What is YOUR Backup Strategy? (I'll show you mine...)

Category: Backup

I want to say THANKS again to all those who have sent comments and questions about backups. I'm really excited about the launch of my new ebook 'Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS' and since I mentioned it last week, lots of you have been asking how and when you can get it. I'll answer that question in today's issue, but I also want to share some Backup Success Stories and talk to you about my Personal Backup Strategy. Read on!

How to Backup Everything

In case you missed my earlier postings in this series on backups, you might want to review the WHY (Nine Good Reasons for Backups) and the WHAT (Should You Back Up Everything?).

In those posts, I discussed the necessity of making regular backups, and covered some of the most common questions and objections. (Are backups complicated, time consuming or expensive? NO, not if you follow my advice!)

I talked about free backup software, the security of "cloud storage", and different types of backups. I also addressed the issue of what you need to backup, and why I believe "pick and choose" backup strategies are not a good idea.

Back it Up! Backup Strategies

In today's posting, I'm going to cover the HOW by laying out my own personal backup strategy. (Tomorrow I'll explain why Seinfeld's George Costanza unwittingly had the answer to preventing data loss.)

It's February, so maybe you've already forgotten your New Year's resolutions. But it's not too late to make a promise to yourself. Wouldn't it be great to have the peace of mind that your data is safe from viruses, hardware failures, theft, human error, and other potential data disasters? Resolving to protect your data is a great way to move away from fear and worry into a place of knowledge and confidence.

And like I've said, it doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. I've been helping people with computer problems for over 30 years. When I worked at IBM, I got the nickname "Doctor Bob" because I always had the answers to my co-workers' software and hardware questions. I left there in 1997, and began writing about computers, gadgets and the Internet for a larger audience. I try hard to explain things in a way that is accessible to both gurus and grandmas, and was thrilled when one of my readers once said "You're a translator for the technology impaired!"

My Personal Backup Strategy

A common question I get is "Bob, what do YOU recommend for making backups, and how exactly do you go about it?" I use a combination of software and hardware tools to make backups. It might be overkill for you, or you might adapt it for your own backups. Here are the tools and techniques that I've chosen to use for backups.

My personal backup strategy is to make a full system backup (also called a drive image) every Sunday morning at 3 AM. I supplement that with daily incremental backups to catch any new or changed files. The image file and incremental backups are stored on an external hard drive. I'm currently using a 2-Terabyte (2000 gigabytes) external drive that I've had for a couple years, and it's been rock solid.

That's all scheduled and done automatically with the Macrium Reflect software. I take that one step further, by using a program called FreeFileSync to keep three revisions of files in certain folders that I often work in. This allows me to recover from the occasional "oops". (On my Windows 10 laptop, I use File History instead for this step.)

I also subscribe to the "Backup Your Backup" philosophy. So in addition to making backups on my external hard drive, I keep some important files in cloud storage (Google Drive and Dropbox work well here), and upload my encrypted backup files to an offsite server. My process involves some geeky technical voodoo. But you can do pretty much the same thing by storing your backup on another computer in your home, or on a separate external drive.

And just because I can, I clone my C: drive to a spare hard drive in my desktop PC every weekend. So if something ever happened to my primary hard drive, and for some reason the backup failed (or was unavailable), I could tell my computer to boot up from the spare drive. Is that taking backup too far? Nah... if I was really paranoid, I would install a high-performance disk-mirroring system to sync my files in real time with a backup drive.

Your Success Stories

I asked you to tell me your own backup and recovery success stories, and I want to share two of those here:

Linda: "I had a close-to-new Windows 7 system go bad, but I had Carbonite backup. It did take awhile, but I got it all back. Then recently several of the folders in my mail program disappeared, but I got them back too. I now also use an external hard drive for both my laptop and desktop which is my main computer. I want to be prepared in case something does happen again and it probably will. I do historical research and can't imagine having to start over. I have your earlier ebook on backups. Thank you for all your advice."

