Data Insurance

Published on: 1996-03-01 03:00:00
Publication: The Franklin Voice

How much is your computer worth? If your computer were to disappear today what would it cost you to replace it? You would probably spend a around $2000 to replace the hardware. But could you continue working as before with a new computer? Chances are you might not be able to continue working because the one thing missing would be your data. The data on your computer is unique to you and represents your efforts and/or personal information. It's your 1995 tax information, that presentation you are preparing for that major customer, your son or daughter's book report. It is valuable stuff that would be very difficult to re-create and if lost could have devastating consequences.

As we kick into high gear on the information superhighway, it is important that we practice some "defensive driving". There are many ways that you can lose data: hardware failure, viruses, user error, theft and physical damage (e.g. fire, flood, etc.). Routinely backing up your data is probably one of the cheapest insurance policies that you will ever "buy".

Now that I have gotten your attention, let's talk about back-ups. You back-up data from your hard drive to some other medium (either a tape or a floppy disk) for essentially one reason: so that you will be able to recover your data in the event that the data on your hard drive becomes permanently inaccessible. (i.e. gone for good!)

In order to back up your files you will need either a floppy drive or a tape drive. All PCs have floppy drives, but backing up to tape is easier than backing up to floppies. A tape drive can be bought for under $200, and some are easy to install (one even shares the parallel port with your printer). I would highly recommend a tape drive if you are keeping anything of importance on your PC. I say this because one tape can hold as much data as over 250 floppies. Also, tape costs approximately 7.5 cents per megabyte while floppy disks cost 15-30 cents per megabyte. If you are backing up your entire 1 gigabyte drive to tape, you will use 1 or 2 tapes. With the exception of possibly feeding the computer the second tape, the back-up can proceed without human intervention. You could easily use 400 floppies for the same back-up.

The key to effective back-ups is to periodically do full back-ups, and then do incremental back-ups (back up only the files that have changed) in between the full back-ups. Most of the back-up software available for windows makes the whole process easy.

For home use, you should do a full backup at least once a month, or whenever you make major changes to your system (like adding new software). Incremental back-ups should be performed at least once a week, or whenever you do significant/monumental work (like balancing your checkbook!) You don't need to keep your back-ups forever. At some point you can start reusing the tapes or floppies from previous back-ups. It is important that you have at least one full back-up along with the incremental backups taken since that full backup. You may want to consider keeping backups for some specified period of time (suggested 6 months or a year) just in case you need an old version of a file, or a file that you deleted last month.

If you are running a business you need to do a full back-up once a week and an incremental back-up every day! You should also seriously consider storing your back-up tapes off-site.

If you do not have a tape drive, then I would suggest that you selectively back-up your most critical data files whenever you change them. When using floppies you have the option of copying your files to the disk or using the backup program. Unless you are just backing up one or two files, I would recommend using the backup program. The backup program will remember what directory the files were in, figure out how to use more than one disk if needed and compress the data for you. Compression is a method by which your files are saved in a smaller amount of space than they take on the disk. Compression can reduce the number of diskettes needed to backup your data.

If you experience a failure of your system, you could retrieve all of your data by restoring the last full back up and then all of the incremental backups done since the last full back up. When doing this restore the backups in the order that you performed them.

Loss of data can be a frustrating experience but if you take care to perform regular backups it is an experience that you can recover from.