How Often Do We Back Up Our Data?
Welcome to Digico's first blog post.
Since we strongly believe that backups are very important in our 'digital' life, we have decided to start with them.
So ... how often are we backing up our data?
A question that we take for granted but when disaster strikes, we realise the big mistake we have made of not answering the question.
Yes, because when our Hard Drive fails and data on it is unrecoverable – and we have no recent backup or no backup at all – then we hit the 'panic' button! "Oh no I've lost all my holiday pictures" or "I had my thesis in My Documents".
All we need to avoid this 'data tragedy' is a backup plan for our PC, Laptop, iMac, MacBook etc. And believe us, it doesn't involve a big effort.
We are going to explain the devices that you need and the Windows / macOS built-in tools that are available to perform your backups.
Backup Devices and Services
Obviously, as most of you are aware, the very first thing that you need is an External Hard Drive.
Fortunately, prices for External Hard Drives have dropped down considerably and, for example, you can purchase a Maxtor M3 Portable 1TB External Hard Drive for approximately €70.00.
There are larger capacities of course – like 2TB, 3TB and 4TB. However, whatever the capacity, these drives are very small physically (2.5") and portable.
Also, most External Hard Drives today are USB-powered, which means that you don't need to connect an AC Adapter – they get their power from the USB Port of the computer.
The size that you choose depends on the amount of data that you have on your computer. But, like we said, given that nowadays high-capacity External Hard Drives are relatively cheap, it would make sense to get one with a lot of Terabytes.
If your data is critical and important, then it's essential that you plan for an offsite backup as well. An offsite backup can be:
- Physical – a backup of your data on another External Hard Drive that you keep in a separate location other than your house.
- Online (also known as Remote Backup) – a method of offsite data storage in which files, folders or the entire contents of a Hard Drive are regularly backed up on a remote server.
Why do you need an offsite backup plan?
Let's answer that with another question: What if something happens to your house, like a fire?
Having an onsite backup (kept at your house) and an offsite backup is one of the most effective ways of keeping your data safe.
Needless to say, the Physical offsite plan involves investing in two External Hard Drives and not one.
For the Online plan, apart from the External Hard Drive used for your onsite backup, you must pay for an Internet backup service like CrashPlan, Carbonite, BackBlaze or Mozy.
Both offsite plans are definitely an investment that will give you peace of mind.
Ask yourself these questions: How much is my data worth? Can I afford to lose all the memories in photos, videos etc? What about the College / High School / University documents and notes for the past 3, 4 or 5 years?
The answers to these questions will show you that investing in an onsite and an offsite backup is a must!
Windows and macOS Built-in Backup Utilities
We are going to focus on the two most popular Operating Systems – Microsoft Windows and Apple's macOS. Both Operating Systems come bundled with a Backup Utility.
Windows 7 Backup Utility
Let us start with Windows.
Although today it's considered 'old', the Windows 7 Operating System is still widely used and it's one of the best Operating Systems developed by Microsoft. Its Backup Utility is also one of the best we've seen lately and it's fairly easy to use.
To access the Windows 7 Backup Utility, click on the Start button, then select Control Panel > System and Security > Backup and Restore, as illustrated in the image below:
From there, you click on Set up Backup and you choose the Backup Drive that you will use (Backup Destination). You should have your External Hard Drive connected through the USB Port in order to select it for backups.
The next step is to choose the Folders and Files that you want to back up. Here, you are presented with two options:
- Let Windows choose (recommended). With this option, Windows will back up data files saved in libraries (Documents, Pictures, etc.), on the desktop and in default Windows folders like AppData (where Outlook files are normally kept, amongst others), Contacts, Downloads, Favourites etc. If you select this option, Windows will also create a System Image, which can be used to restore your computer if it stops working.
- Let me choose. With this option, you can manually select the libraries and folders that you want to back up and you can decide whether to include a System Image in the backup or not.
When deciding which option to use, you have to take into consideration if you have any other folders that aren’t stored in libraries and in the default Windows folders so you can select them manually, and if you want a System Image or not.
When selecting the Let me choose option, this screen will show up:
As you can see, you can select each folder individually and even which subfolders to include within each folder by double-clicking the folder. Also, you can opt to include a System Image. If you don’t need a System Image, all you have to do is uncheck the box near Include a system image.
