Backups – March 16, 2000

2008 author’s note: While the principles of doing a sound backup haven’t changed that much in eight years,┬ásee how much the hardware and software has changed in such a short time. If we had done backups that were hardware and software-dependent, it would be way too late for data recovery!

PAUG “Backups” presentation March 16th, 2000 meeting



We want to show how questions like

a) “what files should I back up?” and
b) “what kind of equipment is best for my backups?”

are really almost meaningless. Such questions can’t possibly address your actual personal needs, and they don’t address your equipment budget or technical skills.

For example,

a) suppose I only do Gaming? What should I back up? My scores?
b) “Alex likes incremental backups. Do I have to learn complicated software to back up my Quicken files”? Of course not!


1) back up anything you can’t replace, and anything else you don’t want to re-create.
2) use whatever you have on hand or your budget can live with.
3) devise a “system”, and then just do it.


1) If you spend more than 15 minutes or an hour’s wages on something, it’s probably worth backing up. This is no different than the “save your work” lecture of the 80’s; only the scale has changed.

2) There is no excuse for actually losing large amounts of invested time at the office or home.

Regarding catastrophic data loss:

Q: what should you say to a person who announces they just “lost everything”?
A: As little as possible.

Q: “Didn’t you make a backup?”
A: “No.”
Q: “How come?”
A: “It worked fine for years.”

3) Likewise, there’s no excuse for becoming a slave to a backup plan that doesn’t work for you. Why would you want to spend half an hour every night backing up the same applications and preferences files you’ve been backing up for a year?

4) What you use for backup is probably much less important than how often you do it and where you store it.

5) If your machine or HD crashes, you already have enough of a problem on your hands. As far as recovering or restoring the physical data is concerned, you want to be able to say, “who cares?”

6) It used to be true that volume backups were always the best insurance. With 9 and 20GB drives as common as dirt (and almost as cheap), this is too much to back up indiscriminately: the rule is no longer ironclad.


  • JAZ 1GB media
  • JAZ 2GB media
  • ZIP cart – 100MB
  • blank CD-ROM – 650MB
  • fistful of old floppies
  • blue ethernet cable


  • other removables – maybe 2GB max size
  • removable HD – limited to drive and budget
  • tape – several GB and up
  • LAN & Internet (web page)
  • laptops, other machines, remote machines
  • CDRW – ??? Personally, I almost never use rewritables
  • DVD – about 6GB


Suitable Media and formats for backup – Many choices

  • see PROPS & MEDIA your web site (written articles, small files)

What kinds of data losses are we “insuring” against?

  • catastrophic theft, fire, flood, earthquake
  • catastrophic machine failure or crash
  • dislocation & misplacement
  • media degeneration and aging data
    • have you thought about your slides and negatives?
  • obsolescence: data safe, but cannot be read

Developing a backup “strategy”: ask yourself

Step 1: what would I do if everything was lost?

  • replaceable stuff – how big a financial hit to risk
  • irreplaceable stuff – considerations
    • time to re-create
    • original creations
    • months or years invested

Step 2: what if I can’t take it all with me?

  • conversion issues
  • obsolete formats
  • no app available to deconvert

Step 3: what about my software?

  • turnover & upgrade so frequent I can’t keep up with it
  • If I can restore from a program CD, why back it up?

Step 4: what about my downloads?

Step 5: what about my email and correspondence? don’t forget your address book

Step 6: what about my photos, images and artwork?

Step 7: what about my financial records?

Step 8: what about program data, settings & preferences?

Step 9: one size doesn’t fit all situations

  • volume backups – AD HOC: change HD, new machine
  • incremental backups – schedule regularly
  • generational backups – loss-limiting fallbacks
    • development project versions
    • revisions of major works
    • PhotoShop work – artwork, images
    • financial data “snapshots”
      • — always have an earlier version to fall back to!

Where do my programs store all this stuff?

  • “proprietary folders” (prefs, images, etc.)
  • work folders (My Documents, Word docs, etc.)

Why volume backups are usually a waste of time

  • System backup — will it crash next week?
  • Programs – are installations already corrupted?
  • File fragmentation – will volume backup defragment?
    • Finder or Explorer copy – yes
    • disk image – no
  • Settings and prefs – a tough choice
    • backup screen shots of “difficult” and tedious critical settings
  • — 50% to 90% of HD space should probably be reinstalled “clean”

Backing up to other internal drives or partitions – NOT!

