If you use a computer, it is critical to ensure your data are backed up. An unexpected event, like hard drive failure, file corruption or a virus, could wipe out all your important files when you least expect it. Thus, data backup should be an essential part of your computer usage routine, but not everyone does it diligently. Some may be intimidated by the backup task, not knowing where to start, what files to backup, where to store their backups or even which backup software is reliable enough. This article is a useful guide to these questions.
Computers use drives to store your data. The constant reading and writing of data will eventually lead to drive failure overtime due to mechanical failure or drive degradation, usually without warning. There are also other situations which may result in data loss, like power failures, system or file corruption, virus, ransomware, or malware attacks. Thus, it is important to store a copy of your data somewhere else as a form of redundancy.
There are many forms of storage medium where you can back up your data to. The choice of media may depend on several factors, like size of the backup, setup complexity, portability and security requirements, budget, onsite or offsite backup.
External hard drives - One of the most common storage mediums, external drives, are easy to setup, relatively cheap, provide multiple storage size options, are portable and are usually large enough to store a lot of data. However, like the hard drives in your computer, they are prone to failure over time, risk being misplaced (lost) or damaged (when dropped), and may eventually run out of storage space as their size is fixed. External drives may also risk being stolen or destroyed in a disaster (fire, flood, etc).
USB flash drives – Thumb drives, or USB flash drives, are plug n’ play, ultra-portable, inexpensive, and durable. They are good for transporting data between locations efficiently. However, they are prone to being lost or stolen, have a low storage capacity, and certain higher-end models are more expensive.
Disc media (CD-/DVD-Rom & Blu-Ray) – Burnable disc media is a dying storage medium, although there are still some people who use them. They are cheap, portable, and can be used for offsite storage. However, they have limited storage capacity, low shelf life and are considerably slower than hard/flash drives.
Network Attached Storage (NAS) – A NAS device utilizes an array of storage drives to create redundancy and a larger combined storage. A NAS device is connected to the network for shared access. The storage drives used in NAS are usually sold separately so it may be costly to set up. However, NAS devices offer better data redundancy, drive failure protection in real time and performance using RAID configurations. It should be noted that some NAS manufacturers may provide inferior software versions that are buggy, which may cause issues during backup (like storing files with the wrong modification date/time stamp, for example). Some NAS are located onsite, making it vulnerable to disasters like fire and flood.
Cloud Backup – Storing your data in the cloud is the latest trend in backup technology. Data stored on cloud services are always accessible from any internet-connected device. Cloud storage is offsite, so it keeps your data safe from disasters. There are several cloud services available, and most cloud services provide 5GB of online storage for free. Users can pay a recurring fee to buy more storage and charges may get expensive over time. Online backup tends to be slower, especially if you have terabytes of data to backup. SyncBackPro supports the following cloud services - Amazon S3™, Google Storage™, Google Drive™, Microsoft Azure™, Microsoft OneDrive™, OneDrive for Business (Office 365), SharePoint™ (Office 365), Dropbox™, Box, SugarSync™, Amazon Drive™, OpenStack and Backblaze™ B2.
FTP/FTPS/SFTP – Like cloud storage, FTP is an offsite storage solution and may be an option to consider if available. While most people are moving towards cloud services, FTP remains a viable option for some. SFTP and FTPS servers offers an additional layer of security. SFTP is supported in SyncBackPro while FTPS and FTP are supported in SyncBackPro and SyncBackSE.
It is recommended to keep at least 2 or more backup copies of your data and they should be updated on a regular basis. Storing these backup copies on different physical locations will help ensure you have at least a backup copy elsewhere should disaster strike your primary location or vice versa.
With a backup and synchronization program like SyncBack, you can use it to back up a list of files and folders specified by you. This will allow you to backup just the important files that you need. So how to identify which files are important and where do we find them? As a rule of thumb, files created by you are the type of files you should backup. System files, Windows operating system folder, installed programs, temporary files, etc are files that are not required for backup.
Below is a checklist of the most common data files recommended for backup.
Disclaimer - Bear in mind this list is non-exhaustive. Every computer setup is different, so the type and amount of data to backup will vary from user to user. The locations of the data mentioned in this list are their default locations, but it may be stored in a different location in your computer if you have previously customized their storage location. Only you will know where all your files are stored. You may also have data for special programs that are not mentioned in this list so you may need to locate and include them as part of your backup routine.
