a paid version that adds some extra features I like. Windows 7 includes the Backup and Restore feature, but I find it a bit clunky. If you have Windows 10, the File History feature is a really good option. I used Acronis True Image (paid software) for years, but the recent versions have become bloated and buggy. Lots of people tell me they like Easeus Todo Backup and AOMEI Backupper (both free) but I've not used either one enough to recommend them.

Q: "What should I do if I'm on Social Security and can't afford an external hard drive or a monthly fee for cloud storage rental space? I did lose everything on 2 computers. It's like having your house burn down."

A: Making a backup with free software on a flash drive or a DVD is an excellent low-cost option. And some cloud services offer varying amounts of free storage for backups.

Q: "What exactly is 'The Cloud,' and how safe is it?"

A: Cloud storage or cloud backup refers to files that are stored on an Internet website (sometimes called a server) instead of your computer's hard drive or other local storage. The term "cloud" is used to create the impression of a giant hard drive in the sky, which provides convenient access to files that reside on the Internet. Examples of cloud storage providers are Google Drive, Dropbox, Mozy and Carbonite.

I maintain that data stored in the cloud is MUCH safer than files stored on a local hard drive. Do you use 256-bit encryption for your sensitive files at home? Do you have a staff of highly-trained professionals constantly monitoring your computer for break-in attempts? How about strong physical security that includes gated perimeter access, 24x7 on-site security guards, and security cameras? Do you have a fire detection and suppression system, backup power, and a disaster recovery plan in the event of hurricane, flood or earthquake? You can bet your cloud storage provider has all that and more in place to safeguard your data. It's probably much easier for the NSA to hack into your home computer than to get into any one of these cloud servers. Some people point to all the high-profile breaches reported in the news, but it's important to note that none of those compromised companies were cloud service providers, who focus on data security above all else.

Q: "What is the difference between full system and data backup? What is the difference between what *should* be backed up and what *must* be backed up?"

A: In a nutshell, a full system backup (or image backup) includes everything on your hard drive -- the operating system, program files, and your personal files. A data backup usually refers to a backup that only includes personal files such as documents, spreadsheets, music, photos, etc. That's better than no backup at all, but my recommendation is to make regular image backups, followed up with a series of "incremental backups" that catch any changes since the full image backup.

I Object!

I've heard lots of reasons for not doing backups. The most common one is "I'll do nothing and HOPE for the best." But there's a problem with that. (Actually 9 problems, see above.) HOPE is the strategy of the fearful, the uninformed, and the procrastinator. In this case, "doing nothing" is almost certain to lead to disaster. BUT... if you knew you could protect ALL your information on ALL your devices with little or no expense, and make it happen automatically, wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't it be awesome to have CONFIDENCE instead of HOPE?

Other people say "Backups are too complicated or time consuming." That might have been true 10 or 15 years ago. My first backup system used a tape drive that took forever to run, was prone to error, and was hard to set up. After that, I tried making backups on diskettes, CDs and DVDs. That was a hassle, and I never remembered to do it as often as I should have. But today we have "plug and play" devices that will start making automatic backups as soon as you plug them into your computer. Getting started with an online backup service is almost as easy, and both options can be configured to run at night, or when your computer is idle.

Another one I hear often is "Backups are too expensive." As I mentioned earlier, there are some really good free backup software options, and some clever ways to access gobs of free online storage. Don't trust your data in the cloud? A 500 gigabyte external hard drive costs less than $50 now. Still too expensive? How about a 128GB USB flash drive for about $25?

Let's Talk About This...

I want to hear from you about backups! If you're already doing regular backups, strut your stuff. If you're not, and you have questions about getting started, sound off. Let's have a conversation about backups in the comment section below. Your thoughts, suggestions and comments are welcome!

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Most recent comments on "Why Backup? 9 Good Reasons (and YOUR backup questions answered)"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Tony D
17 Jan 2017

I purchased an i Drive about 9 months ago, but was not backing up regularly. On 12/23/16, my computer died. (I had upgraded to windows 10 back in June and started having computer problems in late September when it would install automatic updates.)
I purchased a new computer and started installing my programs. I checked my i Drive and found the last back up was 12/17. Everything came back with the exception of my Quick Books data. I had that backed up on a thumb drive.
Thanks Bob for the info on the i Drive. I don't know what I would have done without it.

