"Backup How-To's": Appropriate Storage for Your Backups

By: Alexander Rassokhin

If you have read the previous articles of the "Backup How-To's" series, so far you have learned why using special backup software is much more profitable than doing backups manually. The next question is choosing the most appropriate storage media for different backup strategies. In this article we will discuss main approaches for storing backups and the balance between media's reliability, accessibility, convenience and price.

Magnetic Tape

Magnetic tapes began to be used in early 1960's it was a huge step forward from punch cards and simplest hard drives. Because of their low cost, convenience and scalability tape backups can still be met in some enterprises. However, they inevitably pass into history: most today's enterprise backup solutions don't support tape drives, and they are never included in backup software for home.

There are several problems with tapes. Firstly, they are not very reliable and copies stored on them are hardly verifiable. Statistically, 34% of companies never test their tape backups, and of those that do, 77% find errors of different kinds and sizes. Then, they can be used for full backup only reading all tapes and determining data that has changed is practically undoable. Finally, they are badly transportable and must be stored in a special room under mild conditions.

External Drives (including external HDDs, USB, FireWire and Flash drives)

Backing up data to another hard drive or a RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) is a good decision if you want to always have your backups at hand. One of big advantages of having a clone of your hard disk is that if your main HDD fails, you can instantly plug in the other one and keep working without delay. However, backups stored on an extra hard drive don't provide protection from theft or fire (unless you always carry the drive with you). Also, the price of an external hard disk is much higher than, say, price of a pack of DVDs.

Optical Discs

CD and DVD discs are one of the most popular and reliable storage media used today. They are compact, inexpensive and have very suitable capacity for regular backups. In most cases 700MB of a CD disc and 4,7GB of a DVD disc is enough to save backups of new data for several days or weeks (depends on your particular computer activities). On the bad side, if you want to back up really large sets of data (e.g. HDD image backup), changing and numbering multiple discs may appear very tiresome. As regards vulnerability of DVD backup, it is the same as with hard disks: since optical media are usually kept near computer they don't protect data from destruction caused by natural disasters like fire.

Another point of consideration is high density optical discs of new generation, namely Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. They seem to be very promising in terms of backup as they can fit up to 100GB of data. However, burning devices for them are not very widespread yet and there is no statistics available on their use in the field of backup.

Remote Storage

The basic idea of remote backup is to store your data on a distant computer which is not subject to disasters that may happen at your site. Today there are many online backup services which are ready to lease space on their hard drives (or more usually in a sort of a distributed storage system), guaranteeing absolute security of your data. Some of them provide only disk space and remote access to it, while other also offer online backup software for easier data management. Generally, remote servers are acknowledged to provide the safest and most reliable, but at the same time the most pricy storage for backups.

When choosing where to store your data, follow a simple rule: most critical data should be kept in the most reliable place. For example, the following combination may work quite well: writing weekly system backup on an external hard drive, plus transferring daily documents backup to an FTP server. When you project a backup plan, double check that your backups are made regularly and data is protected against all sources of danger.

In the next article: Home Backup: Files and Folders backup

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"Backup How-To's" is a series of articles by Alexander Rassokhin discussing methods and strategies of organizing computer data protection. These articles will be of great interest and use for PC users of all levels, from those who use computers at home to system administrators in large commercial enterprises. Alexander Rassokhin is an IT-expert and technical writer of Novosoft which is a developer of its own automatic backup software.
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