If you care, backup

The queue of last-generation hard drives waiting to be backed up.

I won’t ever emphasize enough how much backups are important, they help in case of difficulty yet many won’t even consider backing up files… In this article you will learn why backups are important and what you can do starting right now!

If you care, backup

This one is one of my personal phrases I frequently use in my work, it embodies the whole principle behind the concept of backup. To backup or back something up means, roughly speaking, make copies. Making a backup means making copies, nothing else. If you happen to lose a copy you just have another one, right? There are many things you might not want to lose, things that you would feel lost or pretty tight without like:

  • Unrepeatable data (e.g. Family Photos.)
  • Important data (e.g. A book you’re writing.)
  • Save data (For players who don’t want to start again their favourite games.)
  • Configuration files (especially true for System Administrators.)

As you can see there are quite a few categories of things that you need to preserve. Raise your finger if you’d cry losing one of these files. If you raised your finger, well, it means you care. And if you care, backup. Often people think that just copying files from one place to another is a good thing to do. Even though it might seem comfortable for newbies, the truth is that manual backup is the most rudimentary form of backup and thus it has many risks. Now let’s step into backup types.

Backup types

  • By automation:
    • Manual: requiring human action.
    • Automatic: backups are scheduled and require no human action.
  • By location:
    • Local: when backup is stored on the same machine on which the original resides.
    • Remote: when backup is stored on a remote machine.
    • Cloud: almost identical to remote, it is usually simpler to configure and more automatic.
  • By availability:
    • Online: most backups are online, meaning you can access them any time since they are “connected”.
    • Offline: Big companies storing really important files might want to back them up offline. Offline backups are disconnected from networks and can’t be accessed even by an hacker who breached the security.
  • By type:
    • Full: most backups are full, they include all the files and are usually as big as the original.
    • Incremental: incremental backups back up only changed/created/deleted files from the last backup. In this case you will have an initial full backup and many subsequent incremental ones. To restore you will need all the backups prior to the one you want to restore up to the last full backup.
    • Differential: like incremental, differential backups back up changes since the last full backup. They will include other differential backups and won’t need the ones before them to be restored. You will however need the full backup associated with the differential you want to restore.

Quite a few right? And that’s not even complete. There are also other kinds of backups like compressed and uncompressed, or encrypted and unencrypted.

Backup and Synchronization

Many people think that they don’t need backup because they have their files synced, that’s however incorrect and may lead to data loss if not done properly. For example Synchronization doesn’t protect against accidental deletion. Making multiple backup is possible and easy, syncing files in multiple destinations is more difficult and usually not practical. So think twice before thinking you have a backup when you have synchronization set up.

Backup software

There are tons of software to backup things, from mere files to entire operating systems, let’s take a look at some of these software ordered for beginners, intermediate and advanced users.

  • Beginner:
    • CrashPlan: I do think this is the best piece of software you can get to start doing backups, it’s easy, can do local, remote and “cloud” backups. Most users will like its simplicity and as time goes they will find many useful hidden features. Local and remote backups are free, cloud has paid plans. It runs on most platforms.
    • SpiderOak: Another good solution is SpiderOak, it is entirely cloud (paid) and self-hosted is only for enterprises plans. It runs on most platforms.
  • Intermediate:
    • Cobian Backup: This one is one of the oldest I know, it performs beautifully, yet it has far too many options for beginners, it is probably the best you can get on Windows for free. It is however very old and suffers of clumsiness. Only available on windows. Also Open Source.
    • Duplicati: This one is one of my favourites, it enables backup to almost everything, ranging from old-style (FTP, WebDAV) to new technologies like OpenStack‘s Swift or more common, clouds like Microsoft’s OneDrive or Google Drive. It runs on most platforms and is also Open Source.
  • Advanced:
    • Amanda: Amanda is probably the most widespread Open Source enterprise-class backup solution. It has many features and uses a client/server model to accomplish backups and uses mostly open source tools and common formats like dump or tar. Client available for most platforms. Server only for Linux/Unix.
    • Bacula: Amanda is great and might but for complicated setups Bacula is the right tool. It is simply the most feature complete software of the list (if not in the world) and will please even the most demanding people. It is slightly slower but more capable and extensible than Amanda. Client available for most platforms. Server only for Linux/Unix.

Notable mentions that didn’t make it in this list for various motives: EaseUS Todo Backup, Acronis Products and Veeam Products. Also don’t forget the command line friends like rsync, tar, gzip, dd and so on.

Image thanks to Jaymis Loveday.
Image courtesy of mark | marksei

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