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Backup program questions for college student

by ksibert05 / August 4, 2010 5:23 PM PDT

My daughter is getting ready to leave for College, we got her an external hard drive to use with her laptop in case she has any issues. What is a good user friendly backup program for her to use that she can pretty much set and forget? I suppose incremental backups would be best because we don't want it to take forever, and want it done nightly. She is running Windows 7 on her laptop and I know that it has a program bat am not sure how good it is. Thanks for any help.

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Not the answer you're looking for
by Steven Haninger / August 4, 2010 7:13 PM PDT

but I'd say that anything "set and forget" is asking for trouble and any backup scheme that relies on only one media source just adds to the possibility of disaster. No backup program is any better than it's ability to recover data. Suppose you install such a backup on a PC or laptop and it creates compressed or encrypted files on external media. What happens if the PC or laptop's hard drive crashes? Guess what. You have no access to the data unless you can restore the operating system and re-install the backup software. As well, there's no substitute for user knowledge and understanding of the backup/recovery process.

I'd suggest that, if you want just a backup program you can install on the primary PC, there are plenty to chose from that will incrementally or differentially copy selected folders to another partition or external drive. I won't try to come up with a list of names but will recommend that such be copied in native format and not in a compressed format that can only be accessed by the backup program. I'll also suggest that your daughter use at least one more source such as a large enough flash drive to which she can manually copy her "my documents" or other folders to that contain her school work. You might also check to see if the college offers an on line storage vault for students to deposit and access their work remotely. I know some schools have this capability. Hope this helps.

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I agree, and then some...
by John.Wilkinson / August 4, 2010 10:55 PM PDT

Here are some of the general rules every complete backup strategy should follow, in no particular order:

1.) Create backups using at least two different procedures. If the software creates a corrupt backup, creating a dozen copies does not produce a working backup.

2.) Save the backups to multiple different media. Hard drives, flash drives, CDs/DVDs, and online (cloud) storage are all available options, and you should choose at least two as each has different points of failure. (Cloud storage is susceptible to provider outage, hard drives are susceptible to drops, static/electric shock, and mechanical failure; CDs/DVDs are susceptible to scratches and bacterial breakdown; flash drives are susceptible to electronic failure based on use cycles; etc.)

3.) Keep older backups, not just the most recent one, in case you later realize that you deleted (purposefully or accidentally) a file that you now need. Human and computer error both need to be accounted for, and not just in the short term.

4.) Use compression and encryption sparingly as they add another level of complexity, and thus a point of failure. At least one copy should be uncompressed and unencrypted, using physical security (such as a small, preferably waterproof/fireproof, safe) to prevent unauthorized access.

5.) Store the backups in at least two different locations. A fire, theft, flood, etc. may destroy one backup, but you'll still have the other to turn to.

6.) Make at least one of the backup procedures manual, even if it's performed less often. A set-and-forget option means that the backup media must be connected to the computer 24/7. Whether this is physically or digitally, this means the backup could be destroyed along with the original due to fire, theft, virus, malicious activity, random glitch, etc. One good approach is to use an automatic backup daily and a manual backup every few weeks, unless significant work needs backed up in the interim.

7.) Test the backups occasionally, something that is all too often overlooked. Much like testing your smoke detectors, you need to ensure that your backup procedure and media are fully functional, ready for use should disaster strike.

8.) Do not put too much faith in the security of cloud solutions. A complete backup typically includes detailed personal information (names, addresses, phone numbers, itineraries, usernames, passwords, browser history, correspondences, and more), making it just as valuable as a bank account, something that may also be detailed in the backup. However, such sites are far less secure than those of a bank and are not regulated as well. A single malicious employee, a single password leak, or a single programming mistake can have devastating effects if the online backup is not encrypted before uploading. Most individuals never fully consider/recognize the risks of cloud storage, but it should be a top consideration as online backup services become more popular and, consequently, a larger target for financial/identity thieves that can access your personal information from anywhere in the world.

All of that said, one reliable free backup option is GFI Backup (previously known as Titan Backup), which lets you choose the type of backup (encrypted/unencrypted, compressed/uncompressed, etc.) and run it manually or based on a specific trigger (including date/time) for one or more types of media. I still recommend using Acronis TrueImage or other disk imaging/ghosting software to backup the operating system and programs/settings as well, but GFI Backup is a good start that is easy to use, offers a set-and-forget option, and does not break a college student's budget.

Hope this helps,
John

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