Sunday, February 28th, 2021

Data Backup Explained: What Are You Waiting For?

Storage Devices
Common data backup devices: A NAS server, a desktop external drive, and a portable drive.

Of the things we tend to learn when it’s too late, data backup is one of the most, if not the most common.

I’ve seen too many instances where folks learned about data backup when it was no longer possible. They all had had the seemingly logical thought along the lines of “why invest in extra storage when everything is working fine?” In reality, data backup is like an insurance policy; you need it, yet, you hope you’ll never have to resort to it.

You’ll learn more about that in this post, and hopefully, by the time you get to the end, you’ll find a way to make sure your data is safe. Consider this post a public service announcement.

So, what’s a backup?

In a nutshell, a backup is an extra copy of the data you put away, separate from the version you’re using. The more copies you have, the safer your information is, and you generally need at least one additional copy.

And If your data changes a lot, you need to create backups regularly. Depending on your needs, there are many ways to make a backup.

How do I back up?

The simplest way is to manually make a duplication of your data and place it somewhere else, like a thumb drive, or — if it’s just a small document — you can even email it to yourself.

Ideally, though, you want a backup solution that happens automatically, without you having to get involved, after the initial setup.

That said, the best way is to set up a backup scheme. The good news is, it’s quite easy, and cheap, to do so. And in most cases, you can indeed set it up once and then forget about it.

Types of backups

There are generally three types of backups: Online, local, and network. They all have pros and cons but any of them is better than having no backup at all. And it doesn’t hurt to use all three.

Google Pixel XL Phone
A smartphone can be a great backup solution.

1. Online backup

Online backup — or cloud backup — is when you upload your data to a remote server. Typical examples are Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive, or Google Drive.

You only need to sign up for one of the three, after that download the software for your platform, run it, and follow the self-explanatory instruction.

Online backup’s Pro

Online backups keep your data safe from disasters, such as fire or flood. That’s because your data is stored offsite, at the service provider’s data centers.

You can perform a backup, and access your files, from anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection. One online account can work for multiple machines, and you can even sync data between them.

And finally, you won’t need to worry about the maintenance of the backup destination. But with that comes the catches.

Online backup’s Cons

Due to the constraints of the Internet speed, it takes a long time to back up, or retrieve a large amount of data. The backup process is also very taxing on your Intenet connection because it uses up the upload pipe. So, it’s not ideal for those with a slow Internet connection.

On top of that, most providers provider gives you a limited amount of free storage space — typically around 5GB — before charging you a subscription fee. Also, using an online service means you will, for the most part, have to surrender your privacy, and your data might susceptible to hacking.

Who should use online backup

If you use a smartphone, chances are you’re already using some sort of online backup solution via Apple’s iCloud or Google’s Drive and Google Photos app.

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For those using a computer, this type of backup is excellent when you have small amounts of light-weight data, such as Word or Excel documents. If you have more, make sure your broadband connection can handle that.

Crucial X8 Portable SSD
The Crucial X8 is a handy backup portable drive.

2. Local backup

This type of backup is the easiest and most popular. A typical example is the use of an external drive, such as a portable drive that connects directly into a computer using a peripheral port, namely USB or Thunderbolt.

After that, use Time Machine on a Mac or File History on a Windows 10 machine. These two applications automatically back up the data of your choice regularly, as often as every few minutes. Some portable drives, such as the WD My Passport series, include backup software of their own that you can also use.

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Local backup’s Pros

Generally, with an external drive, you can back up a large amount of data with ease, as long as your computer has the latest peripheral connections. Also, and there’s minimal setup or configuration to do, and you don’t need the Internet at all.

If you use a desktop external drive, such as the My Book Duo, you can even choose to use RAID 1, which enhances data security in case one of the backup internal drives dies.

Local backup’s Cons

This solution can back up only one computer at a time. It requires a drive to connect to a computer directly and therefore is not convenient for mobile users or multiple users on a local area network.

Who should use local backup

Desktop users will benefit the most from a local backup. But mobile users can also get an ultra-portable drive, like the WD Black P50, to back up their notebook.

