9. Decide on a Backup Strategy
I know a number of people who have made decisions about backing up their computers based on what hardware or software they already own. Others buy a product that's received good reviews and then figure out how to use it for effective backups. I believe these approaches are backward. If your data and your time are truly important, it makes sense to think about your needs first, then develop a strategy based on those needs, and finally choose hardware and software that fits your strategy.
When earlier versions of this manuscript were published, several readers commented that the strategy I suggest here, while perfectly reasonable, may be inappropriate for "low-end" users because it presumes a significant expenditure of money and effort. Less-advanced users, the argument went, just want a backup system that's inexpensive, easy-to-use, and effective. Don't we all! Unfortunately, there is no such thing. You know the old saying: "Cheap; good; fastpick any two." The same goes for backups. I can tell you how to do them effectively or how to do them quickly and cheaply, but the less time and money you're willing to spend, the less safe your data will be.
With that in mind, I want to begin this strategy section with a quick, high-level overview of several approaches you might choose to take, depending on your tolerance for cost, effort, and risk (see Table 1, "Sample Backup Approaches"). Later on, I describe in detail each of the hardware, software, and strategic components of these options.
While the approaches I outline are just a few examples of the many paths one could take to performing backups, I personally feel the importance of protecting your data trumps all other concerns. Therefore, in Table 1, I outlined the Data Safety approach in bold, because I believe it is the best approach for the majority of readers of this book. If your data is not worth some time and money to you, then you probably don't need backups. But if data safety truly matterscan you afford to lose your email, one-of-a-kind digital photos, or important documents?keep in mind that you get out of a backup system what you put into it.
There's an even more secure level beyond the "Data Safety" option in Table 1, but implementing it takes a bit of doing. Make these modifications to the plan: