Why Backup? Here Are 9 Good Reasons

Category: Backup

It's a great 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 I've received about 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.

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

Over the past seven years, I've received some really great questions about backups from AskBob readers. 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.

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.

Crypto virus

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

I've received hundreds of questions about backups from AskBob readers. I can't answer all of them here, but I'll highlight some of the most interesting and common ones below:

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 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.

Q: "If I get hit with ransomware or other malware, will that also affect the backups on my external hard drive, thus making recovery impossible?"

A: Yes, that can happen. That's why I recommend backing up your backup. One way is to have two external drives, which you swap out weekly or monthly. That's unfortunately a manual process, but I discuss other options in my ebook.

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. Post a comment below and tell me about your personal backup strategy. Are you backing up everything, including social media, your cloud storage, and mobile devices?

If you're not, or you have questions about backups, you'll find practical help and answers in my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS (5th Edition). Please take 7 minutes and read the letter I've prepared for you, which explains what's in the ebook, and how you can get up and running with your own backup regimen today. Thanks!

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Most recent comments on "Why Backup? Here Are 9 Good Reasons"

Posted by:

21 Jun 2017

Windows 7 includes the Backup and Restore feature. The Backup has a choice of 1.) "Back up your files" and 2.) "Create a System Image".

Should I do 1.) AND 2.) each time I backup my PC?

Posted by:

John T
21 Jun 2017

I built a tower PC with Win-7 and a 500GB HD. After a while that internal HD was almost full, so I bought an external WD 500GB USB drive to use as a backup and to off load some files to ease the strain of my main HD. Then I started using Win-7 to back up an ISO file on that WD external HD. It became so full I had to keep removing old ISO files manually to be able to continue backing up the ISO. I basically quite the WD backup program also. Then I purchased an internal 1TB HD to offload my files from the internal 500GB to. Actually moved pictures and other files over to the 1TB from my 500GB. This helped with performance. I later purchased your offer of the I-Drive with WiFi extender, the minimal info that came with it and even online instructions, I have yet to try to use it! It was just a bit confusing. The only backup software I used was the one that came with the external WD 500GB HD. Also This PC was upgraded to Win 10 also. This is my horror story so far. But I guess basically I don't do backups very well.

Posted by:

21 Jun 2017

Gerry: Image and file backup are two different things. The Windows 7 Image backup works but is limited; no file recovery from images, no incremental image backups, and (most importantly) doesn't run automatically.

The Windows 7 File backup, once setup, does run automatically and does do incremental and versioned backups. But it does not backup any system or program files, just your files under your user name.

p.s. The same "Windows 7 backup" is also available in Windows 10 and works exactly the same way.

Posted by:

Roger R
21 Jun 2017

For my Windows 10 desktop I do an automatic nightly backup to IDrive Cloud of important files (docs, desktop, images). Every morning there is an automatic incremental backup every of the same files using Macrium Reflect (paid) to a local "My Passport" drive with weekly automatic merging of the incremental backups using Macrium Reflect. I do a manual weekly image of the complete hard drive to my local "My Passport" drive using Macrium Reflect (My Passport heats up when I do this, so I wrap the drive in a “blue ice” pack with a paper towel in-between the drive and the ice) and a weekly manual clone of the hard drive using Macrium Reflect to another 3.5 inch hard drive mounted in an external hard drive enclosure. About once a year, I will actually test the clone in my desktop to see if it actually boots, and to reacquaint myself with the steps necessary to install the clone. I found the local IDrive One drive to be buggy and am currently not using it.
For my tablet, I use the IDrive app to backup photos to IDrive cloud. I also use the IDrive app on my tablet to retrieve files that I know were backed up to the cloud from my desktop hard drive. It's like having access to all my important PC documents wherever I can find a WiFi connection. When I retrieve these files on my tablet while not on a secure connection, I use Private Tunnel VPN ($29/year subscription).

Posted by:

21 Jun 2017

I believe Reason 2 hit my external USB disk a couple of years ago. After about three months, I discovered many corrupted files, and resorted to the backups. (I use Macrium Reflect paid version.)
Lesson 1: there is no way to be sure your backups are good, unless you restore.
Lesson 2: keeping only recent backups is not good enough. I've retrieved files I backed up two years ago.
(In the corrupted files, 16 null bytes were prepended to the file's beginning. Deleting those bytes repaired most of the files. [A null byte is a character with numerical value zero.])