Some portable drives also works with Android or iOS devices. However, in this case, they are too clunky to rely on.

3. Network backup

This type of backup uses a network-attached storage (NAS) server that connects to your router or a switch. Hence, you can back up multiple devices at a time.

A NAS server can also work as your cloud storage for you to back up data to it over the Internet. It’s like having an online backup service of your own.

Good servers, like those from Synology, also has many other applications, such as a streaming media server or as a surveillance system when coupled with IP cameras.

Synology DS220 NAS Server 10
The Synology DS220+ NAS server is an excellent backup device.
Network backup’s Pros

Using a server is by far the most comprehensive backup solution. It has the speed and convenience of local backups and the safety and minimum privacy risks that you can hardly find in online backup.

Some servers can also protect your data in case of ransomware attacks by keeping versions of your data via shadow copies. And you have lots of data, and a fast Internet connection, you can even use multiple servers at different locations to have automatic offsite backups.

Finally, a server can give you lots of storage space, and different RAID options to deliver performance or redundancy, or both. And you can also have the ability to scale up the capacity as your data grows.

Network backup’s Cons

Setting up a backup server requires networking and computer know-how. On top of that, the initial cost is higher than a single backup drive.

Who should use network backup

Anyone with lots of storage and backup needs will benefit from network storage solutions. So if you have a family with lots of personal data, you should consider a NAS server for the job.

Tend to your backups

Using one of the backup types above is better than having no backup at all, but depending on your type of data, you should use all of them. Personally, I used cloud backup for critical data, network backup for essential data, and local backup for everything.

If you’re worried about storage, just make sure your backup destination has enough space for at least 150 percent of your data. Most backup programs can auto-rotate, meaning they will delete the old backups as space runs out.

While most backup schemes are set-it-and-forget-it kind of things, it’s a good idea to check on your backups once in a while. You can do that buy performance a test restoration, by recovery your data to another place.

If your software has a verification function that you can set it to run after reach backup job.

In a spending mood? (•)

The takeaway

One moment things are working fine, the next, your computer might not even boot up. Take my word for it. Losing data is not the type of thing you want to learn from your own experience but somebody else’s, instead.

Mishaps might happen at any time. Regularly backing up your data is the only way to make sure you won’t be caught off-guard. Do. It. Now.

5 thoughts on “Data Backup Explained: What Are You Waiting For?”

  1. Thanks for the reviews and tutorials on NAS. Recently, my desktop PC went down and won’t boot following a power outage. I’ll need to reinstall Windows and rebuild apps and data, but I’ve ordered a second PC and a DS220+ with 2 6TB Ironwolf drives to avoid issues in the future. My question is can I avoid Windows reinstallation and resulting data loss by configuring the NAS server to automatically back up disk images of each computer, and if so, whether DSM software will give me the ability to restore a crashed computer with the most current image version?

    • Yes, Tom. Just make scheduled backups. You’ll need to creat a restore boot disk using Macrium Reflect to restore a computer on a new internal drive in case of crash or or hardware replacement.

  2. Backup is the easy part. Restore is the hard part and figuring out how to do a restore when your PC is down is also challenging so I would encourage people to practice the full loop of backup and restore ahead of a disaster event so they know what to do when “it” happens.

  3. Nice intro to a topic that some folks don’t pay attention to until it’s too late.

    Back up can be a simple and complex topic.

    Depending on how you use Google Drive and OneDrive and iCloud and so on they can be seen as backups or just online storage. Mac folks will be familiar with Time Machine. Great for backing up. But if your Time Machine backup is in the same place as your Mac and the place burns down chances are your data are lost.

    An approach typical risk-averse folks might take could be:
    on-site hourly backup – local drive, network drive, or NAS
    rotating on-site/off-site daily or weekly backups (backup to one drive, take it off-site, bring the drive from off-site home, repeat)
    On-line constant backup (Backblaze and the like)

    This ignores medium-specific backups/fallbacks like Amazon or google photos, Lightroom CC, and so on.


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