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During the last couple of months, we examined ways to protect our computers from hackers and other malicious elements of that ilk. However, more often than not, we, shoot ourselves in the foot by not taking the precautions for protecting our information stored on the computer – protecting not from external elements but from ourselves. Consider, for example, all those family pictures that you downloaded from the digital camera to your computer’s hard drive. What if tomorrow your computer, without a warning, presents you with a “blue screen” informing you in a rather matter of fact manner that the hard drive is not readable? What about those family pictures? You probably lost them unless you had stored a copy of the pictures on another storage device – a CD, the camera’s memory, a diskette (although diskettes are fast becoming a relic), etc. This brings us to our topic of discussion for the month – backups.

Backups, simply stated, are a copy of any data stored on another storage medium preferably detachable. Although backups, in principle, can be easily made, where we fail most often is a matter of organization. For effective backups, two controlling factors must be addressed – the frequency of the backups and the contents of the backups.

First and foremost, backups must be carried out at regular periodic intervals. Automatic scheduling is helpful but not necessary. Second, we must know what we wish to backup. There are two schools of thought here – one school believes that we should backup the entire hard drive. The pros of this position are that if we ever have a hard drive failure, we can restore the entire drive and be up and running in short order. The cons of this approach – first, with today’s large capacity drives (20 gigabytes and above) the time required to back up the entire drive tends to be fairly long; second, the software (including the operating system) make up a major portion of the backup; and third, it seems counter-productive to spend large lengths of time on a regular basis backing up the entire drive for an event (disk failure) that may never happen.

The second school of thought (my recommendation) believes that you should only back up your data files (Word documents, spreadsheets, pictures, audio files, etc.). The backups are quick; and in the event of a failure, the software can be reinstalled quite easily and the data can be recovered from the backup.

For the data-only backup strategy to work, we need to do some upfront organization. First we must save all the software CDs we received with the computer because we will need these for re-installing the software. (A good idea is to get an audio CD carrying case for storing the software CDs). Additionally, we must save the CDs for any software we have installed on the computer. Finally, we must make sure that all our documents and files are neatly organized within a structure of folders and sub-folders – much as we would do with our paper documents. For example, in the Windows environment, we could ensure that all our documents and files are saved within sub-folders of the “My Documents” folder. This way, when we backup the “My Documents” folder, all our data will be backed up as well. The most cost-effective backup device is an External USB Hard-Drive. The backup process simply involves copying the documents folder to this hard drive on a periodic basis.

Finally, a guiding principle for avoiding data loss is to always ensure that all documents or files have a copy stored on another storage medium.

Arun Marballi has worked in the Information Technology arena for more than 20 years with extensive experience in software development, process design and network/workstation management. For comments, questions, tips or suggestions, e-mail


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