Everybody who's used a computer for long has experience with Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will." With computers, the worst thing that can happen is complete loss of the computer and all its data—say, from hardware theft, a fire, or what have you. One step down from this disaster is complete loss of the data, but not most of the hardware. For instance, the hard disk might go bad, or you might accidentally destroy the data through careless use of low-level disk utilities.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from much of the pain associated with these events. Backing up your data is a critical part of this protection. You should put some time and effort into planning a backup strategy, though. This planning begins with picking a backup medium (tape, removable disk, and optical media are the three most popular choices). You must then pick software for creating your backups. Performing whole-system backups is usually fairly straightforward. If you want to minimize the time you spend on backups, you can perform incremental backups so that you don't need to back up the same unchanging files time and time again. Finally, no backup procedure will do you any good if you don't have a way to restore the backup, so you must plan for this eventuality, as well.

Warning Making a backup is a good practice, but for the best security, you should make multiple backups and store at least one backup off-site. Doing so will ensure that you can restore a backup even if one backup fails or if a disaster such as a fire destroys everything in the building housing the computer.

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