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Data Backup Solutions May 9, 2009

Posted by twiznc in Security, Services & Software Recommendations.

Updated May 10 6, 2017

Data backup is critical for both businesses and home users.  Unless you would be okay with your computer disappearing from the face of the earth as you read this sentence (never to return), and not miss anything stored on its’ hard drive, then you need to have a backup solution in place and backing up your data on a regular basis.  This article covers the importance of backing up critical/valuable data on your hard drive, discusses both “on-site” and online backup options, and recommends some good backup solutions (some of which are FREE).

Along with have a good anti-virus/anti-spyware protection and downloading and installing Critical/Security Updates for your operating system and programs, backing up critical data files on your computer, or (ideally) backing up an “image” of your entire hard drive, should be a regular practice for all computer users.  Eventually something bad is going to happen to your computer…

  • Ransomeware/Malware Infection – Viruses can corrupt your hard drive and/or your data so badly that it cannot be accessed. A new type of malware called “ransomware” can encrypt all of your data files, making them inaccessible unless you pay a “ransom” (often thousands of dollars) for the key to unencrypt your files (there is NO other way to unencrypt the files on your hard drive if you a a victim of ransomware).  The only way around paying the ransom (usually around $300 to $500 or more; sometimes much more) to get your data back is if you have a recent local or online (cloud) backup.
  • Hard Drive Failure – Every hard drive will eventually fail; it’s just a matter of time.  Most fail as they get older, but we have seen drives as few as a few weeks old fail due to a manufacturing defect.  If you don’t have a recent backup available then your data might be recoverable via expensive data recovery services, but this is not always successful and depends on the condition of the hard drive and/or the extent of damage if suffered.
  • Accidental Hard Drive Reformat – When trying to “repair” your Windows operating system, perform an upgrade, or perform other hard drive or operating system procedures, you can accidentally wipe out all of the data on your hard drive (it happens more often than you might think).  Data recovery services can often get data back from a wiped hard drive or deleted folder, but this will still usually involve both time and expense unless you have a recent backup available.
  • Theft or Disaster- If your computer is stolen or damaged/destroyed by fire, wind, or water then your data is usually gone forever unless you have a recent secure,  offsite, or online (cloud) backup available.

Data backups are important for any user who has images, music, financial data, email or other information on their hard drive that they don’t want to lose, but it is absolutely critical for a business of any size. Data backup can be easy and inexpensive (or even FREE), so there really is no reason not to back up your precious digital photos, valuable financial data, music collection, saved email messages or other data that you would miss (or be lost without) if something bad happened to your computer or hard drive.

For personal users the simplest method of backing up your files is to simply copy them from your hard drive to another location (a CD/R or CD/RW, a USB “thumb” drive, an external hard drive, or a second internal hard drive).  This is certainly a viable solution if you only have a small amount of data and it is stored in only one, or just a few locations on your hard drive.  For somewhat larger amounts of data, or for data that is spread out in many difference locations on your hard drive, you can use a file copy (or “file replication”) tool like Microsoft’s SyncToy or Allway Sync.  The advantage of this method is that your files are in their original format and (within directory) in their original hierarchical order, so you can access them just as you would the original files on your computer’s main hard drive.  The disadvantages are that the copy process can take a very long time depending on how much data must be copied, and the data is unencrypted, making it accessible to anyone who has access to the backup media.  If you have a significant amount of data to backup, and/or if you want your backed up data to be securely encrypted, then you should choose one of the other backup methods listed below.

The best type of backup involves a hard drive “image” which is a “snapshot” of your entire hard drive or main partition, including all installed programs and system files.  It is basically a saved “clone” of your system drive.  If your hard drive (or operating system) becomes non-functional for any reason, you can use the drive image to “replicate” your system drive to exactly they way it was when the last snapshot was taken. Because drive images are very large and take a long time to create, many users create a drive image (or snapshot) once per week and rely on daily data file backups between drive image snapshots.  Please note that some, but not all, drive image backup solutions allow the image to be restored to a different PC; some apps only allow restoration to the same PC.

ON-SITE (LOCAL) BACKUP SOLUTIONS  – USB Flash Drives (or “thumb drives”) and external USB hard drives have become so inexpensive that no other “on-site” solution need be considered.  USB thumb drives are now large enough to handle most “critical data” backups, and external USB drives can be purchased that will be much larger than your computer’s hard drive, allowing you to easily back up literally everything on your computer’s internal hard drive (including the operating system and program, often referred to as a “complete” hard drive backup).  We strongly recommend storing your local backup media away from your computer when you are not performing a backup; ideally at a different location entirely (perhaps in your vehicle’s trunk or glove compartment).  Some users use two identical backup drives so that one is always off-site while the other on connected to the computer for backups and they are “switched” at regular intervals so a recent backup drive is always safely stored off-site.  Many external hard drives will include backup software or a “one touch” backup button right on the drive case.  Most versions of Windows include a free built-in backup utility, but some users find the utility in versions previous to Windows 8 to be less than “user friendly” and somewhat limited in functionality.  There are many free backup programs available for download on the Internet (be wary of “fake” programs that could infect your computer with spyware or viruses).  You can get reviews and links to free local backup software here.  Note: Although we cannot vouch for the legitimacy of all of the software mentioned  in those articles with total confidence, the article do come from reputable sources.

