Why Backup? Here Are NINE Good Reasons

Category: Backup

It's a really 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, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox.

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 NINE Good Reasons"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

I kept trying and it finally worked, I am guessing after you had a chance to fix it...

Thanks for the always interesting information.

I use Acronis paid(after crappy CMS) and find it better now than a year ago. The extra features are nice, but more importantly it is finally at a normal loading and working speed.

I use an external HD and the cloud now. Recently I had 2 external HD's as backup, and also the Acronis Cloud. One HD failed and it was the extra HD and cloud that helped me recover about 35,000 emails. (Due to data limits on Thunderbird).

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

Hi Bob,

I have no problems at all, do backup, but do not care, I keep nothing personnel on the computer, as have never trusted them at all, hard drives do fall all the time, have a few that are over 20 years old
pray every time it is on.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

I've been using Macrium Reflect for a few years now and like it. I do a monthly full image and then incrementals during the month. I keep two months worth. I also use Google Drive for documents and photo.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

@Chuck: Go to https://www.macrium.com/reflectfree and you will get the free version. The HOME Edition does have a 30-day trial.
The free page has the products' features chart.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

I have three computers (1 x desktop, 2 x laptops) and store all my data (documents, photos, music, etc.) on portable USB HDs so I can work on them on any of my machines.
Although it is tedious and inconvenient to have to reinstall programs in the event of a hard disc crash, the data is the material that is the most valuable and least easy to replace. I do data back-ups (when disconnected from the Internet) to a 5 TB desktop HD using a free program from Germany called Back4sure. This backs up the files individually, compressed or uncompressed according to choice and duplicating the directory structure of the parent disc, instead of rolling them into one huge back-up file that could become corrupted, and they are restored by merely copying them back from the back-up disc without any need for decoding by the program itself. Unlike some of the mainstream programs, Back4sure does not reject files which have unusual characters in their file names.
Recently I've had to reinstall Windows 10 on two of my machines, and of course all the applications had to be reinstalled, which was tedious. But I make sure to keep copies of installation files and activation keys on my USB HDs, and they do get backed up and are available if the computer's internal HD fails or becomes corrupted, so at least the programs can be reinstated without any need to contact their vendors.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

I have an old copy of both of Everything You Need to Know About Windows and Backups. I understand there is going to be some changes, but how often to necessitate buying a newer version? You bring us good info, I'm just want to know if I need to update the ebooks. Thanks

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

I make monthly backups of my important files onto a thumb drive as I do not have much to backup. It has worked well for me for several years and I see no reason to change my method (not that you are suggesting otherwise).
When/if my PC is ever compromised in any way I can simply wipe it clean and reinstall Windows. Yeah, it's probably not the best mindset but I have virtually nothing to lose after I've made my backups and since I'm home all day (disabled vet) it would give me something to do instead of watching TV or reading online news articles.
Great article as always, Bob. Keep 'em coming! :-)

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
30 Mar 2018

I back up every night using Second Copy to alternating hard drives. Lately neither one will let me "safely remove" or whatever the verbiage is and I get the dreaded and annoying message that "This device is currently in use." The backup is complete. They're NOT in use. The power light is steady because the task was done. In order to get the "it is safe to remove" window, I have to go into Disk Management and change the drive's status from online to offline and only then when I right-click the icon to turn off the drive do I get the window that says it's safe to remove.
And then for the drive to be recognized next time I plug it in and hear the USB beep, I have to go into Disk Management to change the drive from offline to online.

1. Why did this start happening?
2. Does it do anything by bothering with this "safe to remove" stuff rather than just unplugging the drive when the backup is done?

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

I found out a long time ago to always make 2 copies of your backup. I like to keep one on an external hard drive and put another on DVDs or Blu Rays. The more critical the data is, the more often I back it up. I skipped making a second one once (only once!) and that happened to be the one backup that failed. I almost lost all of that data (on a CD), but I found a program that could retrieve it. I won't forget again!

I do manual backups of my personal data (which is kept on different hard drives, but never my C drive) and I use Macrium Reflect to make daily system backups. I keep a "known clean" base backup in a hidden system partition for emergency use or for occasional clean installs. Am I paranoid? No, I am not! These backups have saved my data repeatedly and have saved my neck more than once.

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
30 Mar 2018

Thanks for the excellent article, Bob. I do have to disagree with what said about all cloud data storage being safer than files on a local drive. The reason's you give are true for the better, paid services but the El Cheapo and free services do not always have the encryption and physical security you touted and are often hacked. The freebies also are notorious for disappearing with little to no warning.

The basic home plans of reputable cloud backup services (there is a difference between cloud backup services and cloud storage), while very reliable, are still subject to losing data due to a lack of georedundancy, meaning one's data is kept in one server farm. Georedundancy refers to keeping multiple copies of data in multiple, physical locations separated by hundreds, if not thousands of miles so, if one data set is lost for whatever reason, it will still exist elsewhere.

