Photos, documents, videos – it’s all data and its ever growing. It’s also an ever growing problem deciding where and how to store it. And once you’ve decided, the data deluge dilemma then becomes how best to back it up.

I’ve raised multiple questions here, and equally, multiple solutions exist. For, when it comes to storage, whether you’re downloading the Internet or just duplicating your d drive terabytes are what you’re going to need.

I’m going to solve this need with some ideas on how to do it in the most cost effective manner.

With data storage now ubiquitous and cheap, multi terabyte USB hard drives are commonly available at around seven cents per gigabyte. While devices exist which can perform this function automatically, like the dearer NAS (Network Area Storage) servers, unless you’re confidently PC savvy they can be tricky to set up. I’m instead going to focus on the technologically and financially simplest option.

So, you’ve bought your drive. The trick now is to use it in a mirrored arrangement, with one acting as the backup to the other. In IT parlance this is known as a RAID 1 configuration (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

Step 1

Step 2

With your drive plugged in and the application installed it’s now a simple matter of synchronising it to the main drive you want to mirror. Note, on this initial synchronisation a full backup will occur so be prepared as it may take some time.

Step 3

After your first full backup, two main ways exist to continue your backup strategy.These two ways are known as incremental or differential backups.

Data storage and backups – what to do, what to do…The difference between the two is subtle but vitally important to understand. Both will update changed files since the last full backup. However, an incremental will update any data changes since the most recent backup by overwriting; a differential also updates any data changes, but will also keep the original file since the last full or differential backup. The differential, by retaining the original rather than overwriting it will therefore grow your total backup file size quicker. Yes, this can be confusing and to help you further more can be gleaned from the Microsoft library.

The incremental strategy is quicker; however, you annul the ability to restore to an earlier version of a file this way. This may be fine for unchanging photos and video but could leave you unstuck should you need to recover to an earlier version of a document. For example, say you’ve been working daily on a spreadsheet. You perform a full backup Monday then undertake incrementals Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday rolls around and you’re told, “All the midweek information is wrong, we need Monday’s spreadsheet.”

Under the incremental strategy this would be impossible as your original file would be lost and you’d have to manually re-enter the data. But, with the differential backup the original file is kept since the last backup – hence the swifter growing total backup size-therefore you’d simply restore Monday’s (or any other day’s) file. This restore flexibility is the key, pun intended, difference between the two.

Ultimately, what backup strategy you employ is unimportant, what is important is that you do employ one. Yes, it’s a boring chore. But, this banality is banished by an unrecoverable data disaster given our ever growing digitally driven lives.

I’d love to hear your backup stories (horror or otherwise!), set ups and strategies.