Data backups: Know your options (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Oct 30, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - These days, the question is not whether or when to back up your data. It's how best to do it. The number of options for safeguarding your data via backups is daunting - and that's the trouble. Just look at the backup utility market today, and you'll see programs that perform full system backups, image backups, individual document backups, and application-specific backups. Which type is best for you? To answer that question, you need to know the pros and cons of each backup type. Read on to find out.
--- Non-proprietary backups
Most backup programs available today will stuff your data into a proprietary backup format, requiring you to have and use the same program to restore your data that you used to back it up. That, of course, is not always convenient, and it constitutes another step in a data restoration procedure that you'll have to remember in order to be able to successfully retrieve your data.
That's why, for many, there's real value in a program that simply creates a duplicate copy of your files on another drive. With such a backup, you can simply access the duplicate copies with Windows Explorer or another file manager and restore them as easily as you can copy files.
There are a few routes that you can take to get duplicate copies of your files made. One, of course, is just to manually copy your most valuable files using a file manager. That approach, while free, only works if you remember to perform the task regularly. A better option for most is to use a backup program such as Second Copy (http://www.centered.com) that automatically backs up your data in a non-proprietary format. Second Copy gives you all the convenience of a backup program - with features such as scheduling and automation - but won't make you feel as though your backups are in some inaccessible format.
Another, similar option is to use a file synchronisation tool, which will also make a non-proprietary copy of your files in a location of your choice. In addition, a file synchronisation application will ensure that changes made to one or both of the folders that contain your files stay in sync. Good tools for synchronisation include Super Flexible File Synchroniser (http://www.superflexible.com) and Microsoft's SyncToy (http://bit.ly/bI3i96), which is free to registered Windows users.
The primary downside of creating duplicate copy backups is storage space. You'll need twice the storage space required for your main files, since no compression whatsoever will be used in the creation of the backups. Another potential disadvantage is that you may not be able to use the duplicate copy method to do a full system restoration because the hidden files and bootup files required to successfully start an operating system may not be part of the backup.
--- Image backups
Image backups are popular with those who want their entire systems backed up in a way that allows them to restore everything - operating system, configured applications, and files - in the event of a system meltdown. With image backups, you typically have to create and use a 'restore disk' in order to access the backup file once it is created. That backup file is typically stored on an external drive or a location that is separate from the main system disk to which you want to restore your original files. Once you boot from the system restore disk, which is a self-created CD or DVD, you can access the backup file and restore your computer to the exact state it was in before you experienced some type of data catastrophe. Well-regarded system imaging tools include Acronis True Image Home (http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing), Symantec Ghost (http://bit.ly/9Uliee), and Microsoft's imaging utility built in to Windows 7.
Restoring an entire system from an image backup requires that you restore to the same computer or one with identical hardware. Otherwise, the operating system may not boot. Image backups are therefore a poor option for those interested primarily in backing up critical files in order to transfer them to a new computer.
--- Complete system backups
Complete system backups, like image backups, copy everything on your computer but typically make it easier than image backup software to selectively restore particular files or folders. For Windows users, the best automated complete system backup solution is Windows Home Server (http://bit.ly/9n4sfH), available via HP's MediaSmart line of personal servers. An able standalone system backup tool is NTI's Backup Now (http://bit.ly/c7Sy3x).
--- Specific data backups
It can also make good sense to keep separate backups of particular types of data, such as e-mail, financial information, internet bookmarks, or other application-specific data that you might need quick access to in order to port it to another machine or to restore it separately from full system backups.
While you can make such application-specific backups with a traditional backup program, selectively choosing the files and folders to secure, doing so can be difficult and time-consuming. That's because actually finding the places on your hard drive where certain applications store all related files is frequently not self- evident.
AJ Systems' Eazy Backup (http://bit.ly/bRWJDW) will secure the data from a number of popular applications, including Outlook, Thunderbird, Quicken, RoboForm, and many others. NinjaSoft's Presto Transfer (http://bit.ly/aOQxlB), similarly, focuses on backing up - and transferring - the data files from dozens of specific applications.
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