A sheepish look comes across the faces of a lot of people I talk to when I ask if they’re backing up their files. A lot of people know that they should be backing up their files, they’re just not sure what that means. So here are answers to the most common questions about backing up files.
What is backing up?
Backing a file up means saving a copy of a file to another physical location. That way if something happens to your computer–a hard drive crash, a fire, a puppy with a small bladder–you have another copy of your file somewhere else. Saving a copy to another folder on your computer does not count as another physical location.
What files should I back up?
Anything you don’t want to lose. The report you’ve been slaving over for weeks. Yes. Pictures of your daughter’s second birthday? Absolutely. Your entire music collection? You bet. Writing the great American novel? Back that puppy up!
Where should I back up?
This question is a bit trickier. You can back up to a physical location you keep in your home or office. A few examples are:
- External hard drive – this is a larger initial investment, but they can hold much more data than a CD or DVD.
- CD/DVD – keep in mind, these can easily be lost or corrupted (You know how annoying it is when your favorite DVD skips because it’s scratched? What if that happens to your files?)
- USB drive/thumb drive – these can also easily be lost or corrupted
The problem with backing your files up to physical location in your home or office is that if a flood, fire, tornado, or thief, wipes out/runs off with your computer, it’s likely that they’ll also destroy/steal your backup location.
You can also back your files up to online resources. If you’re backing up work files, check with your IT department to make sure that the location is acceptable.
Services that will sync selected files with an online location:
- Google Docs*
- Microsoft Skydrive*
- Apple iCloud*
Services that will back up your entire computer:
* If you work at The University of Texas, these are not acceptable places to back up your work documents. Read the UT section at the bottom for a great, secure location.
Keep in mind that if you back up online, you won’t be able to get to your files without an internet connection. Also, your important files could be compromised if the company’s servers are compromised. How would you feel if someone else got hold of your files? You should research how your files are protected and backed up if you choose an online file syncing or back up service.
How often should I back up?
This depends on how far behind you can afford to get. If you lost all the data on your computer today, would you be okay with your backed up files being versions from two weeks ago? Some people choose to back up daily or weekly. Other people choose to back up each time they finish working on a file. For example, each time you save and close an important spreadsheet, you can quickly save it to your backup location. If you have already backed up a file, and you haven’t touched it in months or years, there is no need to back it up regularly. Just back it up if you change it again.
Does my organization do this for me?
Maybe. Some organizations have automatic back up systems in place. Others rely on their employees to back up their own files. If you don’t know what your organization does, ask someone in your IT department. If you work at The University of Texas at Austin, read the section at the bottom.
Are there any services out there to make this easier?
Yes, there are programs you can use that will sync your files for you, and there are companies that will automatically back up your computer for you through an internet connection (mentioned above). Do your research before choosing to use one of these. Make sure they are a reputable company (or piece of software) and check how your files are protected and backed up.
Do you work at The University of Texas at Austin?
UT has a great service called UTBackup that will back up your files for you. To learn more about it, go to www.mccombs.utexas.edu/tech/help and use the search term UTbackup.