The last thing that you need to configure is the Backup Schedule and you can set it up to run either Daily, Weekly or Monthly.
If you select Weekly or Monthly, you will be given the option to choose the day of the week or month you wish the backup to run. If you have sensitive data, we recommend that you run a backup every day.
Finally, you select the time that you want the backup to be performed. Obviously, you must schedule your backups at a time when your computer is switched on. However, if the computer is not switched on at the time of the scheduled backup, don't worry – the next scheduled backup will take place when the computer is switched on.
By default, the Windows 7 Backup Utility will do an Incremental Backup. An Incremental Backup backs up files that have changed or are new since the last backup – be it a full or Incremental Backup.
The first time that you backup your data, this backup will always be a full backup. Then, the other backups will be incremental. Incremental Backups consume minimum storage space and are quicker to perform.
Windows 8 and Windows 10 Backup Utility
With the introduction of Windows 8 and later, Windows 10, File History replaced the Windows 7 Backup Utility.
Microsoft designed File History with two objectives in mind:
- To offer the best possible protection of your personal files.
- To offer ease of use, simplicity and peace of mind.
As we saw earlier, with the Windows 7 Backup Utility, you can manually choose which folders and files to backup by selecting the Let me choose option. With the Windows 8 File History, you can no longer backup everything on your Hard Drive.
Instead, you can only backup files in libraries, contacts, favourites and on your desktop. Therefore, if you have folders or files elsewhere that you want backed up, you must add them to one of your existing libraries or create a new library.
With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft removed this limitation and, as we will see further below, you can now manually add the folders that you wish to back up, apart from the default ones (libraries etc.)
Another significant change from the Windows 7 Backup Utility is that you can no longer include a System Image while configuring your backup. The reason behind this is that Microsoft designed File History to protect the users’ personal files, which are generally irreplaceable.
In contrast, there’s less need to backup system files because Operating Systems and Applications can be reinstalled from elsewhere.
If needs be, you can still create a System Image and it’s accessible via Windows 7 File Recovery (Windows 8), System Image Backup in File History (Windows 8.1) and Back up and Restore (Windows 7) in Control Panel (Windows 10).
Now let’s get to business! File History can be accessed as follows:
- Windows 8/8.1 – You can either search for the words “file history” from the Start Screen or you can open Control Panel, click on System and Security and select File History. It can also be found in PC Settings.
- Windows 10 – Click on Start > Settings > Update and Security > Backup. It can also be accessed via Control Panel > System and Security > File History, just like Windows 8.
For both Windows 8 and Windows 10, the first step that you must do is connecting an External Hard Drive – but you already know this, right? 😉
In Windows 8, File History is turned off by default. So, once the Hard Drive is connected, you must refresh the page and click on Turn on.
Windows 10 works slightly better (and easier) because, as soon as you connect the Hard Drive and you click Add a drive, the “Automatically back up my files” option will appear and it will be automatically turned on.
Our next step is to configure File History according to our requirements.
Like we said earlier, in Windows 10 you have the option to manually add specific folders to your backup apart from the default folders that File History backs up (this option is not available in Windows 8). All you have to do is click on More options and add the desired folders in the “Back up these folders” section.
You can also remove folders that you don’t want to include in the backup from this section, as you can see below:
The option to remove or exclude folders from the backup is also available in Windows 8.
Simply click on the Exclude folders option that is found in the left-side column of the main File History window and press the Add button to select the item(s) that you want to exclude.
When you are done setting exclusions, click Save changes.
Last but not least, you can also configure the Backup Schedule. This can be accessed by clicking More options in Windows 10 and Advanced Settings in Windows 8.
By default, File History automatically backs up your files every hour. However, you can change it according to your requirements by selecting a different time from the Windows 10 drop-down menu “Back up my files” and from “Save copies of files” in Windows 8.
Another setting that you can configure from here is how long you want to “Keep saved versions” of each backup file (“Keep my backups” in Windows 10). The default option is Forever but you can change it as you desire.
The option “Size of offline cache” (Windows 8) lets you change how much disk space of the computer's main Hard Drive (not the Backup Drive) File History will use for its working space.
macOS Backup Utility
Now, this is definitely the best free Backup Tool for Mac around – absolutely no doubt about it! It's called Time Machine and it's also quite easy to configure within just a few minutes.