One can still use basic, home cloud backup plans as long as they are not the sole backup (stuff can happen to even the best ones). For data to be reasonably safe, it must exist in three separate places. For most people, this is on the computer, on an onsite backup, and on an offsite backup. A good, paid cloud backup plan can be used as an offsite backup but it must be accompanied by another backup, generally the onsite backup.

For most people, I recommend using Backblaze for cloud backups. Carbonite comes in second place since it costs more and has file type and file size restrictions but is does have a good track record for reliability and ease of use. CrashPlan's new Small Business plan doesn't have any file type or file size restrictions, has unlimited deleted file retention, and has a version compatible with Linux, but it costs much more and is having some growing pains since it is only a few months old.

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
30 Mar 2018

Since you asked us to strut our stuff, here goes.

I have quite a bit of data on my desktop computer (several TB), much of which would be expensive to impossible to replace and all of which would take a ridiculous amount of time to replace, assuming it could even be replaced so I have a rather elaborate (ok, anal) backup scheme.

I'm a firm believer in keeping data in at least three places to reasonably ensure its safety: on the computer, on onsite backups and on offsite backups. Besides being kept on my computer (I have 16TB of storage and will need to expand that to 20TB later this year, hopefully not before the Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas sales), I also have multiple onsite and offsite backups.

Since any drive can fail at any time with no warning or hope of recovery (not to mention that professional data recovery is expensive with no guarantee of success), I have a set of four backup drives for each data drive in my computer (my OS and programs are on their own drive). Two of each set are kept onsite at home in a drawer away from the computer and the remaining two of each set are kept offsite in my safe deposit box in the vault at my credit union. The onsite and offsite drives get swapped out no less than once a month. All my drives in use are now SSDs. I ditched HDDs a little over a year ago since 3.5" HDDs were taking up too much room and were getting too heavy for me to lug around (I'm approaching 70 and I'm handicapped); an added bonus is the SSDs are much faster, making updating backups much faster.

I made two egg crate (pigeon hole?) storage containers from antistatic foam that fit neatly inside a small Pelican case, a drawer at home, and my safe deposit box. Each egg crate can hold up to 22 7mm or 9mm 2.5" drives (I'll never need that many but that was what fit with a snug slip fit in the Pelican case and, through a stroke of dumb luck, the drawer I keep them in when at home). When I need to swap out the onsite drives with the offsite drives (the frequency depends on the volume of data I added since the previous swap but is never less than a month), I take the egg crate out the drawer, put it in the Pelican case, then trot (ok, drive) to my credit union (roughly 6-7 miles).

Once at the credit union, I swap out the egg crate in the Pelican case with the one in my safe deposit, then return home, put the egg crate back in its drawer, then update the backup drives.

I use a paid version of Macrium Reflect ([URL=http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx]Macrium Reflect Free[/URL] ) to image my C: drive which has only my OS and programs on it. I only use full imaging; it's a bit safer than incremental or differential imaging. I store the images on one of data drives in the computer for convenience. Normally, that is a bad idea but I get away with it since the data drive they are on also gets backed up. I only make an image just before making any changes to the computer, such as making a major settings change, installing a new program or updating the OS or programs. It takes only a few seconds to start the imaging process, then I can walk away or keep using the computer until the image is completed, which usually takes less than 15 minutes.

While imaging, along with cloning, are the only way to backup the OS and programs (although cloning is less efficient for backing up anything), it is too inefficient for backing up data since it takes longer and requires too much drive space for backing up data. For backing up my data drives, I use a folder/file syncing program [URL=http://www.freefilesync.org/]FreeFileSync[/URL] (FFS). When set to mirror mode, FFS will compare the data drive with its backup drive, then will copy any new or changed files on the data drive to the backup drive. it will also delete any files on the backup drive that are no longer on the data drive. FFS also has a feature called Versioning which will send any files it deletes to a user designated versioning folder or drive. I have a rather large folder for versioning on the same data drive I keep my C: drive images (and, as mentioned before, that drive also gets backed up). The result is backup drive is essentially a clone of the data drive. Since only new, changed, and deleted files since the previous update are involved, the time required for a backup is less than what would be needed if imaging or cloning. For SSD owners, the reduced number of writes is an added bonus. I do have to manually cull older files in the versioning folder from time to time to avoid completely filling up the drive but that doesn't take long.

My backup drives are just bare, internal type drives so I have a dual, 2.5" hot swap bay installed in my computer I plug the backup drives into. I can update up to two backups at a time. Once I finish the computer I've been building, I will be able to update up to four backup drives at a time.

