A computer back up system is paramount with home computers approaching the terabyte boundary. Reconstructing the operating system alone can be time consuming even if data files have been archived to compact discs or other media. The best computer back up system for an individual is dependent on many factors, including personal needs, preferences, skills and financial considerations.
External, magnetic tape drives provided affordable back ups at a time when the alternative was floppy disks, or later, compact discs. While still widely used for backing up networks, most tape drives have extremely slow access times. With the falling price of hard drives and more convenient alternatives, the magnetic tape drive is becoming legacy and is not the best choice for the home user.
Some people opt to use software to make a
The advantage of a disk image is that it consumes a relatively small amount of space. A disadvantage is that it cannot be directly accessed, but must be restored by the software that created it. This can mean booting from a proprietary CD to access the restoration process. Though the procedure is not complicated it can be a little nerve wracking to have to “jump through hoops” to get the system rebuilt.
A better computer back up system dedicates a secondary hard disk as a clone for the primary disk. If the primary disk fails, the secondary disk takes its place. No restoration is required, no downtime, and no hassle. You simply boot from the back up drive and go about your business.
Software like the popular Acronis™ can clone a primary disk to a secondary disk in a matter of minutes. The secondary disk can be internally installed or it can be housed in an external enclosure. In the event of disk failure, a desktop or laptop has the ability to boot from an external device so that work can continue using the external (or secondary) drive until the failed drive has been replaced. At that point the external drive is cloned back to the new, primary drive.
The nice thing about this computer back up system is that there are no hoops to jump through and you don’t have to wait for a replacement drive to continue working. Your clone is ready from the moment the main drive fails. If the secondary drive is housed externally, you can also keep it in a secure place like a fireproof, locked safe. The downside to using this computer back up system is that a new disk must be purchased, and the entire disk must be dedicated as the clone.
Another solution that uses two disks (minimum) is RAID or Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Both drives are installed internally, making this a desktop-only solution. RAID has different flavors or methods of functioning, referred to as RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 2, etcetera. RAID 1 is a mirror technology, meaning everything that is written to the primary drive is written simultaneously to a secondary drive, keeping a constant duplicate or mirror of the primary drive. If one of the drives fails, it’s replaced, and the mirror drive copies itself to the replacement drive.
An advantage over the previous computer back up system is that both drives are always current. Disadvantages include setting up RAID (a motherboard function), which can be technically challenging. RAID 1 also doubles the load on the computer processing unit (CPU) which could slow some systems. Additionally, mirroring opens the door to corrupting both drives with the same malicious event. Using the previous solution if a system acts up after installing a program, for example, one can use the “offline” clone drive to copy over the primary drive, returning it to a prior state.
If you aren’t inclined to add a dedicated clone drive, remote backup services are available online. Users subscribe to the service, set up credentials for entering a secure server, and use the site’s software to back up his or her system to the remote Web server.
Advantages include ease of use and online access to the computer back up system from anywhere in the world. The back up is also safe from damage that could befall your personal computer from natural disaster or theft. Disadvantages include inherent risks of placing data on a server than is not owned by you, and over which you have little ultimate control. It’s also important to note that you cannot boot from an online remote backup.