Backing Up Your Computer

Your files that you create in your computer must be backed up regularly because many things happen that can destroy your data. In many circumstances, you should also backup your whole hard drive in a manner that you can restore from, should something happen. In order to backup properly, there are some details that you should understand.

Your computer has 4 types of software: (1) an operating system, (2) the drivers for the hardware components in your computer, (3) the programs that do your tasks such as writing your letters, doing your checkbook, creating or storing your graphic images or pictures, creating and using your databases, and finally, (4) the data that these programs create. You may have also performed an upgrade to your operating system including updates from the web which should be backed up.

The first thing that is important to back up is the data you create. Usually, this data can not be recreated without a lot of time and resources. Sometimes it can not be reconstructed at all. You should have the original disks that came with your computer containing the operating system. We find that many people don't have these or they are lost. You should also have the program disks that either came with your computer or that you purchased at some point. The driver disks come or should come with your computer or hardware devices that you purchased. Driver disks are required for the display card, modem, sound card, CD ROM, scanner, and any other device that has been added to the computer. If you do not have these disks, you will certainly get into trouble at some point in time. These disks should be kept in a safe place where they are NOT subject to humidity, direct sunlight, scratching, or smashing, and also where they can be readily found. Lending or borrowing programs or even these drivers is not a good idea. I will cover a method to back up your hard drive completely, including the operating system, all updates, drives, installed software, and the data on the drive at the time of this backup later in this article.

Many things happen to computers to cause data loss. Fire or lightning are the extreme, but even a power flicker or surge from a water pump, heater, electric motor, or air conditioner can cause data loss and even stop your computer from booting. An auto accident where the power pole is hit and bumped can cause a power failure or momentary interuption. Many times, software interacts and causes a whole system to crash. Games can bring down a business system. No software publisher will openly admit software problems, but most software on the market is "buggy". Occasionally, a wrong keystroke can delete files that you need. Sometimes, a component failure in your system can bring your system down. I have seen more virus' in the last year than in the 3 years proceeding. A boot sector Virus can wipe your system clean in a second if you catch the right one. Others will simply drive you nuts. They can corrupt data or make hardware act erratic.

There are many ways to back up your system, and the right way for one person or business is not the right way for another. Occasionally, a backup won't restore data also causing a bigger problem. A proper backup procedure involves rotating backup media with a predetermined pattern. A tape or disk for each day, one for each week saved, and another for each month saved in an archive, might be the right way for you. Only the daily media from Monday to Thursday gets back in rotation if and only if no problems come about. Sometimes, you may have a good backup, but restoring will cause a big problem. Restoring is little understood. Tapes and disks also do go bad. Incrumental backups must all be reloaded in order, all of them with none missing. Keeping disks or tapes in a safe can be disastrous if it is magnetic or humid. A backup should also be kept off premise if your business depends on it in case of fire or theft.

Some devices used for backing up include: tape drive, Zip drive, Jazz drive, Orb drive, second hard drive, CD Recorder, network, and floppy disk. Sometimes, data can be placed on one or more floppy disks easily for most people. One of the biggest mistakes is keeping data on a floppy or zip with no copy on the hard drive. Those floppies don't always read and zip disks get lost or broken.

One of the biggest problems is actually knowing where your data is stored. No one seems to take the time to keep a log of each program installation and where the subdirectory for the program and data is located. There is NO one place on your hard drive where it is stored. Usually, data is all over in many places.

Lost data for a business without a backup could put it out of business if customer lists and account receivables were lost. A data recovery company could cost thousands of dollars trying to recover data from a failed hard drive if it were even possible. Data recovery companies can usually recover data from a failed hard drive, but if the file that you need is corrupted, only a backup will save you. Sometimes, consultants make the task of recovery impossible by screwing around with the drive or files. Many hours can go into locating files from a tape or other source.

Although a tape drive is very popular because it is supposed to copy most of your hard drive, a full backup of your hard drive is RARELY accomplished with tape and is more rarely restored so that it works. Most tape drive owners use the included software and it simply isn't adequate to do any backup that restores properly. Restoring doesn't work because tape backup software doesn't capture files in use by Windows. Restoring files on top of "files in use" also do not get copied back. The tape drive software stops and reports that it is done. Tape seems to be the easiest to use, but it is a bare to restore from. Restoring only data is the only safe thing to restore from tape. Restoring a program will crash you system again.

If you understand data and know where it's stored, a zip drive is a great device and highly recommended. It comes in 100MB or 250 MB sizes. A Jazz drive is also quite useful for this. It comes in 1GB or 2 GB capacities. A newer drive, made by Castlewood, called the "ORB", promises to give the Jazz drive a real run for the money, because of the lower cost. It stores 2 GB on a low cost $40 cartridge. A new model is expected out soon holding 5.7 GB. We sell these drives at Gene's Computer outlet.

CD ROM writers have also become popular and do make a good file backup device. Again, it becomes a matter of the right way to use it. A CD Rom only holds 650MB of data. Backing up a complete hard drive to CD ROM can be done only if you know what you are doing. Most computer owners do not understand how to do this. Most owners choose a cheap CD Writer and that is a big mistake. You get what you pay for. There was a time when copying from CD to CD required a quality drive with a SCSI interface. Now, the newer but compatible IDE drives are required to make an image of your hard drive. A USB CD Writer will never work at the DOS level to make a complete backup.

If you are on a network, you can backup to the network as long as the network also gets backed up. You need to know what you are doing because I have a customer who backed up to the network, overwriting the network itself causing a big crash of the network. There are special drivers required to access the network at the DOS level to backup and restore to and from a network.

A second hard drive is asking for a second disaster on top of the first, unless you take the second hard drive "off line" after the backup is made. If not, the second drive will usually crash when the first one crashes, particularly if a virus or hardware failure causes the crash.

I recommend doing an image backup with Power Quest's Drive Image on to an "ORB" drive or a compatible IDE CD Writer. The ORB should be the IDE version. This must be done before the hard drive gets too "junked up", and preferable before the hard drive exceeds 2 GB in data content. If you do an image while it can still fit on a CD, the image can be burned onto the CD from the ORB. The latest version 4.0 of Drive Image allows you to make an image directly to the CD. You can span multiple CD's if you know what you are doing. I recently replaced a failed hard drive with a new one and replaced the contents complete with Win98, Office, my programs, and most of my data in 25 minutes. Then I restored the rest of my data from a zip. It takes almost an hour just to get 98 reloaded without drivers. Images, by the way, must be done at the DOS level.

Once you have an image, you can just back up data until you make a major change requiring another image such as a major upgrade.

There is a procedure that will work for you. It is a matter of how much you will loose if your business can't function because of lost information or lost time. You must weigh this with your proper backup procedure and costs.

Some suggested "do's and don'ts" and What to back up

Do NOT mix business and kids or games on the same computer

Run Scandisk at least weekly Run DEFRAG weekly

Backup your "data" daily and rotate backup media

Know where your Windows disk and COA is

Know where your original program disks are

Know where your driver disks are (display, modem, sound, etc)

Do not share floppy's and CD's with friends (lose and damage can result)

Insist on original Windows and program disks when you purchase a system

Do NOT open EMAIL unless you know the sender - just delete it

Get "Drive Image" and an IDE "ORB" or CD Writer. Teac makes compatible writers for this.

With your Zip backup: make sure you get

"MY Documents"

"Quickenw" and *.q* files if they are in that folder

"Program Files\Netscape\communicator\mail

"Program Files\Netscape\communicator\address book

and other locations containing your data

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