Since the offsite backup drives will only be up to date for files at the time of the last swap, I also maintain a paid cloud backup plan. That way, if I should manage to lose all my data drives and onsite backup drives (through a disaster like a house fire or I just get really stupid), I can quickly recover most of my data from the offsite drives, then recover the remaining files from the cloud backup. I could use a cloud backup service for my offsite backups but, because of the massive amount of data I have, the speed of my internet connection, and the data cap my dear, darling ISP recently imposed, it would take several months to get a full recovery. I've been using Carbonite for several years but, since I'm planning on switching to Linux in the next year or so, I'm also using CrashPlan's new Small Business plan to see how reliable it is. It has been having quite a few growing pains so I'm alsokeeping Carbonite as well for a while longer.

I use my notebook only when on the road or the desktop is down. I don't need to keep as much data on it as I do on the desktop so the sole drive in it, an SSD, is a little 2TB drive. Since the data on the notebook is also what is on the desktop, I don't need such an extensive (aka anal) backup scheme. I keep two 2TB backup SSDs in enclosures in my notebooks bag. Both are clones of the notebook's SSD so, if the notebook's SSD should completely drive, I can just physically swap out the dead SSd with one of the clones. I also update any new data I put on the notebook to the backup drives using FFS. Once I'm back home, I connect the backup drives, one at a time, to the desktop computer and use FFS to send any new or changed data to the desktop. I do the same thing before a trip to update the notebook data drives (only one of my desktop data drive's data gets put on the notebook).

As complex (anal) as all this is, it only takes less than 30 minutes of my time a week to keep up with it all. The rest of the time, the computer is doing all the work. I also run complete security scans of my computer before updating backups to avoid "backing up" a virus or worse. I usually update the backups of my data drives only once a week unless I dump in a lot of new data at once.

Posted by:

william maxwell
30 Mar 2018

I am trying to use Macrium free, but it is only a trial version as I read.
I also am trying to back up to an external HD drive and it doesn't show it or recognize that there is one there.
Now What? Guess I should try another backup program.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2018

Rankin writes: "I maintain that data stored in the cloud is MUCH safer than files stored on a local hard drive."
RandiO replies with: "Oh, Really, now?"
Rankin cites 10 "reasons" why the cloud is the best thing since sliced bread!
RandiO is confused since Rankin's "10 reasons" appear to be comparing apples to bunch of monkeys eating bananas.
Don't get RandiO wrong: He is all for backups, security and privacy. But Rankin's "10 reasons" is like saying group-think is better than critical thinking. If you want proof, you can ask anyone in that group what they think!
Let us say that the full backup (image?) of the primary drive is a smallish 30GBytes, on a network speed of 30Mbps @$30/mo, equating to over 2hours of upload... which does not include the cost of the cloud storage fees and retrieving it when/if re

Posted by:

31 Mar 2018

What happens when/if the network is down?
Okay, Okay!
Rankin can keep both his trust in the cloud and google. I'll stick with my own local network/Drives/NAS and agree to disagree with him and his global cloud-trust recommendation.

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
31 Mar 2018

[URL=http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx]Macrium Reflect Free[/URL]


Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
31 Mar 2018

Ignore my previous post. My usual links don't work with this forum's crappy software.

Macrium Reflect free: http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

FreeFileSync: http://www.freefilesync.org/

Posted by:

31 Mar 2018

I am addressing this to Chuck. I have been using the FREE version of Macrium Reflect for many years now. On their website, it offers the free version for home use. I also get regular updates, upgrades with the free version. Macrium has saved my computer many times especially when Windows 10 first came out and was very temperamental.

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
31 Mar 2018

@RandiO. While I also disagree with Bob's blanket allegation that cloud storage and backup services are safer than a user's own drives, that doesn't mean there aren't services that are safer. The ones that aren't safe or reliable are the freebies. Certain paid cloud backup (not storage) services usually are safe. Carbonite, CrashPlan, and Backblaze are examples of safe and reliable paid cloud backup services.

The same as any other media used for backups, a cloud backup should never be one's sole backup. An exception would be some very expensive business plans that employ georedundancy (multiple copies of files stored on multiple servers separated by several hundred, if not thousands, of miles). A cloud backup should be only one part of an overall backup scheme, along with onsite backups, etc.

I hope you do not feel that RAID in itself is a backup.

Posted by:

02 Apr 2018

So sorry, I missed the save....life got in the way! I'll be on the lookout for the next one. Good deal!

Posted by:

03 Apr 2018

I am a novice at back ups. I have 6 back up external hard drives to store doc and pic, and praying they don't crash since some are 10 years old. Range in size from 500gb to 2tb. To back them up again would take weeks! Is it still possible to up load those to a cloud? Right now my latest back up is the 2tb idrive, but i don't use their paid online service. It automatically backs up, but i don't know if it also backs up my win10 systems. Don't know how to check it. Which brings me to another question... for system back ups, do they overwrite the last back ups? I have been lucky so far. I also use geek squad. My desk top is 3 yrs old. I love to read your articles, but have to admit it is over my head. Just hoping some info sinks in. I don't even know where ti read an answer to my questions. Thanks!

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