How To Best Backup Your Computer

Working as an IT professional for around 8 years now, I have had a lot of experience in the IT world. Unfortunately one of the biggest oversights people make are backups – or should I say, lack of them. It is common for companies to backup their servers so that important, business critical information is backed up and secure. But what about your holiday pictures from last year, the pictures of your new born child or personal finances etc…all of this is extremely important data and if it went missing or got damaged could be disastrous for the owner.

I’ve seen it on numerous occasions where users have not bothered to backup, then get very upset when we call them to say their failed hard drive is irreparable. Personally, I have 3 layers of backups that I use – it works for me and ensures that my data is secure. In this article I will explain how my backup regime works and give you some examples of free software that you can use to backup on both Windows & Linux.

As I said, my backups consist of three layers, these are – Full Image, Offline & Online. Each is explained below:

Full Image

For those that don’t know, a Full Image backup is a backup of absolutely everything on your computer – not just your files. The point of a  Full Image is so you can recover your computer to exactly the same state as it was in when the backup was taken. This includes all applications and settings as well as data like documents, music and pictures.

When I get a new computer, a lot of work goes into getting just how I like it. I remove all the rubbish that OEM’s like to add, I install Ubuntu and setup dual boot. I then install all of my applications and tweak things to how I like them and finally running system updates. This can take up to 4 hours to complete sometimes, so once I’ve got a bare computer (I.e. no data) with all my applications and tweaks I take a full image of the machine. This is so I have what I like to call a ’Kev Image‘ this is a barebones image of my computer just how I like it.

Once I have my barebones image, I then take further images around once every 60 days. I don’t keep them all though, I only keep my barebones and the three latest images, meaning I can go back up to six months if I need to.

To take a full image backup, I use a tool called Clonezilla – it is very easy to use, free and will work with Linux and Windows. A while back I wrote a how to guide for the PinguyOS forums. I have added a link to this document below. You will require a blank CD for Clonezilla.

Download my Clonzilla guide

Offline Backups

If I was only to rely on my image backups and my hard drive failed then it could mean that my data could be up to 60 days out of date. Whilst this is better than nothing, it’s far from ideal. So, as well as full images, I also take weekly Offline Backups. These are backups of specific folders on my hard drive. For me, I backup my documents, music, pictures and website files (for RefuGeeks).

The backups automatically run to a USB 1TB hard drive that I have plugged into my desktop computer. The backups run incrementally, which means that it will only backup files that have changed since the last backup. It will then start a new set once a month. So for a month my data is backed up incrementally every week, then, once a month passes a new increment starts and my backup program will create another full set of backups and start the whole process again. I then keep 3 of these full sets on my hard drive. So I now have 6 months worth of full images and 3 months worth of weekly data backups – all of which are stored on the same 1TB USB hard drive.

To run Offine Backups I use Deja Dupe in Ubuntu which is installed by default in version 11.10 onwards but is available in the software centre if you use an earlier version. I don’t run backups on my Windows partition, mainly because it is never booted up, but if you run Windows, the best free backup tool by far is To-Do Backup. I used to use To-Do Backup before I became a Linux user. It’s an excellent peice of freeware.

Online Backups

Online Backups are the final piece of the puzzle in my regime. Say for instance my backup USB drive fails or (god forbid) my house burns down – if I have all of my data kept offsite somewhere then I will be safe no matter what. My offline backups come in the form of Ubuntu One, I’ve used Dropbox in the past but found it to be too expensive. Unfortunately you will only get 5GB of storage for free on Ubuntu One so you may need to pay a few quid to get online backups. Personally, I have a 50GB account and this costs around $60 per year which isn’t much when you think about it – I spend more than that on a night out!

So Ubuntu One not only keeps all my files in sync across my many devices but it also has my ‘Kev Image’ on it. So if the worst happens, I have my computer just how I like it and all my data is safe. If you want to know more about Ubuntu One then take a look here. Ubuntu One is available for both Windows and Linux.

Conclusion

As I said at the top of this article. This is by no means the perfect backup solution but it works for me and will cover you in most eventualities (if nuclear war breaks out then you’re on your own). With the only cost incurred being Ubuntu One and a USB hard drive if you don’t have one, it’s a minimal cost to ensure that your data is safe.

If you would like to buy a 1TB USB hard drive, I would highly recommend Buffalo and LaCie drives – I’ve used both, they are excellent and very good value for money. You will be able to find them on most online stores like Amazon and Ebuyer.

Do you backup? If so, how? If you don’t, then why don’t you? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments section. :)

 

How To Best Backup Your Computer
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  • Michael Bennett

    On the desktop, when running Debian, or Fedora families, I don’t backup my system, since the install process is so easy, and apt/yum are so robust. My gentoo desktops, I do make system images periodically. Mostly once the initial install is done, since my setup takes forever.

    For day to day on the desktop, I have cron, rsync, tar, ssh, gpg, and a few scripts routinely backup my desktops’ home folders to my backups server, which is pretty much a little NAS solution. These backups are periodically turned into “snap shots”, in case rsync synchronizes a lot of deletes! I keep some of these snapshots “online” in case of emergency. The process is automatic, and relatively secure.

    In addition, I also turn many of my folders into git repositories. These repos are backed up to an additional server through ssh, when I push. Also, it keeps my stuff version controlled, which is a delight.

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  • PCfixer_80

    I use My PC backup software and it’s really simple. http://track.mypcbackup.com/?hash=47f436dc