Windows Nerd Essentials: Understanding and Effectively Using Data Backup Systems
Yesterday. All my troubles were so far away. But now my data’s gone, there’s hell to pay. I believe in yesterday…
I fucking hate having to back-up my data, but you know what? I hate losing it even more. You may have read about my experiences as a technician in a little computer shop before, but apart from the viruses, shitware and porn (oh yeah, by the way, some of you people have real problems), the number one question I got when working in Gary’s grot-shop was “can you save my photos and emails!?”
The fact of the matter is, most people don’t run comprehensive backups and to make matters worse, most people who think they do, errmm…don’t.
This will be a walk-through of a complete system backup for the typical home user with a single boot partition and auxiliary local storage. We won’t be covering network attached storage, multiple-boot scenarios, Windows Home Server or Active Directory. It’s reasonable to assume that anyone using those systems and technologies would know this stuff already.
Part One: Get Your Shit Together
This is absolutely the most important thing of all. You need to store your data in a pre-thought, structured system. If you buy in to the whole “My Documents” philosophy of Microsoft, almost all of this is done for you, and has been since Windows 95. Store your Pictures in “My Pictures”, your home movies in “My Movies”. You get the idea. Of course, very few people (myself included) actually follow this creed. In fact, I bet your desktop looks like it’s been thrown-up on by 4 year-old who’s been fed with your precious information and has had too much sugar.
At the very least, you need to start sorting stuff in to folders and you need to know where they are. By structuring your data, you not only have better access to it, you also have a greater awareness of how much you have and therefore, what will be required to back that shit up. You’ll also be in a better position to audit your data, and be able to confidently remove things you don’t want or no longer need. Believe me; you’ll be surprised at how much crap you collect. That crap doesn’t need backing up and you need to get rid of it.
I should also mention the CDs, DVDs and memory cards you have lying around. I recently restored a friend’s CD which had been chewed and scratched by his infant son. Unfortunately, it contained every baby picture of the little CD mauler. Get it on the PC and get your data in order.
Part of “getting your shit together” also means abandoning your POP3 email account. Google Mail is now so good that you can (and many people do) run a small business with it, even Virgin Media customer use GMail. For crying out-loud, ditch the email@example.com address and go to GMail, then come back when you’re done. (incidentally, you can route any POP3 or indeed, other web-mail account through GMail. It’s all in their excellent help system). Gmail is now even out of beta and is so nifty and reliable; I’d even recommend it over IMAP. All your emails are safe and accessible from any computer.
In part two, we’ll look at the perplexing array of backup solutions and what “fit for purpose” should mean to you. It’s a jungle out there…