  • partitions on same drive – deceptive – 5% protection
  • other internal HD’s – minimal protection, unwise – 15% protection
  • other machines same house – 50% protection
  • laptops – if they travel with you and you have the space – 75% protection
  • remote backup storage – approaches 100% if reasonably current

Scheduled backup frequencies

  • depends entirely on how frequently you update your files
  • occasional household – weekly to monthly
  • daily correspondents – daily to weekly
  • web pages – every time you make a change – but
    • (your web site is backed up on your ISP)
  • Quicken – every time you make entries
    • save “generation” backups, maybe monthly
      • named like this, backups sort by date:
        • All Registers 991130
        • All Registers 991231
        • All Registers 000228
        • All Registers 000316
  • Office and Small Home Office – daily to weekly
  • writers, artists and programmers – every 15 minutes
    • like Quicken generational backups, you need fallback to earlier versions
      • Landscape27
      • Landscape26
      • Landscape25
      • BurstEudora6.root
      • BurstEudora5.root
  • — note, most of us fit in 2 more more categories

Incremental vs. folder and volume backups

  • An Incremental backup targets just the files and folders you want to save. Thus I can save my address book without saving all the program files; you can save Netscape Prefs (bookmarks) without saving the entire Prefs or System folder.
  • A folder backup copies the folder, all subfolders, and all files regardless of creator, type or file extension.
  • A volume backup copies all the contents of a volume, partition or hard drive.
    • This rarely makes sense unless all the contents change over time and all are irreplacable. An “images” drive might be an example of when you would want a backup of the entire volume.
  • FILE SYNCHRONIZATION is a feature of many backup programs that allows update of previous backups only when a file has been modified since the last backup. The program does not waste time on files that are already the same. This feature works by comparing modification date and time on the source file and destination copy.

Backup “programs”

  • Retrospect
  • PowerMerge
  • Mr. Mirror
  • MS Backup
  • DiskDup+
  • File _synchronizer_ programs
  • Disk copy, volume copy
  • De-coding the backup archive later???
    • My experience with the old Norton backup
    • (backup software may not work any more)

Filing Data so it’s easy to back up

  • My Documents
  • Synch folders
  • dedicated volumes or partitions
  • can your strategy handle individual files that can’t be moved?
  • prefs
  • email files
  • Quicken
  • calendars & organizers
  • Beginners especially – build good filing work habits now!
    • Q: my program is saving the file but I don’t know where!
      • A: do a SAVE AS to find out, or even a FIND by date.
  • Files with their app folders vs. Files in dedicated Save Folders:
    • Q: which is better for ease of backing up?
      • A: the more central location.
    • Q: which is better for locating it later?
      • A: the more central location
    • Q: which is better, ease of backup, or consistency?
      • A: probably consistency.

Off-site backup for critical items

One of the things I always do the night before going out of town is a complete incremental backup so I can take the backup with me to Phoenix, “off-site”. Other “remote” options:

  • safe deposit box
  • fireproof safes
  • another home or building

Encryption – PGP this is part of a backup strategy!

  • financial records
  • sensitive files & data
  • other encryption formats – Blowfish, shareware, etc – still good in 6 years?
  • again, Norton: “Encrypt”
  • PGP partitions
  • downside: if you forget your password, securely encrypted data is truly lost forever.

Longevity questions

  • How long is the media good for
    • hard drives – 1 to 5 years
    • tape – 1 to 20 years (depends on frequency of usage & storage)
    • CD – 10 to 30 years
  • How long will the playback mechanism work reliably? Will it be supported in 10 years?
  • Will I be able to run the translation software?
  • What about my obsolescent and/or “fringe program” files
    • Clarisworks
    • eMailer
    • various calendars, organizers
    • obsolete spreadsheets – Wingz, C&G
    • “pet” programs
    • shareware app formats
    • etc.?
  • Exporting proprietary formats to universal formats
    • plain ASCII — use this. It’s universal.
    • tab or comma delimited text – universal spreadsheet, database
  • What if I switch platforms or exchange files with others?
  • If I back up on a schedule, how long should I keep older generations?
    • you have to balance “restore” needs with “historical archive” needs
    • backups onto CDROM don’t take much storage space, you can keep forever.

I always forget “something”, so the “squirrel method” works for me

My method:

  • 2GB JAZ backup several times weekly (file synch)
  • CDR & JAZ backups to Phoenix several times a year
  • Volume backups only for swapping HD’s, and think twice about it
  • Don’t re-back up stuff that’s already archived safely
    • remote backup
    • stuff that never changes
  • I have copies of really irreplaceable stuff squirreled all over. Even if I forget where I stored it, chances of finding it again are improved!

(the end)

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