Tag Archives: backups

How good are your backups?


Spider (my Spare Cat) by Mike Shields, Attribution-NoDerivs Licence

An email from a student this week reminded me how often people don’t have an adequate backup strategy for their work. Can you imagine what would happen if right now -right this minute-you had to evacuate the building you are in because of a fire? Not a fire drill, but a real fire, that you are lucky to escape from. No time to pick up anything. You need to leave now. The fire is destroying the building, including all your references, your computer, your back up discs and external hard drives, but to get out alive you can’t take any of it with you.

Most of us, thankfully don’t have to face such a drastic scenario, although it did happen to Alisdair Daws as he wrote his honours thesis (see his post for more about this http://www.agdaws.com/2011/08/). However lots (perhaps all) of us lose work at some stage for various reasons, ranging from the mundane (we accidentally delete it), to the malicious (a virus infects our hard drive and wipes our files), to the accidental (we drop our laptop and the hard drive never works again).

So now might be a good time to check your backups. Do you have them at all? How much of your recent work do they contain? How much of last months work do they contain? Is the information actually retrievable from the backup files? Where are they? All in one place?

This post has more specific advice about setting up a back-up strategy and where to get free software to help you automate it.

Backing up your work

Pinky deletes my work

Pinky deletes my work by Trish Thornton Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Do you back up your work? How often and where is your back up? If you need to be convinced about the importance of backups, just imagine what it would be like if your computer broke right this instant.

Backing up doesn’t need to be hard, and there are many systems which can automate it. Here are some of my recommendations.

Create local back ups each time you save
Ensure you have set up both Word and Excel to make a back up copy of each file each time it is saved. This sort of backup is really useful when you cant undo the mess you accidentally made of a spreadsheet or document (or your cat does….). See here for instructions about how to set Word to do this.
And here are instructions for how to do this in Excel. http://seehowtodo.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/automatically-create-backup-copies-of-excel-files/

Have backups in more than one place
At least some of your backups need to be in places different to your computer.  A backup is no use if it is also stolen with your computer, or damaged in the same earthquake or fire. Different places you can back up to include flash drives, external hard drives, cloud storage, and even emailing it to yourself. Here is a review of free online back up storage http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/best-free-online-backup-sites.htm

Have backups from more than one time
It may be weeks or months before you realise you have deleted something important. Don’t just overwrite the same backup file with a new backup. Have some backup versions that are from weeks and months ago. I do this by having separate backups running on different schedules, for example monthly and quarterly.

Automate the process where you can
Unless you are going to be very disciplined you need to automate the process as much as possible. You can bet that the time you forget to manually backup is the time you lose your data. Both Windows and Apple computers come with backup software installed which can be configured to be automated.  External hard drives often come with backup software included. There are also numerous freeware backup programmes you can install – see here for a review http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-hard-drive-backup-program.htm

Check your backups
Once you have set everything up, don’t just assume its still working down the track. Check from time to time to see that you are backing up what you need to and that your backups are there and accessible.