Derek: "I had a hard drive disaster similar to yours. Was trying to help a friend with a virus that came from an infected website, and ended up getting zapped myself! The computer said something like OPERATING SYSTEM NOT FOUND and would not start. Fortunately I was making full backups on an external drive, and was able to restore everything, except for a few files from the previous day. Whew!"

Everything You Need to Know...

I hear things like this all the time: "I'm afraid my computer might get a virus or be hacked" or "I hope my hard drive doesn't crash." Those are signs of Fear and Worry. I've written my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS to help you replace those negative thoughts with Knowledge and Confidence. I want you to make 2019 the year when you can say "Even if a data disaster happens, I am prepared and have a plan to recover."

The book starts with a chapter titled Demystifying the Backup which explains all the jargon and buzzwords in plain English. Then it moves on to cover Free Backup Software, Backup Strategies, and chapters on Backing Up with Windows 7, 8 and 10. I have tips on Backing Up Multiple Computers and a list of Easy Backup Drives that can start your automatic backups as soon as you plug them in.

Lots of people are interested in online backups. The chapter Online or Local Backup? helps you decide which is best for you. Free Online Backup Services and Free Cloud Backup Services will show you where to go for 100% free online backups. And my chapter Are Online Backup Services Safe? will set your mind at ease about the safety and security of online backups.

Other chapters deal with Backups for Social Networking, Backups for iTunes, Gmail and other email, and Backup for Your Mobile Phone. I also have some tips on how to Recover Deleted Files (even when you don't have a backup)!

There are 56 chapters in all, concluding with a more detailed version of My Personal Backup Strategy and a very important chapter titled "You Can’t Take it With You." That discussion covers digital estate planning, and how to make sure your data is handled properly after you're gone. And finally, an Appendix called Backup Q&A in which I answer over two dozen of the best and most interesting questions from my survey on backups.

Plus, two BONUSES...

My AskBob Special Report: Money-Saving Consumer Tips has 65 pages of practical advice on avoiding identity theft, getting free credit reports, cashing in on unclaimed funds, saving money on prescriptions, online shopping discounts, avoiding common scams, and much more. I'll show you how to ditch your landline, fire the phone company, and make free phone calls. You can even replace your expensive cable TV subscription with free or cheaper online services. If you use even a handful of these consumer tips, you could save hundreds of dollars. This 28-chapter ebook is a free bonus to go along with Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS.

I'm also including a second free ebook: Everything You Need to Know About HARD DRIVES. Do you know the Warning Signs of Hard Drive Failure? You'll learn you what to watch for, and the scoop on Hard Drive Life Expectancy. Will your hard drive last another year? If it crashes and burns, you'll want to know about your Hard Drive Data Recovery Options. Backups are great, but Will Your Files Last a Thousand Years? (or even five years?) I also talk about the pros and cons of SSD (Solid State) and Hybrid Hard Drives, which are alternatives to the traditional "spinning magnetic platter" hard drives we've all been using since the dawn of computing. Everything You Need to Know About HARD DRIVES also has a list of Hard Drive Partitioning Myths that may surprise you, and a dozen other topics related to hard drive health, speed, mangement, and recovery.

I have a few last-minute tweaks to finish, so tomorrow, I'll reveal how to get your hands on Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS, and a couple of other surprises. Stay tuned!

 
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The Top Twenty

Most recent comments on "What is YOUR Backup Strategy? (I'll show you mine...)"

Posted by:

RandiO
18 Feb 2019

"You're a translator for [MORE THAN] the technology impaired!"
Thank you.


Posted by:

Frank McCarthy
18 Feb 2019

Hello Bob
In reading your story you talk about chapters on backing up windows 7,8 and 10. Can I use the same information on backing up a Macbook Pro?


Posted by:

mike
18 Feb 2019

Bob wrote: "Nah... if I was really paranoid, I would install a high-performance disk-mirroring system to sync my files in real time with a backup drive."

I used to do that until the day the controller for the mirrored raid drives failed, and destroyed both disks at the same time.