1. Your User folder containing your documents, music, pictures, etc (C:\Users\Username\)
On a modern Windows PC starting with Vista or newer, most of your personal files are located under C:\Users\USERNAME\, where USERNAME is your Windows user account name. This is the default directory that stores your user account’s data folders. These include your Documents, Pictures, Downloads, Desktop, Music, and Video folders. Other important subfolders include OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive folders, if you use these cloud services.
A hidden subfolder, AppData, is also stored here. This folder stores program settings and data specific to your user account. For example, SyncBackSE/Pro by default automatically backs up your profiles here (C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\2BrightSparks\SyncBack\Profiles Backup). By backing up the AppData folder, it ensures you can easily restore a program’s settings or restore your profiles from a backup.
It is recommended to back up your entire user account directory, including the hidden AppData directory. Through SyncBack, it is also possible to remove/uncheck certain subfolders from the backup selection (Modify > Simple > Choose sub-directories and files) if you decide those folders do not contain important data.
2. Internet browser bookmarks or favourites
Depending on which Internet browser you are using, the location where your bookmarks (or favourites) are stored may vary. For example, Internet Explorer 11 may save your bookmarks under the Favourites folder in your user account folder, whereas Google Chrome may save them as a bookmark file buried under \AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\ directory. Other browsers like Chrome, Firefox, etc also offer the Sync feature which lets you synchronize your browser’s settings (including bookmarks) across multiple devices. Please check your browser’s Help file to find out the optimum way to back up your favourites.
3. Email backup
If you are using a desktop email client setup with the IMAP protocol, chances are you won’t need to back up your emails as the original copies of your emails are stored on the email server. This means if your computer crashes, you only need to reinstall Windows and the email client, then setup your email configuration to have access to your emails again. However, if you are using the POP3 protocol to download your emails to your desktop client, then it’s important to back them up.
The location where your downloaded emails are stored will vary depending on which email application you use. Popular clients like Outlook store downloaded emails as .PST files and they are store in the user account’s AppData folder. However, it is recommended that you check your program Help for exact steps to locate them.
With SyncBackPro, it is also possible to make a backup of your emails, stored on your email server, by creating a Backup Email profile (Modify > Expert > Backup Email). The Backup Email Help section in SyncBackPro contains further details on how to setup such a profile. SyncBackPro can backup emails stored on Microsoft Exchange servers.
4. Backup the backup application and the backup tasks
If your computer crashes, it would be important to reinstall the backup application and import the backup task to run a Restore job as soon as possible. Thus, it would be a good idea to keep a copy of the backup application and the backup tasks files. You will also need to save the serial number (if your program is licensed) for easy retrieval.
5. Keep a list of all installed programs
You may also want to keep a copy of all the programs you use. This makes reinstallation easier during a disaster recovery. It would therefore be advisable to copy any new programs you download and install from the Internet to a special folder that gets backed up as part of your backup routine.
6. If you store important data in other locations besides the user account folder, those should be marked for back up as well.
Folders that are not required for backup include your Windows, Program Files and Program Files (x86) (for 64-bit Window OSes) folders. Windows system files cannot be transferred to a different PC hardware and these files will be automatically setup when a new Windows OS is installed, so it’s unnecessary to make a copy of them. This applies to the Program Files folder as well, since you will need to reinstall most of your applications on a new OS.
To make an exact copy of your drive, including your Windows operating system, you must use disk imaging software. Disk imaging copies the entire disk (the parts that are used) bit-by-bit. This results in a copy that will take up a lot of disk space, and take a long time to copy. Disk imaging isn't generally the best answer to backing up for a few reasons.
Your Windows operating environment is constantly changing. Programs are installed, updated, uninstalled, and settings are changed. Many important security specific applications are also regularly and automatically updated. Anyone, for example, who uses their computer to connect to the Internet should have in place Anti-Virus, Firewall, and Anti-Spyware programs that often update many times a week.
Another significant reason creating a disk image of your drive is not an advisable routine backup procedure is that all misconfigurations of your system, dormant security threats, and the vast amount of junk or temporary data that are created and stored on your system, will also be copied. Much of this junk data cannot be deleted as it is generated behind the scenes in your system. This results in a decrease in performance and speed, and can also lead to system instability. And when you restore from an image, you may well be restoring infected versions of your files.