Posted by:

Art F
21 Jun 2017

I use the Backup and Restore (Windows 7) feature included in Windows 10 for image backups. There's an option to Create A System Repair Disc. I've done this a couple of times, but something I'm wondering about is this: now that I've got a couple of these repair discs, is there any reason to create others? That is, is the content of the System Repair Disc the same each time, or does it change with system updates?

Posted by:

21 Jun 2017

I have five full backups of both of my computers. Three are on regular drives which I swap out in a dock device. The other two are portable drives which I take when I travel since both computers are laptops. My wife's computer is backed up similarly to four hard drives. These are all Mac computers, I use Carbon Copy Cloner to automate incremental backups. That is the best money I ever spent on anything related to computers. When one of those drives failed recently it was no problem at all since I have many duplicates. I simply replaced the drive and put it into the old drives spot in the backup rotation.
I backup my phone too but not in the manner described above. I use cloud backup"for critical" files only. Social media? What is that? :-)

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
21 Jun 2017

I use Macrium Reflect to backup my boot drive which has only the System Reserved and C: partitions on it (no data). I use a folder/file syncing program called FreeFileSync to back up my data drives.

I have a set of four backup drives for each data drive in my computer: two of each site is kept onsite and the other two are kept offsite (in my safe deposit box at my credit union). I swap out the offsite backups with the onsite backups no less than once a month.

I also have a Carbonite.com account primarily to backup files that have been added or changed since the offsite backups were last updated.

I only image my boot drive just before I update the OS or a program, before installing or removing a program or hardware, and before making any changes to the OS or programs. I update my data drive backups shortly after adding or changing data.

@BobD. There is a way to know if an image is any good or not without having to resort to doing a restore. Macrium Reflect has a Verify option that can be set to verify an image after creating it. I have yet to have a verified image to fail to restore. I've had only two or three images fail to verify; simply rerunning Macrium Reflect after that happened resulted in a verified image.

FreeFileSync has a hack that can be made to a file in the program that will make it verify all backups. While not authorized by FFS, it's not prohibited and it reliably works.

Posted by:

Jim M
21 Jun 2017

I use "REDO Backup & Recovery" for images on my Linux box and my wife's Win7 Laptop. I use Rsync for file backup on Linux and Aomei for the Win7 machine.

REDO is much easier than Clonezilla.

Posted by:

James Thornton
21 Jun 2017

Is seem that I am not the only one dissatisfied with the I Drive It is too hard to get to run right. I reverted back to my Seagate 500 GB and i works fine. I also use OneDrive cloud storage. My 1 TG hard drive is about 5 years old and still works great. I still have one of the best, to my opinion, XP 500 GB hard drive, I still have an old windows 95 that is still going strong. My wife uses a windows 7 which she really likes. We both do web programming. Had 4 million visits on our web in 7 years. Bob does a great job . James L. Thornton

Posted by:

Edvins Briedums
22 Jun 2017

Hello Bob,
Now that Nuance products no longer work with Windows 10 and they have to be bought again, what is your recommendation as to free software replacement for a/ Dragon Naturallyspeaking Pro b/ Omnipage, 3/ Paperport and PDF Viewer Plus?
There may be also others who would appreciate your comments on this.
I thank you for your consistent commitment to keeping us educated in computer use and the internet.
Kind regards
Edvins Briedums

Posted by:

Keith H
22 Jun 2017

I keep three copies of my files/documents.

1. The cloud (carbonite.com)
2. Hard drive
3. USB thumb drive (original)

My question is on Windows 10. I use the USB drive as my primary source of files/documents and put/save a copy on my laptop hard drive.

Previously using Windows XP and Vista if I copied a file from my USB to the laptop with the same file name, a window would pop up and tell me a file with that name already existed...then it would tell me the date and size of each file...then ask if I want to overwrite the existing file.

Now with Windows 10 the only thing in the pop up window is that a file already exists with that name. There is no way to know which file has a later saved date. Is there a way around this? To me, the way it was in XP and Vista is better.


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