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How Do I Back Up My PC?

Backblaze online backup graphic

Practically every computer user knows that they should back up their computers. Unfortunately, a lot more people are aware of the importance of backup than actually make backups.

There are many reasons why people who know that they should be making backups fail to do so. I believe that a big part of the reason is because backup is not as simple a thing as most people realize. There are approximately 2.6 Bazillion backup companies out there, each claiming that their backup solution is "the best." Deciding between them can be a daunting task for the average computer user.

The truth is that no single backup solution is best for everyone. In fact, for most people, it's a good idea to use at least two backup strategies: one that will allow you to rapidly restore your computer from a local backup, and another that will preserve your important data in the cloud so it will be there even if your computer and its local backup are stolen or destroyed.

Fortunately, this is easier to do than you might thing. In fact, I'm going to describe a backup plan that will allow you to restore your computer's entire hard drive in a matter of a few minutes to a few hours, plus recover all your data even if your computer and all of its local backups are lost, stolen, or destroyed.

Let me explain it to you.


Backing Up Your Computer's Entire Hard Drive or Solid State Drive

Many technicians will tell you that it's not necessary to back up your computer's HDD or SSD because you can always reinstall the operating system and applications if the hard drive were to fail, or if the operating system were to become corrupt, virus-infected, or otherwise unusable. Only your personal data needs to be backed up, they say. I think that's silly, for two reasons.

Firstly, by backing up your entire hard drive (or multiple drives if your computer has more than one drive), you are backing up your personal data. This includes all the documents you created, your pictures, your personal application settings, your mail and mail settings, bookmarks, favorites, and everything else on your computer. You don't have to worry about forgetting to back something up because you're backing up everything.

Secondly, although it is in fact possible to reinstall your computer's operating system and applications from sources, it's not that easy to do in real life. Do you have the CD's or DVD's for your computer's operating system and applications stored someplace other than on the computer you'll be backing up? Do you have all the license keys? Do you remember all the sites from which you downloaded software, what Email addresses you used, and your passwords for each site?

In short, restoring your computer from sources will likely take you several days. restoring it from a good drive backup will take between a few minutes or a few hours, depending on the amount of data.


How to Back Up Your Computer's Entire Drive

There are several ways to back up a computer's drive, but for the sake of simplicity, I'm only going to describe one: drive imaging.

Drive imaging uses hard drive imaging software, such as Acronis True Image, to create compressed images of your computer's drive(s) on a scheduled basis. These images are saved to a storage destination such as an external hard drive. In my own case, because I make my living with my computer, I use a fireproof and waterproof ioSafe external hard drive.

Most drive-imaging software makes periodic full backups, with incremental and/or differential backups in between. If your computer's hard drive fails, or if it needs to be restored for any other reason, you boot it to bootable media and restore the most recent image before the problem occurred.

When restoring a drive from an image, You will, of course, lose any data that you created since the most recent backup. That's why in addition to running the backup at least daily, you should also use real-time online backup for your documents and all other user-created data.


Backing Up Your Data Online to the Cloud

There are many companies providing real-time online backup. The one that I've been using for years is Backblaze, which offers both personal and business backup as well as specialized enterprise backup solutions. You can get a free trial of Backblaze online backup here.

What Backblaze and most other real-time cloud backup services do is back up your documents to the cloud as you create them. Typically the user can decide what priority to give to the online transfers to insure prompt backup while minimizing or eliminating any noticeable effect on the computer's performance. In simple terms, the backups happen whenever the computer's not busy doing something else.

Using Backblaze or another online service in addition to imaging your drive serves two purposes. Firstly, it backs up documents that you created or modified since the most recent drive image was made. Secondly, it creates a secure back up of your data "in the cloud" so you can recover it even if your computer and its backups are lost, stolen, or destroyed in a fire, flood, or other disaster.


Why Make Both a Drive Image and an Online Backup?

Let me explain that to you.

A good backup solution should both protect your data and minimize downtime. If your computer becomes unusable, the fastest way to get it up and running is with local backups. They're right there. You don't have to download them. In fact, the last time I had to restore my work computer, it took less than 10 minutes using a local image. Local backups minimize downtime to get you up and running again as quickly as possible.

Online backup, on the other hand, protects data you created since the last local backup; and also protects your data in the event of a fire, flood, or other catastrophe. Even if your entire home or office is destroyed by a natural disaster, your data will be safe in the cloud.