Posted by:

john silberman
17 Jan 2017

I am looking for a good & free image backup software for Linux/Ubuntu. I have been using ReDo for many years, but the last update was in 2012. There have been some unofficial user updates on sourceforge which have worked well, but that support has seem to ended last February. I hear AOMEI and Clonezilla are good alternatives, but neither seem to be as easy as ReDo. I will need to experiment I guess. Standing by hoping to learn more.

Posted by:

Gary Larivee
17 Jan 2017

I have used EaseUS todo paid version with good and not so good results. My good result was somewhat lucky. Just prior to attending a trade show I saw a 1gB hard drive at Staples at an incredible cost. On a whim I bought one thinking that if I lost my hard drive at next week's trade show it would be disastrous.

Sure enough I picked up something either at the airport or hotel and I couldn't boot my laptop. Lucky for me I had a system backup and in 30 minutes I was back in business.

My not so good result was in trying to go back to Win 7 after Win 10 on my desktop. Apparently I had changed a partition size and couldn't restore the system. Luckily I had a EaseUS clone of my hard drive so nothing was lost but a lot of time.

Posted by:

Frank D
17 Jan 2017

Bob, Super-glad to get this info/recommendations. I have I Drive & Macrium Reflect.Not sure if I am using either correctly. Anyway, will you be testing AOMEI and EASEUS TODO BACKUP in the near future to give us a definative answer regarding these two programs? Hope this is OK: i forward post like this to all I know whom I think need to know of you and your good work for us ZeroGeekFolk. I want them exposed to good, solid reliable information. Keep up the great work!

Posted by:

Paul Schmidt
17 Jan 2017

The newer HP has UEFI Secure Boot enabled, which is why your boot up goes to the hard drive. On some machines, you can override this by choosing the DVD drive after hitting the "Boot Menu" key. The info for it should be flashed temporarily upon startup. Probably F9, F10, F11, or F12.
The Macrium disc is UEFI friendly.
If that doesn't seem to work, you'll have to go into the BIOS (UEFI) and disable Secure Boot. Also enable Legacy boot and change the order to put the DVD first.
F1, F2, Del, or Esc will get you in. Then look for the Boot tab, which may be by itself, or under Security. Save changes.
If you just fiddle with that stuff, you won't hurt anything.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2017

If you scoot over to giveawayoftheday.com they are giving away the pro version of AOMEI Backupper today (17Jan, 2017)

Posted by:

Rob S.
17 Jan 2017

I use Macrium Reflect as well, and do an image backup on the first day of the month and then incrementals throughout the month. I am curious about a second backup for safekeeping, maybe use the cloud for that.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2017

I have used Carbonite backup for years. I also use an external hard drive and thumb drives, I do lots of family history and certainly can't remember it all and there is no need to have it all in print at this time. I have hundreds of pictures. I do research for other people and do projects for some groups I am in. One time I lost some things and had no idea what happened or what I had done, but all I had to do was contact Carbonite and I got it all back. I would not think about not be backed up one way or the other, but it must be away from the house in case something happens here.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2017

I've used the paid version of Macrium Reflect for several years. (I did not upgrade to the current version as I saw no real benefit.) The image and data backups go to an external drive.

I also use Degoo to backup data to the cloud. It includes its own utility to automate the process. It will encrypt all your files using military grade encryption and store multiple copies of each file. The free version gives you 100GB of storage space, plus the ability to gain 3GB more space each time a referral signs up for an account using your own link. Your referral also gets the bonus 3GB at signup. More info and a 3GB bonus at: https://degoo.com/g/hzRl7Fm

Degoo also supports Android.

A paid Degoo account gets you 2000GB.

In addition to those, I also encrypt certain files and upload them to GoogleDrive.

