We all know that unexpected computer glitches happen-hard drives fail, or files become corrupted, or you accidentally delete an essential file, or something else makes it impossible to open and read a file-but most of us don't bother to make regular backup copies of the important files stored on our computers until after we experience a loss. The information on your hard drives-including personnel files, financial records, manuscripts, and accumulated e-mail messages, among other things-is often more valuable than the computer hardware. If you can't find a way to reconstruct your business records, you may no longer have a business.
Home computer user can face similar problems. If old tax records, family photos and e-mail are on a failed disk drive, they could be lost forever if you don't have backup copies.
So it's essential to back up your data files. Windows includes a simple utility that can create regular backup copies of selected files and folders; many third-party backup programs offer somewhat more sophisticated solutions to the same problem. You can find more about the Windows Backup program later in this section.
Choosing a backup program is just one of the decisions you must make when you establish a backup plan. The others include:
What kind of media do you use to store your backup copies?
If you have a relatively small amount of data to store, one or more recordable CDs might be adequate, but when you need more than four or five CDs to make a complete backup, you should move to DVDs or some other medium that takes less time to record and doesn't force you to juggle a lot of separate disks.
Other alternatives include an external hard drive connected to your computer through a USB port, or a second computer connected to yours through a network. High-capacity tape drives are another option, but most of them are either too slow or too expensive for home and small business users, or both.
How often do you need to create backups?
How much data can you afford to lose? If you're running a business on your computers, you may want to make backups at least once a week-maybe more often than that. It's not uncommon to make automatic backups to a server through your office network every night. Most home computer users can get along with a backup once or twice a month.
Of course, it's always a good idea to make an additional unscheduled backup whenever you create or revise a very important file or document, such as a tax return, irreplaceable research notes, or the manuscript of your novel or thesis. If it would take a lot of time to reconstruct your work, make frequent backups.
Data stored on your laptop computer is a special case. Because laptops are always in danger of being stolen, you should make backup copies of new files and documents every day that you use it.
Where do you plan to keep the backup copies?
The point of making backups is to have copies of important files after your computer is damaged, lost, or stolen. So it doesn't do much good to store all your backup copies on another computer in the same office, or in the drawer of a desk that will burn up in the same fire that destroys your computer. It's true that viruses and damaged disk drives are more common than fires, but when you're thinking about security, you should anticipate the worst.
The best approach is to keep two sets of backup data-one near your computer and the other in a secure off-site location. You can use the copy in your desk drawer when a virus destroys your data, and the off-site copy after the house burns down.
The off-site copies might be another branch office within your company, or the home of one of the owners or managers. The backup copies of data from your home computers can go to the home or office or a trusted friend or relative. The location of your backups isn't as important as your ability to retrieve them on short notice in an emergency.
In most major urban areas, you can find businesses that collect your backup disks or tapes on a regular schedule, store them in a secure location, and return them to you upon request. If you're dealing with a medium-to-large business with a lot of backup media, this kind of service may be a better choice than trying to establish your own, less formal backup storage system.
The Backup utility supplied with Windows is not the fastest or the most flexible backup tool you can use, but it's already installed on your computer, so it's entirely adequate for many users. To create backup copies of your files, follow these steps:
From the Start menu, choose Programs (or All Programs) Accessories System Tools Backup. The Backup Utility window shown in Figure 48.1 appears.
Figure 48.1: Use the Windows Backup Utility to create or recover backup files.
You can either use the Backup Wizard to step through the process, or open the Backup tab shown in Figure 48.2 to choose the folders whose contents you want to back up. Either way, select the folders for the backup and the location of the media where you want to store the copies. You can specify another drive on the same computer, a removable drive, or a storage device connected to this computer through your local network.
Figure 48.2: Choose the folders you want to back up and the media where you want to store the copies.
When you're ready to start making backup copies, click the Finish button in the wizard or the Start Backup button in the Backup Utility window.
To restore files from your backup media, use the Restore and Manage Media tab in the Backup Utility shown in Figure 48.3. Choose the files you want to recover and click the Start Restore button.
Figure 48.3: Use the Restore and Manage Media tab to retrieve files from your backup media.
To automate your backup process, open the Schedule Jobs tab and click the Add Job button to run the Backup Wizard, where you can choose the type of backup and the interval between backups.
The worst time to discover that your backup disks have a problem is after you have lost the originals. When you make a backup, try restoring your data right away, just to be certain that the backup files are good.