Protecting your Digital Assets, Guide to Backup - The Efficient Dad

Protecting Your Digital Assets, a Guide to Backup – Part 2

In the previous article, I discussed backup strategies and how to get organized to best deal with your data. This time, I’ll walk you though some options to make the local copy of all of your important files.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you view it, there are a ton of options. I’m going to walk you through some of the most popular so you can find a plan that will work well for you. Remember, your primary computer or device is your first copy of your data, so let’s discuss the second copy of your data and where you will put it.

Eliminate some options

You’ll have to choose a device to use to store your local backup. Options include a thumb drive, an external hard drive, a NAS (network attached storage), backup up to DVD/blu-ray, or copying the data to another computer.

I’d recommend that you rule out a couple of these options – not because they don’t work, but because they require manual intervention on a daily basis. DVD/blu-ray is too hard for the average person to maintain because you need to swap discs, wait a while for information to be written, and you need to store the discs properly. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 🙂

Copying your files to another computer is a viable option only if you are up to the task of managing it. Be very aware that if you have a power surge, network virus, or something similar that can affect multiple machines, all of your local data could be compromised. This tends to be a more difficult process to manage as well, so if you want to just “set it and forget it” I’d consider one of the other options. I’ve found that if the process isn’t easy, people tend to not do it on a regular basis.

Small amount of data or large?

Depending on the size of your data set, a thumb drive could work. Large capacities can be had for a reasonable price now. They are easy to lose, however, so make sure the thumb drive is encrypted. The last thing you want to do is to lose an unencrypted drive – you might as well just hand someone a nice copy of all of your data! You will have to insert and properly eject the thumb drive each time you want to take a backup, but if you have a small amount of data, this could be acceptable. I would recommend getting 2-3 thumb drives and rotating through them. That way, if one breaks, you can go back to a different one and still have a fairly recent copy of your information.

An external hard drive can be treated in a similar fashion to a thumb drive, but with larger capacities. Like a thumb drive, I recommend encrypting it for good measure. Hard drives have spinning platters inside them and mechanical parts do wear over time, so it is a good idea to have a couple of them so you can rotate them out.

Best choice, most money

Now for my very favorite local option – a network-attached storage array, or NAS for short. A NAS is typically a small self-contained storage device with two or more hard drives inside. These have a few distinct advantages, with the primary disadvantage being price. A NAS, by nature, is connected to your network. That means wired and wireless computers alike are able to use it as a backup target, with nothing to plug in. The internal hard drives can be set up using RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks). This doesn’t have to mean anything to you except that if you lose a single disk, you are able to replace it without data loss. Be very aware that RAID itself it not a backup mechanism, it is simply a configuration that will help to ensure the availability of your data. Also, Once you have a NAS on your network, you’ll find many other great uses for it, but I’ll save that for another day. I’m a huge fan of the Synology NAS line and have used them for many years with great success.

Automating the local backup process

If you’re a Mac user, it is hard to beat the built-in software called Time Machine to handle your local backups. It will work wonderfully with a Synology NAS or an external hard drive and can handle the detection of the drive being unplugged and plugged back in if that’s the way you’ll go. Time Machine monitors your system for changed files and only backs those up during each interval, which speeds up the process. You’ll be able to either fully restore your system in case of failure, or simply step back “in time” to restore individual files if you accidentally delete something. Simply put, Time Machine backs up your data every hour, and keeps daily backups until your target disk gets full. Easy to manage and very effective. If you are using a laptop and don’t want to leave a drive plugged in, you can connect the drive and manually trigger a backup via the menu bar icon.

On the PC side of things, I’ll assume you’re using Windows 10 at this point. Thankfully, Microsoft has included a backup function similar to Apple’s Time Machine. Called “Backup” (creative!), you’ll go into your settings to select a drive (can be external or shared from your NAS). By default, only your user folder is backed up, so you’ll want to change those settings, found under “More options” to include every folder or area you’d like to backup. Other than that, it behaves in a similar fashion to Time Machine as described above.

As with anything computer-related, there are a myriad of third-party applications that will help you with your backups. From applications that mirror entire disks to those that copy certain files, if for some reason these built-in applications mentioned above won’t work for you, don’t worry – there is something out there that will do exactly what you need.

Local backups of mobile devices

This article mainly focuses on backing up your computer, but these days, much of your important data resides on your mobile devices. True, these all have cloud backup for the most part, but you could be missing local backups. Though it takes a little bit of work, periodically, you should plug your iPhone into your computer, open iTunes, and take a full device backup. If you use an Android device, you can connect it to your computer and manually copy the data, or use a program such as Helium to facilitate the backup. In case your online account ever becomes inaccessible you’ll be happy you have a local backup.

Coming up next: Cloud

Now that I’ve walked through your local options, in part three of this series, I’ll get into some detail about your options for online (cloud) backups to make sure you have a reliable, usable copy of your data somewhere outside of your house. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply