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Technology: Multiple backups are a necessity

Most people know that they need to back up their data. But they only use one backup method - and if that method fails, they could lose everything. Let’s explore several methods for multiple backup so your data is always at hand.

Why is one backup system not enough? Because a single kind of backup can lull us into complacency. We assume it’s working, only to find out it’s not. Or we go to retrieve a file, only to realize that we can’t restore the data.

For this reason, it’s vital to test any backup method on an ongoing basis. I’ve fielded calls from many a customer who diligently connected their external drive, or put in a writable CD or backup tape… only to find out the backup job had been sitting on hold for months if not years and hadn’t been running at all!

So let’s say you’ve configured and tested your backup system by trying to restore a few files. That’s fantastic! Now you know that your first backup method works. What other backup methods can you use to supplement it?

I always advocate that you have at least one backup method that you can physically hold in your hands, such as the aforementioned external hard drive or writable CD. Even better, I like to copy files manually. Yes, that’s right, manually. Backup software is fine, but fallible. If you’ve also copied the files onto an external hard drive yourself, you can make sure the copy was successful.

Cloud backups are a good option for fast, easy recovery. But they, too, are fallible. What if your Internet connection is down, or too slow? Recovering a few files might not take very long on a slow connection, but recreating an entire failed hard drive could take days.

Cloning your drive is also a great option. Mac users can do this with Apple’s built-in Disk Utility. There are also several third-party programs out there for both Windows and Mac that can duplicate your drive in this fashion. The difference between a cloned or duplicated drive and a regular backup is that you can boot your computer from a cloned drive. This is by far the fastest way to get up and running again after a catastrophic computer failure.

What if you want to archive data for long-term storage? Some people use inexpensive flash (USB) drives for this, but I recommend against it. Flash drives have not been tested for long-term storage, and tend to go bad more quickly.

They’re mostly meant for temporary storage. External hard drives are better, but any hard drive can fail. Your best bet is burning to CDs or DVDs, which are better at resisting changes in temperature and humidity. Don’t forget that you’ll want multiple copies of your archives, just like you have multiple copies of your regular backups.

Don’t keep overwriting the same hard drive or CD. Get two (or more) and interchange them. Then if one goes bad, you’ll still have the other.

With multiple backup systems at your disposal, you’ll rest easy knowing you can retrieve your data whenever you need it.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer. Her Tech Tips blog www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips offers tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

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