Posted by:

Rick Pizurie
18 Feb 2019

Nice job.
I do something similar. I do weekly backups Monday morning at 2:00am on the first of the month. Every Monday and Thursday I do an incremental and at the end of the month the backup gets archived as a father and a new one becomes the son. At the end of the next month the father becomes a grandfather, etc. When the grandfather is a month old it gets combined with the father and deleted. In the last 15 years I have had 2 major drive failures and have only lost 1 file (a non important one).


Posted by:

MartinW
18 Feb 2019

NOTHING is TOO paranoid. A Windows cumulative update zapped THREE of my laptops. I got two working again. The third found no restore points, would not boot with a rescue disk, would not connect with a backup hard drive (which, obviously, I had been using, once or twice monthly), and would not even reinstall a fresh copy of Windows that Microsoft "gave" me. (It would get to around 80-85% installed, then go back to ground zero. Six times.) I finally installed Linux with no problems at all. I now use whatever backups I can: two external hard drives, for the entire systems, for two Windows/Linux dual-boot laptops, plus Google Drive, Dropbox, pCloud, and Yandex.disk on whichever computers will work with them. (Some don't.) Plus disks and USB sticks for a few things. (This is for a total of four laptops and a Chromebook.) I MIGHT get something back when the inevitable happens.


Posted by:

Bob D
18 Feb 2019

By far the best article I have read on your site Bob and thanks much. It just proves what I do is correct and safe.


Posted by:

BobD
18 Feb 2019

I tried FreeFileSync a couple of years ago, but I wanted to back up a source folder tree with 189 GB bytes in 133,000 files, which FreeFileSync would have copied into a large target folder tree. Instead of comparing source files to corresponding targets, I wanted to back up files only when they were modified, regardless of what was in the target folder tree.
A few years ago, I wrote a Windows service to write files to a backup when the files were closed. I hit a snag with some shortcoming in the Windows file-system signaling, which failed to poke the service under some condition. Sorry, I don't remember the specifics, and I abandoned Windows in 2015 when Windows 10 bricked my motherboard.


Posted by:

-JimP
18 Feb 2019

Does your book cover?
I have a 2TB external drive. Can I split that into 2 logical drives and store a 1 TB drive image on each from 2 computers? Each computer has a 1TB drive of which ~300 GB is used. I'm using IDrive for backup.


Posted by:

Jeannie
18 Feb 2019

@BobD Actually, when set up correctly, FreeFileSync can do exactly what you wanted. You might want to join their forums (lousy forum software but excellent advice) and ask where you might have gone wrong. https://freefilesync.org/forum/index.php?sid=d6f44795d1054472ab18aaab59140f7d


Posted by:

Jeannie
18 Feb 2019

@JimP You do not need to partition your external drive to store images from two different computers. Just have a separate folder for each computer on the external drive. Also, depending on the imaging software you use (except Windows' imaging; I do not recommend using it), your image will probably be compressed and could be as little as 40-60% of 300GB. You may be able to get as many as three images in each folder.


Posted by:

Jeannie
18 Feb 2019

@Bob Rankin First, you are to be applauded for preaching the Gospel of Backups. Seriously, it's a subject that cannot be emphasized enough. Computer forums are literally littered with cries of,"My HDD died. How can I get my data back?" The sad fact is DIY attempts at data recovery fail more often than not and often make the data irrecoverable even by data recovery specialists. And professional data recovery is expensive and carries no guaranties of success.

While you do have a pretty good backup scheme and give excellent advice (not to mention any backup, no matter how good or not so good, trumps no backups), there are some things I do not agree with, starting with automatic backups. First, for an automatic, scheduled backup to happen, it must be done to a drive that is always powered on and connected to the computer. The problem with that is the data on that drive will be subject to the same dangers the data on the computer is subject to, such as viruses and other malware (especially ransomware), a power surge blowing past any surge and spike protection you have and frying everything, etc. While powered up and connected to the computer, the external drive is essentially part of the computer. For a backup drive to be a true backup drive, it must be kept powered down, disconnected from the computer, and stored out of sight of the computer except while updating the backup. Granted, having to manually back up anything is a bit of a nuisance but it's not all that bad when everything has been set up correctly.