Posted by:

Dave Leippe
17 Jan 2017

A version of Acronis 2013 or newer will make a boot disk that is recognized by a UEFI bios computer.
If you have Acronis 2013 or newer you don't need to upgrade. Also if you have either a Seagate or Western Digital hard drive inside or outside the computer you can use the free Acronis(2014) programs available from Seagate(Disk Wizard) or Western Digital. They will install and let you make backups in windows. They will let you make the recovery media in case you need to restore.
If you need to get into the bios on a UEFI PC, hold the shift key just before you shut down. The next boot will recognize the bios setup key or the boot menu key.
I can't recommend Ease Products since they come with PUPs. Aoemi is an excellent replacement for partitioning. I will try its backup features.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2017

My desktop PC is a refurbished HP elite 9000 and came with an Operating System Restore Partition. The tech guy at DiscountComputerDepot explained that, in the event of a meltdown, this would be all I need to restore my PC to normal. Can I rely on that?

EDITOR'S NOTE: That depends on your definition of "normal." Sound like It will restore everything to the condition your computer was when you first got it. All of your files will be gone, and you'll be missing all the Windows updates that can out since that time.

Posted by:

Will D
17 Jan 2017

This is not for everyone but, twice a month, I being of more paranoid ilk...

1. Attach Inatek Docking station (Amazon - $39) with inserted 500GB Hard Drive from CDW ($45)
2. Open Macrium Reflect (Free) and click Macrium "Clone" option.

I Of course, perform daily user file backups (See many previous excellent articles on how to accomplish this from Bob's archives).

For catastrophic loss of hard drive data, follow steps below:

1. Swap bi-weekly cloned Hard Drive into PC.
2. Recover any additional required user files not on cloned drive from daily backup location.

(Full Disclosure) For redundancy, I actually use two hard drives and switch for bi-weekly cloning, only because I have seen backup medium also fail!

FYI, my hobby for the last 20 years has been data recovery for friends and family, but unfortunately my efforts are not always successful. So whatever option you decide from the many great suggestions on this post, please consider using one of them.

Posted by:

Carl G.
17 Jan 2017

I have happily used ShadowProtect from StorageCraft for a number of years ($100 with one year of support, but a free trial is available). I have a 1 TB external HD, and do a full image backup once a week, with daily incremental backups. You can make a bootable disk or thumb drive containing the recovery software. I keep the most recent 3 weeks of backups, and the scheduling software automatically deletes older backups to make room for the new one. You can recover individual files, directories, or completely restore the disk. It has saved me on more than one occasion from a hard drive failure.

Posted by:

Les Stuckey
17 Jan 2017

I have a 3 tb seagate external hard drive. It did a terrific job with backups with the software provided. When I got my new Dell desktop with windows 10, it said it won't work with 10. How can I use this external drive to do an entire back up of the computer? Is there another program software I can use or must I get another drive that works with 10? Thanks for your help.

Posted by:

john silberman
17 Jan 2017

I tried AOMEI Backupper Pro 4.0.2 at giveawayoftheday.com. Would not install on WIN 7.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2017

I also tried AOMEI Backupper Pro 4.0.2 at giveawayoftheday.com. Installed on Windows 10 but licence key supplied was invalid. Waste of time.

Posted by:

18 Jan 2017

Just do file backups or file copies often. Clean installs of Windows 10 are easy and fast. Then just reinstall your applications.

Posted by:

18 Jan 2017

Dear Bob,
I have my important documents stored in One Drive. For the computer, I regularly make back-ups using the System Image that comes with Windows 10.
I also have a Western Digital external hard drive that I planned to use for a back-up of my computer's hard drive, but downloading the software for the back-ups defeated me. So, for now, I am sticking with the system image.

Posted by:

18 Jan 2017

So, what backup program will provide real-time or upon-shutdown incremental backups of data, including email?

I bought Acronis 2016 and finally uninstalled it. It provided incremental backups of my HDD (the only way to get email backed up), and these were scheduled. When Acronis filled my 3TB external drive up, rather than overwrite old data, the program simply "failed." (I did use the cloning feature to install a new HDD; that was OK.)

Posted by:

20 Jan 2017

My biggest problem with doing backup is that when I first started using a computer,I was taught to always turn it off when I was finished. That makes it very difficult for a backup program to backup anything. I still do turn off my computer when I am finished with whatever I was doing. And nowdays with SSD drives it doesn't take much time to boot up a computer. So what I do now is save whatever I am working on to a thumb drive when I am using my laptop or when using my desktop to a secondary internal hard drive.

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