In our opinion, Apple have done a great job with this Backup Utility and if you ask the Apple / Mac fans, they will all tell you the same thing – that it's very reliable and simply Awesome!
Time Machine periodically and silently backs up everything on the hard disk, including the entire Operating System.
It’s called Time Machine because, in a virtual sense, you can turn back time to see how a certain folder looked in the past, complete with files and folders you’ve since deleted or edited.
Not only does Time Machine back up your current data, but it also keeps versions of your files going back days, weeks, months and years – provided there’s sufficient space on the backup destination.
In other words, Time Machine has you covered and makes it very hard indeed to lose data.
The configuration of Time Machine is very simple and just like the Windows Backup Utilities, the first step is to connect your Backup Drive.
When you connect an External Hard Drive to your Mac, you might be asked if you want to use the drive to back up with Time Machine. So, you just click on Use as Backup Disk and you also have the option to Encrypt your backups (more on this later).
If the connected drive isn’t the right format, you’re asked whether you want to erase it or not. The most common format for a Time Machine backup disk is the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format.
If Time Machine doesn’t ask you to choose a backup disk as soon as you connect the Hard Drive, click on System Preferences > Time Machine and you will be presented with the following menu:
From this menu, you click on Select Backup Disk, you choose the External Hard Drive from the list and then you click Use Disk.
If the disk doesn’t appear, then you might need to format it using Disk Utility.
Time Machine also gives you the option to back up onto an AirPort Time Capsule instead of a normal USB / FireWire / Thunderbolt External Hard Drive.
An AirPort Time Capsule is hardware from Apple that combines an AirPort Wi-Fi base station (or Wireless Router) with a built-in hard disk in order to act as a high-speed wireless network hub for computers and devices and to allow any Mac computers on the network to back up to it via Time Machine. This completely avoids the need for a backup disk to be physically attached to your Mac and so it is ideal for MacBooks.
As mentioned earlier, Time Machine provides you with the option to Encrypt your backups.
In our opinion, it would be wise to select this option because, if you don’t and someone steals your backup disk, they will have access to all your data.
When selecting the option Encrypt Backup Disk, Time Machine will ask you to enter a password which will be used to secure your backups. Time Machine will ask for this password each time you connect your backup disk before starting the backup routine.
By Encrypting your backups, the backed up data will be accessible only to users with the password.
After you set up Time Machine, it automatically makes hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for all previous months. The oldest backups are deleted when the backup disk is full.
Unlike Windows Backup Utilities, the schedule of backups cannot be changed.
However, if you want to back up immediately instead of waiting for the next automatic backup, you can do so by choosing Back Up Now from the Time Machine Menu in the menu bar.
To stop automatic backups, you just untick the option Back Up Automatically in the Time Machine Preferences. You can still back up manually by choosing Back Up Now from the menu bar.
From the Time Machine Menu in the menu bar, you can also cancel a backup in progress by selecting Skip This Backup.
Time Machine even gives you the option to exclude items from your backup. Simply open Time Machine Preferences from the Time Machine Menu in the menu bar, click Options, then click the + sign and select the item(s) to exclude, as shown below:
The option Back up while on battery power displayed above is not shown on Mac computers but only on MacBooks. Given that, by default, MacBooks won’t back up unless the power adapter is attached, by ticking the option above you can override this setting and force Time Machine to back up even on battery.
The first Time Machine backup may take a long time, depending on how many files you have. You can continue using your Mac while a backup is underway. Some Mac computers make backups even when asleep.
Time Machine backs up only the files that changed since the previous backup, so future backups will be faster.
Another excellent feature of Time Machine is the ability to restore the entire system from a Time Machine backup. This is just like the System Image feature of Windows.
We will not get into the details of restoring data or the entire system for now because this blog post is dedicated to backups. We will surely publish a blog post about restoring data in the near future.
However, in the meantime, if you would like to learn more about restoring data, you can check out these quick tutorials:
That was quite easy, right? Within a few minutes, you configured your backups and now you can put your mind at rest – your precious data is safe!
A few minutes to setup the first time are surely worth it in your quest to avoid a 'data tragedy'.
And that brings us to the end of our first blog post.
We sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading it and that we managed to help you understand the importance of Backups.
So, how often are we backing up our data now?
We would love to hear from you. Send us your feedback or any questions you might have in the Comments section below.