I have issues with using imaging to backup the system files AND data. While quick and easy to set up and start, it is unnecessarily time consuming and eats up a lot of space on the backup drive. I also do not like incremental and differential imaging. Having multiple files in an image set results in multiple failure points. Full images are far safer. As long as the only images are of the OS and programs (which should be on their own drive or partition), multiple full images will not take up nearly as much room as full images of the entire computer.

I advocate segregating system files from data files. On my desktop computer, the OS and programs are on the C:\ drive (500GB) and data is kept on the E:\, F:\, G;\, H:\, and (eventually) I:\ drives (I have the I:\ drive installed but haven't put anything on it yet). My system images, including the System Reserved partition, are only 60GB. Also, when only the OS and programs are being imaged, it isn't necessary to backup daily. I only make an image before installing updates and new programs, before uninstalling programs, and before changing any settings (I also run my security scans just before imagng). I usually don't let much more than month go without making a new image.

Folder/file syncing programs, such as FreeFileSync, are best for backing up data. After creating the initial backup, only new, changed, and deleted files are involved so updating the backup often takes only a few minutes, making updating critical data immediately after creating far faster and more practical. Also, when Versioning is enabled, deleted files will be sent to a user designated folder or drive. This protects from losing accidentally deleted files or files deleted due to corruption, something that doesn't happen with imaging and cloning.

Google Drive is the last place I would store anything, even cute (or not so cute) cat videos! Even though you encrypt your data before uploading it (an excellent procedure in itself!), Google is notorious for closing down services, free and paid, often with inadequate warning. I advocate using a good, reliable paid cloud backup service (not cloud storage, most are insecure and unrealiable and the good ones are expensive) instead. The only ones I can recommend for most people right now are Backblaze and Carbonite. These have software that will encrypt files before they leave your computer and will work quietly in the background. Carbonite costs more than Backblaze and has numerous file type (the way around that is to append the filename with .disable) and file size restrictions but some may find it easier to use. Crashplan Home used to be best but Code 42 discontinued that plan, replacing with what has become the inferior and twice as expensive Small Business plan which went downhill after its inception, along with their customer support. A cloud backup service is an excellent alternative as long as one's budget can accommodate the cost and has access to a fast enough Internet plan with a data cap low enough to allow for the uploads without penalty. I've stopped using cloud backups due to issues with data caps and because I will be soon be switching over to Linux and there are currently no longer any good, affordable cloud back services for Linux.

I also subscribe to the backup your backup philosophy but I prefer to make multiple backups rather than replicating a backup just in case a file got corrupted during transfer (highly unlikely but, with my luck, it would be the most vital file I have if it ever does happen; yes, I am a coward). For my desktop rig, I store my System images in a folder on one of my data drives for convenience but that drive gets backed up so they still get backed up properly (I normally advise against backing up to a folder or drive in the computer). Each of my data drives has a set of four backup drives (bare drives I insert into hot swap bays on the computer). Two of each set is kept out of sight in a drawer onsite and the other two are kept offsite in my safe deposit box at my credit union six miles from my home. I swap out the onsite and offsite backup drives no less than once a month to keep the offsite drives as up to date as possible, more often if I add critical data to my computer (btw, all my drives are now SSDs). The desktop computer I'm building will have four hot swap bays so I can backup up to four backup drives at a time (but never more than one backup drive for each data drive at a time). Most people with fewer drives would do just fine with a single hot swap bay or an external USB dock. Also, most people will do fine with a simpler scheme of just a single onsite and a single offsite backup drive for each data drive.

I use FreeFileSync in Mirror mode and with Versioning enabled to update my backup drives. I have the versioning folder on one of my data drives in my computer which I cull every so often to keep its size under control. The results are essentially clones of data drives. I can use any of the backup drives as a direct replacement for one that has failed in the computer but I keep a spare on hand so I probably wouldn't bother since the backup drives are Samsung EVOs and the internal Data drives are Samsung Pros unless I needed data on that drive right away in which case I would make the swap until I could repopulate the new drive and swap it in.

