We're keeping more and more important memories, photos, and information on computers these days. Unfortunately, this information is not always backed up. This situation can lead to the loss of irreplaceable files; something I encourage you not to try first hand.

So what is a backup? A backup is a copy of information that is in a separate location from the original. It doesn't really matter how the copy is made, or what the copy is made on. The important part is that it is not on the same system as the original files. This way, if something happens to the original, you can use the backup to recover the important data.

I'm often reminded of the hypothetical question: "If your house was on fire, and you could only take one (non-living) item from it, what would it be?" A common response was a photo album. Now many of us keep our photo albums on the computer, but we don't realize how fragile these machines are. A hard drive failure is more of a question of "when" not "if", and it is the computer equivalent of a house burning down.

Think about the information you keep on your computer. Then think about how you would feel if your computer stopped working or was lost. If you place a high value on the information you have on the computer, but you're not sure if you have a backup, then it's time to make a backup!

General steps to make a backup:

  1. Asses what information is important, and how much space it takes up
  2. Find an external storage medium (CD/DVD, Flash Drive, External Hard Drive, etc) with adequate space for the important information.
  3. Copy important information to external device.

It's easy to put off making a backup when everything is working. Don't wait! Do it now.

The Cloud:

Keeping this personal and important information on the internet (or "The Cloud") is becoming a common and standard practice. As long as you trust that the service that you store your information on will be around for a while and does a good job of keeping your data redundant, then that's probably a pretty good solution. If you don't want to put it all out there, or want to make sure you're covered if the service disappears, then making a local backup is still a good option.

Backup Details:

At this point I'll assume you know that backups are important and have already made some.

There are many ways to make backups, and many strategies for keeping them in order. Generally, the more important the information, the more copies you should make of it. Ideally, you should also check to make sure that those copies are readable with some regularity.

Many operating systems come with their own solution for backups. One notably good example of this is Time Machine on Mac OS X. If there is a solution that you are familiar with and you know it works, great! There is an important part of that last statement... make sure it works. Ideally you should try to recover the data to a different computer than your main one, just to make sure things are running as you expect, and as backups are happening as often as you expect.