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Backing up your personal disk

Guard against loss of your entire disk

You can lose your entire hard disk through physical damage, software corruption or theft. If this happens you will usually want to restore your data to as recent a state as possible. If you backed up your disk every hour, you could get it back in the state it was just an hour before it was lost.

You have to balance the cost and inconvenience of an hourly backup against the value, to you, of the reassurance of having such a recent copy to restore in case of loss. Backups made for this purpose do not usually need to be kept for very long. You need to keep more than one generation, to guard against the case where the backup itself is faulty, but you would not usually keep more than three generations.

If you are backing up to an external hard disk with a capacity equal to or greater than your main disk, you can make an exact image of your main disk, including the system files and applications software as well as your data and documents. If you have to restore your main disk, you can then restore it in exactly the state it was when backed up.

If you are using other media, a complete disk image is less practicable. Furthermore, the reason for having to restore your data from backup is often that your main disk has become corrupted in some way. In such a case it is likely that at the time the backup image was taken the corruption may already have got a hold, so you would not want to restore the systems files and applications software for fear of re-introducing the corruption.

What to backup

You should, as a matter of course, keep University data in your personal or shared central file space.

For your own computer, the most common procedure is to backup your data and documents, but not the software. If you have to restore your disk you would start by installing the operating system and applications software from the original installation disks, and then restore the documents and data from the backup copy. This, however, would not cover updates to software that you may have downloaded.

The documents and data that you should backup regularly includes the following:

  • documents from applications such as Word, Excel and Access
  • mailboxes, attachments and addressbook
  • web bookmarks or favourites

It makes it easier to manage your backups if you keep all the relevant files in sub-folders within a single folder. On PCs the usual place to keep documents of all sorts, including image and movie files, is in the My Documents folder. You should not store documents in other folders on the hard disk.

In order to be ready to restore your disk in case of loss or corruption, you need to know where to find the installation files for all your software. The installation files may be on the CDs originally purchased, or you may have downloaded them from the web and stored them on your hard disk. You could have a folder for downloaded files within your My Documents folder, so that your latest downloads, including essential updates for your software, are included in your backups.

For reasons of speed and efficiency you want to avoid backing up unnecessary data. This is one good reason for having a strict house-keeping policy, and getting rid of unnecessary files.


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