Having a reliable, recent back-up of your data means a lot less stress for you when disaster strikes.

Cape Town - Having a reliable, recent back-up of your data means a lot less stress for you when disaster strikes. Note I said reliable and recent: I’ve commiserated with far too many people who thought their back-ups were complete, only to find out that they weren’t backing up the correct data, or the back-ups were years out of date.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security: test your back-ups to be absolutely sure you can recover your data, and retest them regularly in case something has changed.

I’ve written about specific back-up programs and how to use them, but this time I’m not going to focus on the software exclusively. Instead, I’ll give you the general principles of a good back-up strategy and let you choose the program or method that suits you. Of course, if you have no idea where to start, I’ll happily help you with some tailored advice – just e-mail [email protected]


External hard drives, USB flash drives and writeable DVD media are the obvious choices for making a back-up copy of a file.

Merely keeping a copy of a file on the same computer might help you if the file is accidentally deleted or changed, but it doesn’t mitigate the risk of that computer breaking or somehow losing the data.

Home/ small business

You can be as paranoid as you like when it comes to back-up, but always keep at least three copies of any important data: the original, a back-up, and a back-up of the back-up, kept in a different location.

Depending on the value of your data, you might keep the third copy in a safe or safety deposit box, or it could just be at your mom’s place. One of my customers uses two external drives, keeps one at his sister’s and exchanges it once a month.

Do whatever works for you, but consider the physical security of the back-up device, too: don’t let it end up in the wrong hands, and if your data is particularly sensitive, get some professional advice on encrypting your back-ups so they’d be useless to anyone who doesn’t know the decryption key.

External hard drives are prone to sudden failures, especially if dropped, which is why I recommend using one external hard drive for day-to-day back-ups, and an additional one as a safeguard in case both your regular external drive and computer are lost simultaneously (as might happen during a lightning strike, virus issue or theft).

Big business

Back-ups are even more important at the office – yet for some reason they are often overlooked by management and left to the IT department to sort out.

Regularly review your back-up policies as part of your overall business continuity strategy.

Ensure your business has a Disaster Recovery Plan that has been tested: there’s a saying in our game – back-ups always work, it’s the restores that fail. Check that your employees store company data in locations that are backed up.

Often, users dump files in their desktop or documents folders, or store e-mail on their C drive without ensuring these are part of the company’s regular back-up.

Back-up programs

Microsoft recognises the importance of backing up. For over a decade, they have bundled free basic back-up tools with Windows.

A Google search for “How to use Windows 7 back-up” or similar text as applicable, should provide sufficient info to get started.

Next week, I’ll explain how you can use these tools, or some other free back-up solutions, to create a scheduled back-up, a one-off back-up, and an “image” back-up, which is an exact replica of a hard drive, including all programs and files. Following that, I’ll look at online back-up services that do away with some of the hassle of backing up.

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