Lastly, if you change your computer then it's almost guaranteed that you won't be able to restore from a disk image as that disk image contains all the drivers and settings for your previous computers hardware, which is probably different.
These issues, combined with the much longer, costlier, and less convenient disk imaging process inevitably means that for the average user, disk imaging is carried out far less frequently than the kind of backup that only copies your personal data. It's important to remember that making regular backups to a different location is the key to an effective backup strategy.
People who use disk imaging often use file backup programs as well. For example, they take a snapshot of their hard disk using the disk imaging software, e. g. every week, month, or at ad-hoc times, but use the file backup program to make regular backups of their important files, e.g. scheduled every day or even hourly. When doing a restore they first restore the disk image then restore their files using the file backup program. This requires more setup and it only works if you are restoring your OS on the same PC.
How often you should back up your files may depend on how often you make changes to your files. If you change and save your documents daily, it is recommended to make a backup at least once a day. In some instances, some files (like data logs) may be updated multiple times per day, in which case a backup task configured to back up in real time is more appropriate. Some users may also use Incremental or Differential backups to capture file changes over a week, etc. Others may use Versioning to capture various file versions as their draft document is reworked throughout the day.
SyncBackSE and SyncBackPro supports the use of Incremental and/or Differential backups through the Fast Backup option. Versioning of files is also supported.
It's very easy (and important) to have your vital files backed up without you having to remember to do so. The backup can be done automatically, every day, while you sleep. It can be done while you're on holiday or out of the office. Computers are designed to help automate tasks, so let your computer and software automate your backups.
There's a simple solution to ensuring a backup copy of all your important files has been created. So that if or when an unfortunate event occurs that results in the unwanted loss of your data, it's easy to restore that data. This may be a single file that you've inadvertently deleted, or all the documents you've worked on or stored at one time or another.
SyncBackLite/SE/Pro from 2BrightSparks allow users to easily and automatically backup their files. These award-winning programs can even backup open and locked files which means your files can be backed up as you're working on them. Other highlights include: Fast Backup and Intelligent Synchronization; Extensive Cloud Support; Powerful FTP engine; Compression & Encryption; Superb Feature-Set and Customization; Generous Licensing Policy; and Extensive Help Documentation.
Backing up your data is an essential task that needs to be performed regularly. Setting up an automated backup task with SyncBack only takes a few minutes. Once done, you'll have peace of mind that your data is safe. Don’t wait until a disaster occurs and live to regret it when your data are lost.
The Professional's Choice for Backup and Synchronization - US$54.95
SyncBackPro is described as "...the most powerful backup & synchronization utility in its class" by Geoff Akerlund, the founder and editor-in-chief of BackupReview.com. The program has also enjoyed plaudits from the biggest players around including numerous awards from PC World and a sleuth of computer publications.
SyncBackPro has extended support for Cloud services (Amazon S3™, Google Storage™, Google Drive™, Microsoft Azure™, Microsoft OneDrive™, OneDrive for Business (Office 365), SharePoint™ (Office 365), Dropbox™, Box, SugarSync™, Amazon Drive™, OpenStack and Backblaze™ B2), and connects to the SyncBack Management System (SBMS) which makes managing remote backups a whole lot easier and more secure. SyncBackPro also works with SyncBack Touch for Windows, macOS, Linux and Android. You now have full control to backup all your devices to the destination of your choice. Enjoy professional level backup built for users who only settle for the best.
Robust and Reliable Backup and Synchronization - US$39.95
SyncBackSE is the ideal Windows solution for home users to backup their personal data. For personal home use, a single license is good for up to 5 installations under a single residential address for computers and/or devices owned by the licensee.
SyncBackSE works with SyncBack Touch (licensed separately), and lets you backup any device running on macOS (iMacs & Macbooks), Linux and Android in addition to your Windows computers!
Backup everything easily with SyncBackSE and SyncBack Touch.
Entry-level Backup and Synchronization solution - US$19.95
SyncBackLite is the entry-level solution tailored for home users who want a low-cost file backup and synchronization application. When used at home, each SyncBackLite license can be installed on up to 2 Windows computers. Key features of SyncBackLite includes file backup and synchronization to a local or external drive, and over a network or FTP. Copy open & locked files. Use compression and encryption on your backups. File rename or move detection and more.