To Backup Or Not To Backup — not really a question

With my twenty-plus years of experience in IT (information technology), it is not surprising that I exploit technology to help my writing. I have used many software programs, setups and configurations to help myself gain control and traction with my writing projects. That said, any venture into technology can result in an all-consuming task of trying to convince HAL (or Bill Gates) not to pull the plug on all my digital treasures. On that score, I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of the software I use daily for writing. For this first article, I am going to focus on doing backups. That might seem to be an odd jumping off point, but without some assurance that what you write is recoverable, loading a system with your precious literary masterpieces may be nothing more than sticking all your digital eggs in one basket, and hoping the gods of fate don’t decide to sit on it.

Now, if you are doing writing on a computer, keeping track of your files and backing them up is a high priority. One can create files ad-nauseum in your “Document” folder and hope and pray that the digital demons don’t squat and defecate on your hard drive. Not a good plan. At the very least you need to copy your files somewhere else—presumably (physically) outside of your computer. Why?

We all would like to believe that our beloved (or at least tolerated) computer system will run forever, but they don’t. The classic bathtub curve of failure (or reliability), states that systems fail either right out of the box or shortly thereafter. After that, system tend to run as they should (if used properly). At least until after some amount of time (usually a few days beyond the expiration date of the extended service plan or warranty) the device will start misbehaving, gyrate wildly, make strange noises, and then become totally useless (like the average American teenager). The gist of this is, enjoy the brief moment computing technology works because at some point it won’t.

Consider this, my rule of thumb based on my experience is that most electronics fail after about 10,000 hours of use. That is roughly 5 years. Many people, and IT companies, will say that is way too conservative. Perhaps, but I’m a unreformed Irish cynic who expects the worst and hopes for the best. If I’m wrong, your system continues to run. If the other people are wrong, you lose your data. So there ;-P

So, if your electronics are that old, you’re on borrowed time. You have even less time if you live with children, have pets, or the unfortunate tendency to spill coffee on your system. Then there is the occasional electronic surge (such as static electricity) which can fry sensitive electronics. Lastly, computers are not monolithic, they are a hodge-podge of interconnected hardware, not usually from the same source (unless you own Apple products) and since not all equipment lasts the same, all it takes is for one part to fail to take down your system.

In short, there are many ways your formerly reliable PC can expire. In the time I’ve owned, built, configured and managed systems, hard drives have crashed, video cards went bad, memory crapped out, power supplies fizzled. I even had a motherboard crack and melt. Like a toddler on vacation, computers will usually soil themselves without warning, and usually at the worst possible time.

If you want to get detailed on this subject, particularly in regards to hard drives, consider the following:
https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/01/putting-hard-drive-reliability-to-the-test-shows-not-all-disks-are-equal/

Regardless of which device you are entrusting your information to, consider using an alternative location to store it. Removable storage comes to mind (external hard drives, USB flash/thumb drives), and more recently, so does exporting your information to the “cloud.” Both approaches have their pros and cons, but they will, at least, give you a chance to get your information back if your computer goes belly up. Beyond having a backup location, however, remains the need and discipline to backup information on a regular basis. I find it best to look for tools that support automated functions for things that I tend to forget. Still looking for one that exercises for me, but oh well.

There are many ways to do file backups, and Windows (at least Windows 10) does this well. That said, I will admit that I tend to be leery of using Windows provided tools, as it is sometimes like trying to swat flies with a sledgehammer. However, if you’re looking for a readily available (and free) means of doing a file backup, consider giving Windows “File History Backup” a try. The process is not (as one might suspect) entirely intuitive, but rarely is anything in the world of IT, where programmers design software and users must deal with their Red Bull inspired design whims.

However, rather than me repeating what has already been said about using “File History Backup”, see the following articles on the subject:
http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/windows/how-back-up-windows-10-3635397/
http://lifehacker.com/how-to-back-up-your-computer-automatically-with-windows-1762867473

One of the nice aspects of using Windows built in backup is that it is automatic, so once you set it, you can forget it. Just remember that as you add new folders to your system, you should consider adding the location to the list of the ones “File History” backs up.

Having to restore an entire system, or file system resource is beyond the scope of one blog post, and certainly beyond the scope of what I’m attempting to do here, which is to inform and enlighten, not necessarily to educate and indoctrinate. There are many other blogs and out there that discuss such issues in greater detail (and depth) than I do.

https://www.howtogeek.com/237230/how-to-enable-system-restore-and-repair-system-problems-on-windows-10/

For day to day use, however, one can easily see the inevitable question – what if I simply need to restore a previous version of a file. What do I do? If the document was backed up using “File History” then right clicking on the file, and selecting “properties” will give you the option to select a tab called “Previous versions.” Doing so will list all the different versions of the file that were backed up. Pick the one you want and restore.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the whole issue of backing up information, if you could follow any of this, my hope is that you should have some ability to backup information.

Other considerations (more advanced concepts)

Some experts even recommend a “rule of 3” when it comes to backups (3 copies, 2 different formats, and 1 different location). This gets very involved, but if you’re interested consider looking at the following:
http://lifehacker.com/5961216/why-you-should-have-more-than-one-backup

Well, I hope this helps. If you have any suggestions for other topics you’d like me to cover be sure to drop a note in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

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