Save, save, save! Computer backup tips

This isn’t the post I intended to write but yesterday my laptop broke.

I don’t mean broken as in “it wasn’t quite working” or even that I got the blue screen of death. No, it was physically broken, so the screen wouldn’t open more than 45 degrees and threatened to snap

various expensive looking parts every time I tried to use it.

A laptop computer in pieces, with the inner workings exposed
Yes, this is actually my laptop. Can you see why I was slightly nervous…?

Thankfully I happen to be married to an engineer, so he unscrewed it, took it apart, glued the bezel (no, I don’t know either) back together and fixed the broken hinge. So now here I am, typing all the things that were running through my head while my laptop was – literally – in pieces.

Of course I couldn’t help thinking about what I’d miss if something went wrong. What have I got on my laptop that’s irreplaceable? Work documents, financial accounts, photographs, recipes, other personal stuff… I’d panic if I thought it was all gone. Thankfully, it’s not: If my machine was lost, damaged, stolen, attacked by a virus, or exploded by a freak bolt of lightning, none of my data would be lost because I have a backup (or, to be more accurate, several).

And that’s why I want to write about backups. It’s not a sexy topic but it is very important. Whether your business is small or large (or even if you only ever use your computer for personal reasons), backing up your computer is essential.

Here are my top tips:

1. Take backups regularly and often.

We all know how important backups are, but it’s very easy to put them off until another day. That could be a very expensive mistake. If you leave a month between backups, think how much work you could have to re-do, not to mention the cost and inconvenience of having to explain the delay to clients.

Many backup systems these days allow scheduled backups which means you don’t even have to think about it: just set the timer and let it run hourly, daily, weekly or however often suits your workload. If you back up your data manually, set reminders so that you don’t forget.

2. Use at least two different systems for backups.

What if you’ve diligently backed up all your files to another computer, only for that to get damaged by a fire? What if you saved everything online but then your account got hacked and you couldn’t access the data?

The answer is to use both an online (or ‘cloud’) backup and a physical backup, for example to an external hard drive. The online solution will protect you from damage or loss, whereas the physical backup will help to protect you from viruses and hacking attacks. Ideally, you should keep two or more physical copies and rotate them, keeping one in a different place, e.g. one at home and one at the office.

3. Know how to restore your data.

Computer backups are all very well but do you know what to do if the worst happens? Would you remember your online backup password, or was it stored on the laptop that just died? Do you know how to restore your data from an external hard drive? It might be worth keeping a printout of the instructions, just in case. Doing a practice run is also a good idea as it’ll highlight any potential problems.

4. Don’t forget your website.

As well as the inconvenience if your website went down, you might well have valuable data stored there too, perhaps details of your customers or products. It’s important to check that you could recover this data easily, and quickly.

Website backups can be automated and the files stored online or even emailed to you. Of course if you’re backing up sensitive or personal data, do make sure that your backup methods are secure and comply with the Data Protection Act – emailing yourself an unencrypted list of credit card details wouldn’t be a good idea!

5. Do it now.

Don’t worry about finding the perfect backup solution right now. You can put a better system in place later but any backup is better than none at all!

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