I don't bother with making a clone of the boot drive since it doesn't take very long to rebuild it from an image.

I recently changed up the way I backup the notebook I mostly use for travel and when the desktop computer is down for maintenance or upgrades. I have a 2TB SSD in the notebook divided into four partitions: System Reserved, C:\ (System only), E:\ (data only), and the factory recovery partition. I also have two 2TB SSDs for backups. Each is inside a USM (Universal Storage Module, a type of external drive enclosure). Each backup SSD started life as a clone of the entire notebook SSD. However, I only use FreeFileSync to update the data partition. Also, I only image the notebook's System partitions. I will reclone the notebook's System partitions every once in a great while if the current version has been working fine for a few months. With this setup, if the drive in my notebooks goes to the great SSD in the sky while I'm away from home, I can remove one of the backup drives in the USM and install it inside the notebook until I can get a replacement. If the System partitions are not up to date, I can quickly restore them from an image (I'm using Version 6 of Macrium Reflect Pro--I have a four license package--but I recommend the current free version for most people). The interval for backups is similar to what I use for the desktop: as needed.

The data on the notebook's E:/ partition is a duplicate of most of the folders on the E:/ drive in the desktop so I use FreeFileSync to do a two way sync between one of the USMs with the desktop computer. Each USM can either use a USB 3.0 cable to connect to a computer (which is how I connect to the notebook) or can have an adapter on the back of the USM pulled off and the entire module plugged into a special bay in the computer (which is how it connects to the desktop). The USMs' housings are thick aluminum extrusions making them rugged yet still small enough to easily fit in my notebook bag.


Posted by:

Mark Lindemann
19 Feb 2019

Greetings Bob!

I was given a client's computer to fix. It was infected, with what - I don't remember. I immediately made a Full backup and tried my first idea. It made it worse. I restored and tried my second idea. It also made it worse. I restored again and tried my third idea. It worked!

Couldn't have done it without having done a Full backup initially.

Thanks Bob!


Posted by:

RandiO
19 Feb 2019

*Recently, I came across an article which recommended that any data should be 'replicated' (backed-up, imaged, clones, copied and/or archived) at/in TWO (2) totally different locations.
*I am a longtime evangelist for data protection/preservation, but I had never thought to prescribe this "Rule of 3s"… that has much pertinent merit.
*Upon much research and testing contenders (circa 20076), we had all agreed w/i our company that we will standardize w/the use of Acronis TrueImage for all our engineering and IT department needs.
*To this day, I continue to rely on Acronis TrueImage, although I have been impressed w/other available alternatives in the current market. [A long-term standardization has many benefits; least of which is backward compatibility and user familiarity.]
*I think the best time to accomplish this 'replication process' is right after cleaning the system with OS built-in and other utilities, such as CCleaner, PrivaZer (etc.).
*I urge others to stick to a scheduled routine of using Acronis TrueImage (at least) every 90 days, which seems to be a sweet and comfortable interval; even for those who have migrated up to portable computing devices.
*I estimate that the actual time for this Acronis TrueImage replication process (including the preparatory tasks) consumes about 40 full minutes for an average user every, 90 days.
*Although some drive manufacturers [may still?] include a FREEware version Acronis TrueImage, the PAYware versions include an ISO image of the program to be burnt onto a recordable CD. This Acronis 'Bootable Rescue Media' (or 'Boot CD') is a Linux-based shell, which is used to run the program autonomously, prior to booting into the OperatingSystem to be replicated.
*I encourage users NEVER to make an Acronis TrueImage incremental or a differential replication and never to run the program in an automated manner or while being booted into the OS.
*I also advocate to ALWAYS password-protect and to encrypt (AES-256) the resultant Acronis TrueImage data-package(s) (*.tib).
*I further recommend them NOT to store the resultant (*.tib) data-package(s) on the cloud; with the justification that USB hard-drives are inexpensive, rugged and portable enough that upon completion, they can disconnect and store it elsewhere; for safe keeping.


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