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North Hills Monthly

‘Tis the Season to Back Up those Computers

Nov 30, 2018 12:43PM ● By Sarah Tuthill

If visions of a shiny new laptop are dancing in your head, backing up your data long before the holidays will keep you from becoming a Grinch.

A new computer! Sure, you’d like to tear open that box and get to work on your new toy. But first, performing one seemingly boring but very important task will save you time, money and perhaps even your sanity this holiday season. Before you swap your old computer for an updated device, experts say that you’d better have backed up all of your data.

“People don’t usually realize that backups are important insurance policies for their digital life until it’s too late and disaster strikes,” said Rob Schmidt, owner of Computiverse, a digital support company in Gibsonia. In fact, a Harris Poll on computer backup habits has shown that the percentage of computer owners backing up more than once a year has remained at only 6 percent since 2008.

“I think a lot of people are being held back by just not knowing how to back up their data or where to go for advice,” said Schmidt. Though there is a wealth of information on the Internet, it can be intimidating and overwhelming, given how fast technology advances.

Mark Draa, founder and owner of Home Computer Help in McCandless, understands. “I’ve been in the computer field since 1982, and in our relatively short memory we’ve gone from floppy disks to CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, hard drives, and now the cloud.”

While today’s choices may seem daunting, Draa simplifies backup options into two broad categories—local and online. “A local backup is when you purchase a storage device and, in some fashion, make a copy of your stuff,” he said. That device, such as an external hard drive, is stored “locally” in your home or office until the time you want to back up your computer.  

The other method is widely known as online (or offsite) backup. “This just means that you hire a service and, using some methodology, send a copy of your stuff to someone else’s computer to hang on to,” Draa explained. “That’s really all the cloud is—just sending your stuff over the Internet to be stored on someone else’s computer.”

Each method has its pros and cons. “Using an external hard drive for backups, once it is set up, is fairly simply to use,” Schmidt said, adding that users can purchase the hardware and choose from an assortment of software to transfer information. “Once it is put in place, you simply have to plug the hard drive in on a regular basis to have your backups running.” 

Schmidt and Draa both agree that another pro is that external hard drives are fairly inexpensive in terms of price per measured digital storage unit. But they also agree that one of the cons of an external hard drive is the fact that it—like a computer or laptop—can be easily broken, lost, or stolen.  

“Plus, you’re the one in charge, so if you don’t perform the backup, then it doesn’t happen,” Draa added. “If you can’t make the commitment then this method might not be for you. Or, as I like to say– life happens. Backups don’t.”

For that reason, online backups, also known as offsite or cloud-based, are a good option. “Using cloud-based backups is the easiest from the user’s end as there is no interaction that is required for the backups to run,” Schmidt explained. 

Perhaps the best reason to use this method is that it enables users to recover their information if the computer is damaged or lost in a disaster such as a fire or flood. There are many companies, like Blackblaze, for example, that charge a flat fee for online backup services, while others, such as Carbonite, charge by volume.

Depending on your needs, both are relatively inexpensive. “However, one of the downsides of online backup is that it can take a very long time, especially if you have a lot of data,” Draa said. Unlike local options, online backups require an Internet connection to complete, which means it will take longer.

Though there is some overlap, it’s important to note that online backup services shouldn't be confused with cloud storage and file syncing services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Both are places to merely save documents and photos, but aren't designed to automatically back up all your important documents, media files or system files.

Because there are pros and cons for both local and online backup systems, most experts recommend the “3-2-1 rule” for backup. That means creating three copies of your data—two local (on two different devices) and one off-site. For most, following the rule means keeping the original data on a computer, one backup on an external hard drive, and another on a cloud backup service.

With this system in place, you’re highly unlikely to lose any or all of your data. And when that shiny new computer is finally unwrapped, you’re also less likely to spend your holiday chasing scattered files and photos, and more time enjoying your new toy.