Backup Storage Devices

Category: Backup

Having learned (perhaps the hard way) that backing up your data is a vital chore that must be done regularly, you may be looking for the best backup storage device. Here are some tips to help you find the right choice for your needs...

Which Backup Storage Device Is Best?

There are a number of options and price ranges among backup storage devices; the best one for you depends on your computing environment and habits. It's also advisable to keep multiple backup sets from different dates at all times; if one of them is damaged or infected with malware, you can try earlier backup sets until you find a clean one.

For many home users, CDs or DVDs are perfectly adequate backup storage devices. A CD holds about 700 MB of data while a DVD may hold 4 GB (about 4000 MB), and DVD discs are not that much more expensive than CDs these days. Also, you can use re-writable CDs, erasing your oldest backup set and replacing it with the latest.

USB flash drives may be used as backup storage devices. Yes, flash drives do wear out and start losing data - but it's the repeated re-writing of data that wears them out, not holding data in a steady state. A flash drive used to store data, unchanged, may retain the data more than ten years. Even if you use a flash drive like a re-writable CD, you should get up to 100,000 write cycles out of it before the flash drive begins to fail. See my related article How long do Flash Drives Last?
Backup Storage Devices

A better option for home and small business users that have lots of data to backup would be an external hard drive. This option allows you to make a complete backup image of the hard drive inside your computer. External drives can hold a terabyte (1000 GB) or more of data, and they're easy to connect with a USB or Firewire cable. Another advantage is that they are portable, making them a good choice for rotating off-site backups. The basic idea here is to have two external drives, with one in use as the backup drive, and the other stored off-site. Every week (or month) you swap them, so there's always a current backup, and a backup of your backup. See my related article External Hard Drive For Backups for more info.

Network Attached Storage and Other Backup Options

If you have multiple computers on a network, at home or at the office, a network-attached storage (NAS) device may be the most convenient way to keep all the computers on your network backed up automatically. A NAS device is basically a large hard drive with an Ethernet adapter or other network connection device; it is assigned an address on your network just like a printer, computer, or any other device. But a NAS device comes with software that allows you to schedule automatic backups. You can also specify which files, folders, and types of data files are to be backed up and when. The NAS device also enables restoration of data from backup copies.

A simple NAS can be put together with an off-the-shelf external hard drive and some free network backup software such as Karen's Replicator. The external drive will have to be connected to a networked computer, as it will not have its own built-in network adapter. That computer must be left on at all times so that the backup software can access other computers on the network during scheduled backup times. Of course, you can also designate the internal hard drive of a networked computer as the backup storage device. It is best to use a secondary drive for this purpose, dedicating it to holding backup copies. That way, the computer's user will not be slowed down by backup activity, and the backup drive will endure as little wear as possible.

Tape drives are still used in enterprise (corporate) backup systems, but they are not used much by home or small business users, as the cost of magnetic and optical media is far less than tape. Those newer backup media are also much faster when it comes to backing up and restoring data. But tape drives have one advantage: they spin only when data is being read or written, saving power and wear on electromechanical parts.

And I haven't even mentioned the biggest, baddest, backup device of all -- the Internet. Online Backup services are becoming more popular because they're affordable, easy to use, and they don't require the purchase of any hardware. My article Which Online Backup Service Is Best? goes into more detail on services like services like Carbonite, Mozy and other online backup providers.

What backup device do you use? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Backup Storage Devices"

Posted by:

17 Aug 2010

Hard drives also wear out. It is true, they do not have the 100,000 write limit of the flash drive, but they do have read write heads that can scrape the platter during a crash or a servo motor can just simply fail. I was told somewhere that a hard drive can fail without warning or any symptoms.

Posted by:

17 Aug 2010

Hi...Great tips here. I wanted to know HOW I can use a USB drive to backup data???. I mean, what's the process involved?. Thanks Bob. I love these tips!...[Doc]

Posted by:

18 Aug 2010

For the sum of $55 a year Carbonite is my choice. It works in the back ground and I don't have to do a thing except mark the files I want saved. I have about 15 gig of backup files. Carbonite has worked well and it seems like $1.00 a week is not too much to pay for the peace of mind

Posted by:

18 Aug 2010

To Dwight... Did you know that Ask Bob Rankin has its own Site Search function at the top of the page?
Yep. Even though I more frequently use a Web Search utility from my browser, when researching for a solution, I often come here for the reliable and personalized type help that has made Ask Bob Rankin popular with his regular readers.

Using one or more External Hard Drives is easy and in my opinion "essential" for home and small business users. I have four in service throughout my own family network.

As to "How-to", it can be as simple as copy/paste or as comprehensive as creating a Drive Image. I do both on a regular basis... and for what its worth my favorite Drive Image ISO backup solution is Acronis 2010.

Here is an article by Bob Rankin that may begin to answer your question about "How-to..."

Posted by:

22 Aug 2010

I also use Carbonite, and have for years. I have it on 2 computers. It works in the background, and there is absolutely no slow down. No, I do not work for, or have any financial interest in Carbonite. It's just a great product at a reasonable price for unlimited storage.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
08 Sep 2010

NOT mentioning eSATA external hard drives in this article is unfortunate. eSATA capable drives are not much more expensive than USB and Firewire only drives and FAR faster. I wouldn't consider buying a PC without an eSATA port.

Posted by:

Michael Merrill
08 Sep 2010

One need to consider clickfree for home backups. Check it out, it is the easiest and quickest I have ever seen or used. One can check it out at I first saw it at the Consumer Electronic Show 2009.

Posted by:

S Peters
09 Sep 2010

I would think that restoring from online would be very slow. There is also the fact that you have to be online to restore, and that could be a major problem.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Internet connection speeds will continue to rise dramatically, as they have done over the past 15 years. My household connection is 20Mb/sec and costs $30/month. So I could download a gigabyte in under 7 minutes.

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