Backing up that computer

Photo: Fran Innocenti/Unsplash

Manual or automatic backups? Computer guy Matt Bentley takes a look at the pros and cons.

Unless you’re using some sort of cloud backup solution such as OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox,
you’re probably doing a backup to an external drive (or at least I hope you are – see previous articles!).

There are two choices here: a) manually run a backup at a time of your choosing or b) have the operating system or a third party program do an automatic backup, at a set time (or times). Each have their advantages but I personally lean toward the manual approach, and I’ll explain why here.

Now, the first issue with automatic backups is that people tend to forget when they’re meant to happen, and so they leave the drive plugged in all the time, making it vulnerable to:

  • cryptolocker virus attacks
  • power spikes and surges
  • general data corruption
  • lower drive life expectancy due to being plugged in more of the time
  • theft

In other words, most of the things which you’re trying to work around by backing up. So don’t do that, please. Plug in your drive when you intend to backup, then unplug it later and put it someplace safe.

The second issue with automatic backups is that you seldom (though this is kinda dependent on the backup program) get notifications about when the backup is not working properly. I’ve seen systems where a backup hasn’t occurred for three years but the client thought it was still happening automatically. That’s not good data security. One cause of this can be that the external drive stops working.

The last issue is that most automatic backup systems don’t tend to give a clear notification as to when they’ve finished backing up. So even if the client is doing the right thing and unplugging the drive, they often don’t know whether a backup occurred or completed entirely. For all these reasons I tend to recommend that people run their backups manually, maybe putting a weekly or monthly reminder in their phone to do so, though this is very situation dependent. That way, there is clear understanding as to when the backup occurred, whether it completed successfully, and when it finished and they can unplug the drive.

Though there’s no such thing as 100% foolproof data security – for example, a power surge could potentially come through at the same time as you’re performing a backup, and wipe out both your computer and the backup drive – it’s more a matter of probabilities, and creating the best likelihood of your data surviving. As I often remind folk, important data in two or more places, at all times, is best.

  • Unsure about your backup setup? Phone Matt at 021 1348567 or email him here.
    $70 per hour, or $60 for drop-off-to-workshop services. Bentley Home PC Support
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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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