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Back up your data before April Fools' Day

March 31 is World Backup Day. Here are a few ways you can back up your data.

March 31 is World Backup Day.
March 31 is World Backup Day.
Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Hello, world! Today it's your Backup Day. World Backup Day is a new idea promoted by a small team of Redditors, and it's a good idea. You can never be too careful when it comes to backing up.

By the way, this is about your data, and not calling your buddies over for help in a hostile situation, which is not really my area of expertise. So let's talk backups!

Basically it means putting your data in multiple places so that if something happens to one place (let's say you forget your laptop on the top of your car and subsequently back over it), that important PowerPoint presentation you've been working on isn't lost.

Backing up is much easier than you might think. For example, if you've been working on an important essay, you can just e-mail it once in a while to your mom or to yourself. Just make sure you use an online free e-mail service, such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, or all of them. This goes for photos as well. If you remember to e-mail them to your mom when you have new ones (and she'll probably appreciate that very much), chances are she'll save them for you on her computer, and even if not, they are still in the Sent Items folder of your online e-mail account in case you have lost the originals.

Obviously, e-mailing can only handle a relatively small amount of data and you'll have to remember to do that manually. If you have many files that need backing up, you'll want something more robust. This is when a backup plan is necessary.

Online backup
Similar to e-mailing, an online backup plan provides you with a certain amount of storage space that you can access over the Internet, aka "the cloud." And no, your data is not flying in the sky, it's stored and managed on one or multiple servers located in different parts of the world. There are many online backup services, such as Amazon S3, McAfee, Mozy, or even Comcast.

Most of these services offer a certain amount of storage space, like 2GB, for free. While 2GB doesn't seem like much, that's enough to hold about 500 songs or thousands of pages of Word documents, definitely more than enough to store your essays for the finals. In honor of World Backup Day, an online backup company called CrashPlan even offers a few lucky Twitter followers a free year's subscription.

The advantages of online backup are that it's convenient and generally safe from disasters. However, it depends heavily on your connection to the Internet. For example, say you have a connection that offers 12Mbps upload speed. That would take about 20 minutes to back up the free 2GB of data. Existing very fast Internet connections at home (which most of us don't have) offer around 2Mbps upload speed at most. If you have lots of photos, songs, and even homemade movies that you need to keep safe, maybe it's better to think of something else.

Local backup
This means you back up data on an external storage device, such as an external hard drive or a USB thumbdrive. The good news is that these devices are progressively getting larger in capacity, smaller in size, and cheaper in price. Examples of these are the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable, Western Digital My Passport Studio , Clickfree C2N, and even the supercompact Lexar Echo MX backup drive. If you want something that can even survive disaster, such as fire or flood, the Solo Fireproof Waterproof hard drive from IoSafe is a good choice.

Most of these drives come with free backup software to help you back up important data on a regular basis. Or you can use the operating system's built-in backup utilities to get the job done. Mac OS has the renowned Time Machine, and Windows 7 has Backup and Restore. You can make backups of the entire system by using software like Acronis' True Image, which enables you to quickly restore the whole system, not just important files, in the case of hard drive failure.

Local backup is fast and can handle lots of data; however, generally you can only back up one computer at a time. If you have multiple computers at home and want to manage backups in one place, it's a good idea to think about network backup.

Network backup
This means you have one computer as a backup destination for all other computers. The best way to do this is by using a NAS server. Backing up is one of the main features of any NAS server, in addition to media streaming and so on. Using a NAS server, you can even store data directly on the server itself and access it from your computer.

For backup purposes, it's good to get a NAS server that has multiple hard drives set up in a fault-tolerant RAID configuration, such as RAID 1 or RAID 5. Examples of these NAS servers are the Synology DS410, DS1511+, and DS411slim; Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 4; and Seagate BlackArmor 440.

A NAS server is generally a much bigger investment than an external hard drive, but in return it offers a lot more features and keeps your desk from getting cluttered with devices.

Best practices
With all the options above, the best practice when it comes to backing up is using all of them, when possible, and doing that regularly. If you have a NAS server, it's still a good idea to back up important data on a disaster-proof external hard drive or with an online service or both. For this reason, most NAS servers offer the option of automatically sending a portion of their data to the cloud. And all of them have USB ports to host an external storage device as a data backup destination.

If you have a mobile device such as a smartphone, make sure you sync it with your computer regularly. If you have an iPhone, then a backup device such as the Iomega SuperHero is handy to have.

It also doesn't hurt to keep e-mailing your mom.

So there you go. Those are a few options you can choose for backing up your data. Remember that this is just a reminder. Backups need to be done regularly, not just today. For important documents, for example, you could back them up each time major changes have been made. April Fools' Day is around the corner, but today, treat this as serious business and back up your important data.