Guest blog: Solutions for backing up your data - By Matt Powell - Editor, Broadband Genie


Backing up important data is an absolute must, especially if you’re running a business.

To encourage more of us to implement a rigorous backup solution March 31st is ‘World Backup Day’ and it’s a good opportunity to consider your approach to safeguarding data.

 With so many different options for backing up files, many of them affordable even for small businesses and freelancers, there really is no excuse.

 Remember: data you don’t have backed up is data you don’t want.

 The 3-2-1 rule

 For a backup system that’s capable of weathering anything from hard drive failure to theft to natural disasters, follow the 3-2-1 rule.

 This means you should keep three copies of important files on two different storage mediums with one copy stored in a separate location.

 This rule covers many eventualities and should ensure you are able to recover data in the most common (and many of the less likely) data loss scenarios.

 Your options for backing up

 When choosing a backup medium you need to consider storage capacity, longevity, ease of use and cost and choose a method that offers the right combination for your needs. Luckily there’s plenty of choice and it doesn’t need to be expensive.

 Note that neither memory cards or USB drives are recommended for archiving files. Although they appear to offer reasonable value, with cheap drives and cards providing quite a sizeable amount of storage, they are both susceptible to a variety of problems.

 USB drives can be highly unreliable. The quality of the hardware and the data storage chips is highly variable so failures are not uncommon. Transferring large amounts of data can also be very slow. And memory cards are surprisingly fragile. As well as the risk of data loss caused by static discharge when handling them, the memory loses its ‘charge’ over time so the data becomes inaccessible.

 Use these for transferring files between computers, but don’t rely on them for serious backups.

 Optical discs

 CDR and DVDR discs are an easy and inexpensive solution. If you have a desktop or laptop computer with an optical drive it is almost certainly capable of writing to both, and burning software is freely available. And while not suitable for very large files they can still hold a respectable amount of data (up to 750MB on a blank CD or 8GB for a dual sided DVDR). As they’re so cheap to buy and don’t take up much space it’s no hassle to maintain an archive of old backups.

 Blu-ray discs can also be used and offer a lot more storage, however the blank media is pricier and Blu-ray drives are not as common so you will likely have to purchase a Blu-ray writer separately.  

 But longevity is concern when it comes to storage of important files. Over time the surface of optical discs can degrade, causing partial or total loss of data. They can also be easily damaged if mishandled.

 Optical discs are an affordable choice for medium term backups and easily within reach of even the smallest businesses. However if you choose optical as a backup medium the discs should be safely stored away from direct sunlight and high heat and you must regularly check the integrity of your files. It is also important to take the time to verify each backup disc using the burning software to ensure there were no errors during the writing process.

 Hard drives

 For affordably backing up of large amounts of data it’s hard to beat a hard disk drive (HDD).

 With huge 4TB capacity drives available for around £100 they’re excellent bang for your buck.  Flexibility is an advantage, too. As well as being installed inside a computer there’s the option of external hard drives (either pre-installed or empty enclosures which accept a drive of your choosing) and Network Attached Storage (NAS) boxes which provide specialised backup features.

 Hard drives do have moving parts which wear out. Data released by online backup service Backblaze showed that 80% of drives lasted four years, with the failure rate shooting up after three. Their drives are running 24/7 and under far more stress than normal, but you should keep this in mind and follow the 3-2-1 rule to protect against hard drive failure.

 Given how affordable they are though it is feasible for small business operators and sole traders to put together a very robust hard drive backup system. This is easy to do using something like the Drobo, an external hard drive setup which spreads data across multiple drives and can withstand drive failure without losing data or pausing the backup.

Cloud backup

 It’s very important to have an offsite copy of your data in case your computer or backup mediums are stolen or damaged. A really easy and cost-effective way to do this is cloud storage.

 By uploading files to a remote server they’re protected against physical loss or theft. And as a bonus you get easy access to data from anywhere, often with the ability to view files on a smartphone or tablet.

 Cloud backup can be very cheap, too. Services such as BackBlaze and Crashplan offer unlimited storage from around £3.50p per month. There are even free options, like Google Drive or Dropbox, which provide a limited amount of space at no cost.

 But cloud backup may not be ideal if you’ve got a very large amount of data as it can take a long time to upload to the cloud. For example, an ADSL broadband service with an upload speed of 512Kbps could take 22 hours to transfer 5GB (and that’s assuming it runs at full speed the entire time). If your data runs into the terabytes you could be looking at weeks or months of uploading. And don’t forget the time to download it as well if you ever need to recover files.

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