Picking The Right Backup Strategy

Picking the right backup strategy for your computer can mean the difference between having a reliable copy of your data and taking a risk that you may be unable to bring your data back from backups when you need it.

Having a backup of your computer means having a copy of your data somewhere else.

If your original files, documents, photos and videos are on your computer, then you should not have a copy on that same computer, but on another device or location.

If you are backing up your computer to an external hard drive, that drive should not be connected to your computer unless you are in the process of backing it up.

Your backup must be physically isolated from your original data. Otherwise, if you get a virus, malware or ransomware, it will infect both the files on your computer AND your backup of those files.

You should disconnect the backup drive after you are done backing up your computer.

There are three backup strategies you should consider:

  • Ideal: This should be your goal
  • Basic: Better than nothing, but not reliable
  • Reasonable: A practical backup strategy that comes with a peace of mind

Any backup strategy is better than having no backups at all, but you should at least implement the reasonable one.

The Best Backup Strategy

The best backup strategy is to have three copies of your data.

If your original data is on your computer, then you should have:

  1. First copy backed up with an online remote cloud backup service
  2. Second copy on an external hard drive that you keep in your home
  3. Third copy on another external hard drive that you give to your friend

With this strategy you should always have a copy of your data survive whatever disaster may strike.

Backing up your computer to an online remote cloud service should be automated. When you change an existing file or create a new one, the backup software should automatically upload it to the online cloud backup location.

For the next two copies, on two different external hard drives, there is some manual work involved. You need to connect the external hard drive to your computer, perform a backup, and then disconnect it.

For the hard drive that you keep at your friend's house, you need to get it from your friend on some set schedule, back up your computer, and give it back to them.

Depending on how much your trust your friend, you may want to encrypt (scramble the data so it is unreadable for anyone else but you) the external hard drives so that they don't have access to your data.

If you can pull this of, congratulations! You have an ideal backup strategy in place.

The Basic Backup Strategy

To implement the basic backup strategy you only need a spare external hard drive that you designate for backups.

Connect the backup hard drive to your computer - once a day or at your own preferred schedule - and copy your data from your computer to the external hard drive.

The backup hard drive doesn't have to be an old-fashioned mechanical disk. It can be an SSD drive as well. Stay away from USB sticks because they are more fragile and fail at a higher rate then regular external disk or SSD drives.

After you finish backing up your computer, you should disconnect the external drive and put it in a safe, cool place. If you keep it connected to your computer and your computer gets infected with a virus, malware or ransomware, the external drive will get infected as well.

While arguably better than nothing, this backup strategy has a couple of problems.

It relies on only one external backup drive. If that one drive dies, you lose your backups. You should not gamble with your backups. When you need it most, your external disk may fail on you. This backup strategy is unreliable and may even be worse than having no backups, because you could end up in a situation where you think you have dependable backups, and you do not.

It relies on only one external backup drive. If that one drive dies, you lose your backups. You should not gamble with your backups. When you need it most, your external disk may fail on you. This backup strategy is unreliable and gives you a false sense of security.

The second problem with this backup strategy is that it is not automated. It depends on you connecting the external backup drive to your computer, doing the backups, and disconnecting it to store it in a safe place.

If you really have no other option, then try your best to work with this strategy and back up your data as often as you can. Otherwise, you should seriously consider the reasonable backup strategy.

The Reasonable Backup Strategy (Recommended)

The recommended backup strategy, if you have no backups at all or are using an external hard drive, is online cloud backup.

There are two main advantages to using an online cloud backup.

The first is that backups are automated. When you change any file on your computer, or add a new one, they are automatically copied to a secure remote location.

The cloud is just a remote location where the computers on which your data is being backed up are located.

You don't have to keep track of which documents you modified, or which new photos or movies you downloaded to your computer. You don't have to copy your entire computer's hard drive just to be sure you didn't miss anything.

Backups have to be automated, otherwise they are unreliable. Unreliable backups are almost worthless, because when you lose something and want to restore it from backups, it may not be there.

The second advantage of backing up to a remote online cloud location is that the location is remote.

If you back up your data to an external hard drive, the backup is physically too close to your primary data. In case of a larger disaster, you will lose both copies of your data, primary and backup.

The greater the distance between the two copies, the better.  They should be at least a few hundred miles apart.

You could give the external backup drive to your friend, but that is:

  • Inconvenient, which means you will not do it as often as you should
  • Not far enough, unless your friend lives 300 miles away
  • Impossible to automate

When a copy of your data is at a remote location, you can restore it from anywhere. You don't have to be physically in possession of an external backup hard drive, all you need is an Internet connection.

If you can have just one copy of your data, it is better to have it somewhere else than at your home. Once you have a copy of your data somewhere else, you can make another copy that is local as well.

The Takeaway

There are many ways to lose your data. Your computer could get broken into by a cyber criminal, but it could also die, get lost or stolen. Or you could accidentally delete a file or folder you didn't mean to.

You should have at least one copy of all your data somewhere else:

  • On another computer
  • On external backup hard drive
  • At the remote online cloud backup service provider

Manual backups, like copying your data yourself to an external backup hard drive, are tedious, time-consuming and error-prone. You will be unable to fully trust them.

The process of backing up your data is only half of the equation. When you lose your data and want to get it back, you should be able to restore it without issues. Backups should be reliable, otherwise you cannot count on your data being there when you need it.

Manual backups are not reliable. Unreliable backups are almost worthless.

Automated backups are a much better way to protect your data.

If you need a simple, reliable and automated online cloud backup, I use Backblaze. It is easy to install and use. There is almost no configuration to do, and no fuss. It runs in the background and constantly copies changed and new files to a remote location.

  1. Backing Up Your Computer
  2. Backup Strategy