I hope people don’t need a reason to backup so this is my view on the subject. So many things are stored digitally nowadays from messages to photos but how many of them are irreplaceable? I fear for losing my data from past experience but even more so now that I have a child. Thankfully my friend, Dave set me on this path in 2011. Today it’s not perfect still but I’m sure it’s more than what most people will do.
I use backups mainly to guard against situations where my computer is destroyed or no longer accessible. For example Fire takes down my home including the computer. Side benefits are accidental deletes of files and being able to restore them.
Maybe a more common one would be a hard drive failure or burst pipe floods the room where the computer is. All of these situations I’d say having it on the same premise does not necessarily guard against these types of data loss so if you have it stuffed in your shed, could a storm take out your house and tree?
The first thing was to identify what needed to be backed up. If I had all the resources in the world I would backup everything and be done with it. Unfortunately I don’t live in that world and to cut down the amount data I need to keep would reduce the storage cost.
Starting with the most comprehensive to the least I would put the options in this order:
Bit level is copying exactly like for like from one drive to another. This would copy the data blocks on the drive to the exact same position. This would give you the exact copy on another drive. The draw back to this is most software I have seen must be done whilst the system is not in use, rebooted into special software, you must have the exact same or bigger sized drive and if you plug it into another computer it could boot as if nothing happened so long as the hardware is more of less the same as the computer you used it on because of Microsoft Windows. You could access files but you’re also storing a copy of Windows which you may not need.
Image takes a snapshot of your system at a point in time. These images could be full or incremental and done online. Images can take a long time depending on how much it is taking hence the ability to take an incremental or an image of change since the last image (whether it was a full or another incremental snapshot taken before). Images are generally stored in a proprietary format and require special software to restore the image or to access the files inside the image like a zip file. Images could be compressed to save space and encrypted
File level is literally like copying a file and pasting it to another location. This is the most basic form of backup and can also take a long time because you either do a full backup each time or have to check the existing backup to see if a file has changed. It does not offer encryption by default unless you put something in place.
I have opted for the file based but I have considered the Image route. The main reason was to keep it as basic as possible so any OS could read the files so long as they supported the file system. I could control what files would be backed up and there are plenty of software to support this from as basic as batch files to robocopy.
Documents would include things electronic bills, statements to invoices. Other things under documents were things like my Curriculum Vitae (or resumé) which again could be re-created but as time goes on it would be quite hard to remember the details of past history.
Pictures and videos are fairly self explanatory. These are not always reproducible because the event or time has passed.
I include Dropbox because I use this as more of central place to share my files between devices. For example I use the app on my mobile to synchronise pictures / videos from my camera roll and then take the copy onto my computer without having to connect it directly to initiate a transfer (and back it up). Also online services may go away. The most I could hope for is warning to be able to retrieve my data but with a smaller company like Dropbox compared to Google / Microsoft (at the time of writing) this was greater.
The next priority down was music. I don’t subscribe to an online music service like Spotify but if push came to shove if I lost my library then I could start using one. Some of my Amazon purchases should also be accessible.
Profiles and settings are last on the list. These are nice to have but not impossible to re-create.
I hope this sets the scene of what to consider before even doing the actual backup and get you to think of what is and isn’t needed.