Back-up strategies

May 2 2007

Back-ups. We know they are important. But with all the different options out there, which back-up process is best for your environment? As always, that depends.

There are three main methods for backing up data:

  • The Disk Image
  • Back-up software with "one-step restore"
  • Important Data Selection

We'll also include "System Restore," because some mistakenly identify this as a back-up method.

The Disk Image takes a "snapshot" of your system. It allows you to restore the system exactly as it was when the snapshot was taken. It's a good idea to have one of these on hand, as they can save many hours of rebuilding time. The main disadvantage is that the system must be taken offline to perform the snapshot. Ghost and Drive Image are two well-known imaging applications.

Back-up software with "one-step restore" creates a CD or floppy containing all the instructions your system would need to recreate itself. In conjunction with your backed-up data, it allows you to rebuild your system in one step. These systems tends to be more expensive, but are usually automated and offer many more features (for example, the ability to back up a file even while it's open). Also costlier are the greater time and expertise required to configure and operate the software. Examples include Veritas, TapeWare and ARCserve.

Important data selection is by far the most common data back-up method. You simply copy your essential data to a backup medium (disc, tape, CD) either manually, or through an automatic system. Automated internet-based data backups are a newer example of how this can work. While very helpful, backing up particular data does not give you everything you need for a full restore. You will still need to re-install and configure all the software on your machine before you can use your data.

The "dishonorable mention:" System Restore is the process of having the operating system "undo" the last thing done to it. Let's be clear here: this is NOT a back-up process and should never be relied on as such. System restore is not able to selectively restore files and folders, and, if the drive fails or is gone, everything is lost. An example of system restore (beyond the built-in feature found in Windows XP) is Go Back.

Which backup strategy will meet your needs with the lowest effort and cost? The ProComp Group usually recommends a combination of the above methods to backup data across the entire system. Feel free to consult us on a method tailored to your individual situation.