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Monthly Broadcast: January 2007
Ken Bowell has been using computers since 1979. He started out with Apple systems, followed by various Macs before moving into Windows in 1993. His first home computer was an IBM PCJr.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Are you backing up? 

We’re all guilty of not backing up our data properly. We’ve all lost irreplaceable data because we didn’t back it up. The issue here isn’t whether or not you learned from the experience. Clearly, if you’re reading this, you probably have and have an interest in preventing a repeat incident.

Since you know you want to protect your data, the subject becomes a matter of how to do it properly. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. There are good and bad ways of backing up your information. If it’s not done correctly, you may lose everything despite your efforts.

Even worse than losing data after you have started a backup strategy, is losing more than you would if you hadn’t backed your files up at all. How is this possible? There is the potential to be lulled into a false sense of security when we think we’ve planned for the worst. We can become careless and not take care of our storage devices figuring we have a safety net. We ignore warnings and use a little less care in how we treat our data. We have a backup, right?

The problem is, if we haven’t performed a proper backup procedure, we may lose both our original data and our backups together. How can this happen?

One example of a poor backup strategy is relying on a consumer raid system to protect your data. While this can help prevent data loss in case of a drive failure (though many of those systems fail to even do that), it can’t protect your data from fire, flood or theft. Even backing up to an external hard drive or optical disc media won’t help if they are kept in the same location as the original. Probably the worst backup strategy is simply backing up to another partition on the same drive. 

There are ways to backup your data safely. It involves a mix of on site and off site backups:

1) For daily backups, an external hard drive can protect your data from those accidental deleted files, a crashed internal hard drive or the need to reinstall your operating system due to a system failure. Pick a time each day to perform an incremental backup of any changed files.

2) Perform a weekly backup on to optical disc (like CD-R or DVD+/-R) and keep the disc in a fire resistant safe, on an upper level of your house away from sources of water. Be sure the safe is bolted securely to the structure of the house to prevent theft.

3) Perform a monthly backup to optical disc and store the disc at another location, such as the house of a friend or relative, your workplace or a safe deposit box at your bank. Depending upon how critical your data is, you may wish to do this more often.

4) In addition to the above items, you may wish to back up frequently used files to a solid-state device, such as a thumb drive or a storage card and keep it with you. A 1 Gigabyte Secure Digital (SD) card will fit easily in your wallet. 

An alternative to frequently storing a disc at another location is to use an online data storage service. There are several companies that do this for little or no cost. However, this should not replace storing a physical disc off premises. The reason is, data storage companies cannot guarantee your data is they have a catastrophic failure or simply go out of business. While you should be able to update your off-site backup disc less often (helpful if the location is far away), it’s still a good idea to archive your older files that way. 

While a safe backup strategy isn’t always easy, you’ll thank yourself for the effort when you really need to make use of it. Don’t put those irreplaceable digital photos, home videos or financial files at risk just because you don’t want to go the extra mile.

Ken Bowell is currently a video editor for ESPN. Since 1997, he has performed various production tasks for shows like Sportscenter, Baseball Tonight, NFL Live and ESPNews. He has been working in television for nearly 15 years at both the local and network level.

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