Backup (your data) before you wish you had!
Hindsight is 20/20. Could have, should have, would have…
It’s human nature not to worry (about completing something) when things are going smoothly. This is especially the case when it comes your computer and doing data backups. You meant to do it, but never did get around to running that backup. Then the unthinkable happens – your hard drive fails, the computer is stolen, or an accident damaged the computer (e.g. you dropped it or spilled something on it). In situations like that, without a backup, you may have just lost your priceless photos, emails, documents, financials, and more.
With your computer information (data), you should always take the pro-active backup approach to keep your computer information accessible. If you don’t save any files to the computer, this article probably doesn’t apply to you. However, most people use their computer as a productivity, social media tool and store valuable information on it.
Computer backups are like insurance policies. It seems that you never really need it but you certainly want it to be insured if something happens. It’s a safeguard and offers peace of mind. It may also save your job and a lot of heartache in the future. Imagine the stress were you to prepare for an important interview, board meeting, or pitch to a client, but unexpectedly your hard drive fails and you’ve lost months of work you completed on your presentation. How about the situation when you’ve just found out that you lost years’ worth of digital photographs of your children, pets, or a loved one?
With computers (whether you own a PC or a Mac), you will need to assume that:
your hard drive storage system will fail at some point.
Traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDD) consist of mechanical moving parts (i.e. a spindle, data platter, read/write heads etc.), all of which break down over time and will fail. The other alternative is Solid State Drives, which are often faster and last longer, but it is a myth that they never fail. Solid State Drives (SSD) do fail as well. True, they do not succumb to the mechanical part head/motor failures like their HDD counterparts, but their NAND flash memory degrades whenever data is written or deleted. NAND flash memory have a finite number of times you can save to and delete from it. This means that the more you use an SSD, the more likely it is to fail statistically, i.e. it lessens the life of the device. The reliability of SSD vs. HDD is up for debate and will not be addressed within this blog post. Always assume that HDDs and SSDs will eventually fail, and take the appropriate measures to prevent data loss.
malware (malicious software e.g. viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware) and ransomware will corrupt your computer.
Most malware comes from browsing online, visiting sites that are not secure and downloading infected files, often unknowingly, perhaps from a link in a spurious email. However, any piece of equipment with a logic board/chipset can be compromised whether your use the Internet or not. This could be from a shared USB drive or from someone you know having access to the computer. Infection on a computer may result from sabotage i.e. a disgruntled employee or someone trying to get back at you.
accidents and theft happen
Files and folders may be accidentally or purposely deleted. You may drop or spill something on your device. There may be an electrical power surge that damaged the computer. A computer may be stolen and the data erased.
If you aren’t convinced and before you think “this will never happen to me,” let’s look at the statistics:
- Approximately 140,000 hard drives fail in the USA each week. (Source: Small Business Trends)
- 60% of companies experience data loss within six months. (Source: Boston Computing)
- 29% of data loss is caused by human error. (Source: CIO.com)
- 29% of data loss is caused by malware or ransomware. (Source: CIO.com)
- 92% of malware is delivered by email. (Source: Verizon)
- Data loss due to malware/ransomware has increased by 400% since 2012. (Source: Iron Mountain)
- 75% of companies infected with ransomware were running up-to-date anti-virus protection. (Source: Sophos)
The 3-2-1 Rule
To increase the chance of recovering lost, deleted, or corrupted computer data, we subscribe to the 3-2-1 rule of backups. This rule of backups is recommended by US-Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-Cert) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The 3-2-1 rule of backups means: keep 3 copies of backups—2 backups onsite (on different media) and 1 offsite. Why do you need that many backups? Simply put, backups fail too.
(Image Source: Acronis.com)
There are several ways to back up your information. Some of the more common options include:
External hard drives or flash drives
As a repair shop, we see a lot of customers using this as an option. We also see a lot of failed external drives coming into our shop. External hard drives and flash drives give people a false sense of security that everything is backed up, but this is probably the poorest backup solution. The wear and tear on these devices (including the connectors/cables and casing) tend to make them more susceptible to failure and breakage. Being portable, there is a higher risk of it being stolen or misplaced. Our advice to computer users is to use external hard drives or flash drives as a solution to transfer files from one computer to another or to use them as a temporary solution to back things up (while the main backup option is not easily accessible). An external/flash drive may be working normally one day and be unrecognized by the computer the next, so you may have no indication it is going bad or has been corrupted/reformatted.
Spare (internal) hard drives
This involves using a separate hard drive in the same computer as a backup option. This is not advisable as you should always back up your data in a separate computer rather than a hard drive housed in the same casing. If there is an electrical fault, virus attack, or accidental damage within that computer, the secondary hard drive may be affected as well. Spare internal hard drives are better for extra storage capacity, but not backups.
Network Access Storage (NAS)
Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a dedicated device that sits on a network as a file storage system. It allows multiple computers/users to share, retrieve, and save data stored on it. Modern NAS drives have built in safety and security features for data backups. While it may not fully replace the features of an enterprise file server, it is both cost effective and our preferred storage/backup solution for home offices and Small and Medium Businesses (SMB). Be careful of some external hard drive providers offering software to make it act like a NAS (see option 1). There are many NAS manufacturers on the market. We use Synology as our preferred NAS manufacturer.
Storage Area Network (SAN)
For larger enterprises, Storage Area Network (SAN) may be a viable solution. While Network Attached Storage (NAS) generally allows sharing from a single device with its own file system, SAN solutions allow the data to be distributed and shared between multiple devices on the same network. NAS accesses data as files and SAN accesses data as blocks. Blocks can be defined as a chunk of sized data that can act like a separate hard drive, are housed independently of the server (i.e. controlled by a separate server-based operating system), and each block can have its own file system. NAS generally come as an all-in-one system which is easier to set up and more cost effective. Scalability, speed, and security are advantages of SAN systems. SANs may need more setup, administration, and are comprised of multiple components, including hosts/servers and storage devices. As a result, SAN systems may generally cost more than a NAS system. Here is a good comparison of SAN vs. NAS.
(Image source: Backblaze.com)
With Internet Service Provider (ISP) speeds rapidly increasing with cable modem and fiber-optic connections, many companies have offered easy ways to back up your data online. Cloud backup allows the computer user to save their data to a third-party service provider with affordable monthly or yearly subscription costs based on your data size. The security, featured capabilities, and certification of the cloud backup provider vary. We advise you to do your due diligence when researching cloud backup providers. Understand that the term cloud backup and cloud storage are often used interchangeably but they are not one and the same. Here is a video that shows you the differences between cloud backup and cloud storage. Examples of cloud backup are Backblaze, Amazon AWS, Acronis Cloud, and Carbonite. Examples of cloud storage are Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive. With the proper setup and policies in place, one can use a cloud storage system as a backup system too.
There isn’t a one-size-fits all solution for backups, as it depends on budget, size, and requirements of your company. It can also differ if you are a residential vs. commercial business user. The best solution will be well thought out based on your current and future needs, rather than a system that is used by a friend, acquaintance, or another company. What others are using may not necessarily align with what you need and be based on different budgetary requirements. We have often seen small and medium-sized businesses spending excessive amounts on server systems with features that they do not and would not use. On the flip side, we have seen companies that have used inadequate systems, being ill-advised on what they thought would be a good (cheaper) solution at the time. We have often recommended a combination of solutions that satisfy the 3-2-1 rule rather than a specific set up. PC Ninja is glad to discuss back up options to give you peace of mind that your valuable data will be accessible if (or when) your hard drive fails.