ONLINE (WEB-BASED) BACKUP SOLUTIONS – For truly secure data backups, the backed up data should reside in a separate location from your computer(s).  If is often inconvenient to perform an onsite backup, move backup media off-site, then bring it back on-site to perform the next regularly scheduled backup.  Unless they are automatically scheduled by the backup software, it can also be difficult to remember to do backups on a regular basis.  This is where online backup services can be an excellent solution.  Today’s online backup services are not only affordable, but virtually all “name brand” online backup services are completely safe, encrypting your data before it ever leaves your location and only being decrypted when (and if) you download a “restored” file to your computer (so only you can see them).  Although there is no standard “HIPAA certificate of compliance” for backup software an services (so no backup service can accurately be categorized as “HIPAA Compliant”), as long as the backup service provides strong encryption of stored data (look for “Blowfish” encryption), then they can help a business comply with HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance requirements for data security.  Most popular online backup services (including those listed below) provide such encryption and so are suitable for use by businesses in the medical and financial services fields as well as others that must comply with strict data security requirements or want such security for their data.  You can get reviews and links to free online/cloud backup software here.

WHICH BACKUP METHOD IS BEST? – This will depend on how much data you need to backup, and the level of security you desire for your backed up data.  As mentioned previously, in many cases a local backup will backup your data without encrypting it.  Virtually all online backup services encrypt your data before sending it over the Internet, then decrypt it only when you restore it to your computer, so only you can see your data.  If you only have a small amount of data to backup (5 GB or less) then we recommend using one of the free or low-cost online backup services.  This solution is inexpensive (or free) and “automatic”.  For those users who prefer to not use an online backup service then two small USB “thumb drives”, alternated at each backup, will work just fine.  For redundancy, use both methods.  Many home users and most businesses will have more than 5 GB of data to backup and should consider using a combination of both on-site (local) backups and online backups (Enveloc’s Total Control Backup  plan provides both onsite and online backups in one convenient program; see details below).  Critical data, such as financial information or other information that you would be absolutely lost without, should be backed up online.  Less critical data, including music files, photos or videos (which normally take up huge amounts of disk space) should normally be backed up locally both to reduce the cost of your online backups and because it can take a VERY long time to restore a very large amount of data from an online backup service.  Bear in mind that backing up more than 50 GB of data could quite a long time.  For larger businesses or businesses that have a large amount of data that needs to be backed up on line, IBackup and Enveloc (see below) can send external drives for you to save the intial backup to (saving hours or days of upload time) and return to them, and/or save your backed up data from their servers onto large hard drives and ship it to you to directly copy back onto your repaired/replaced hard drive.

ENVELOC is the backup solution that we most often recommend.  It provides an affordable “combination” of onsite/offsite backup solution, plus hard drive imaging, for Windows-based home users as well as fully-featured redundant backup services with premium features and functionality.  Hard drive imaging saves a “snapshot” of your hard drive; if your drive ever needs to be restored (on the same hard drive or on a new hard drive), hard drive imaging means that your hard drive will be exactly the same as when you took the last snapshot (the Windows operating system, all programs, all data, all settings will be exactly the same, eliminating the need to reinstall your programs, restore your data, and reconfigure your computer the way you like it).  Enveloc also allows free UNLIMITED local backups to your local storage device at no charge.  Enveloc’s plans are particularly well-suited as a backup and file storage services for businesses.

  • Enveloc LocalRemote (starting at $6/month plus $0.50/GB/month) – Enveloc LocalRemote compresses, encrypts and backs up one copy of your data to a local drive and backs up a redundant copy to Enveloc’s secure servers. During installation, LocalRemote will detect any attached storage device designated for your backup data and automatically store your backup data sets on the storage device with the same lossless compression, 265-bit AES encryption and 125-file versioning as the data stored on Enveloc’s remote servers.  Includes file versioning (up to 125 versions kept up to one year), Mailbox-level Exchange restores, open file access, free live 24/7 tech support for restorations and free live telephone support for all issues during standard business hours.
  • Enveloc NASRemote (starting at $6/month plus $0.50/GB/month) – Enveloc NASRemote compresses, encrypts and backs up one copy of your data to your Network Attached Storage (NAS) device and backs up a redundant copy to Enveloc’s secure servers. During installation, LocalRemote will detect any NAS device designated for your backup data and automatically store your backup data sets on the storage device with the same lossless compression, 265-bit AES encryption and 125-file versioning as the data stored on Enveloc’s remote servers.  Includes file versioning (up to 125 versions kept up to one year), Mailbox-level Exchange restores, open file access, free live 24/7 tech support for restorations and free live telephone support for all issues during standard business hours.
  • Enveloc Pro (starting at $8/month plus $0.50/GB/month) – Enveloc Pro compresses, encrypts and backs up two redundant copies of your data to two separate Class A Network Operating Centers over 2,000 mile apart.  Lossless compression algorithms reduce the size of the data and then encrypts your data with 265-bit AES encryption as the data stored on Enveloc’s remote servers.  Also includes includes file versioning (up to 125 versions kept up to one year), Mailbox-level Exchange restores, open file access and free live 24/7 tech support.

Which plan you choose is not nearly as important as choosing to have a plan in place!  Much like insurance, no one really appreciates the importance of backing up their data until they lose it.  And the chances of losing your data (by one means or another) are greater than you think.  If your computer or hard drive is lost, stolen, or destroyed (by fire, physical damage, etc.) then you data may be lost forever if you haven’t backed it up.  In the event of a hard drive failure or accidental erasure (or reformatting) your data may be recoverable via a data recovery service (Tech Wizards offers complete data recovery services), but you will still have to deal with the expense of the data recovery service (which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars) as well as being without your data for a given period of time until the data recovery can be completed and your data returned to you.  In return for a little time, a little effort, and (often) a very little expense you can avoid the disaster of data loss by implementing a data backup solution.

Be aware that any data backup solution is only as good as the integrity of the backed up data files.  Especially with on-site (local) data backup solutions, a “test restore” should be done on a periodic basis (at least weekly).  By restore one or a few files every week you can rest assured that your backed up data is available and ready for restoration in the event that you need it.

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