Backing up your computer and the important data contained within it is an essential part of helping to secure and protect your digital life!
Whilst there are many backup software applications now available which make this task as quick and easy as is possible, there still always remains room for improvement when it comes to how your computer backup is configured. In this guide we aim to discuss 5 quick and easy to implement tips in order to help ensure you are getting the most out of your backups (and backup software) thanks to just a few quick checks which can be done in just a matter of minutes!
Why Optimise an Existing Backup Set?
Before we get into our 5 top tips for optimising computer backups, you might be wondering why you would even need to optimise a backup at all?
Optimisation of backups is actually a fairly important task in that a backup set which is configured and optimised to the best level possible will offer much more protection than one which isn’t. Even if you feel that you have already set-up your backup to an “acceptable” standard when first configuring it, things change over time as do do the files and folders that need backing up (as well as the level of protection and version history required on these files and so on).
With all of this in mind, even if it is just a quick check every now and then, keeping an eye on your current backup configuration and how well it is working for you is always strongly recommended!
Below are some of our top 10 tips for helping to ensure that you get the most out of your current backup configuration:
1. Check you can restore files correctly
NB – This is out number one tip for a very good reason!
Whilst it can be very tempting to rely solely on your backup software itself to verify that your backups are working correctly, this isn’t always a 100% foolproof method of ensuring data is being kept correctly and is recoverable when it is required! With this in mind, our first (and potentially most important) tip for improving your computer backups is to it check periodically that you can actually restore your data from within your backup software for real!
Whilst this might initially seem unnecessary, there are potentially many things which could go wrong with a saved backup. From problems on the device used to stored the data through to file corruption, security and permissions issues and even software versioning / upgrade issues, amongst many other anomalies which might crop up form time to time, there are potentially numerous risks which might stop a successful recovery taking place. Recovering a sample set of data for real, on a regular basis, is therefore one of the quickest and most reliable methods for checking that your backup software is doing what is expected from it!
2. Make use of the 3-2-1 backup method
The 3-2-1 backup method is a standardised approach to configuring backups which ensures that at least 3 individual copies of your data exist, across at least 2 different storage formats and with at least 1 copy of the data stored off-site (e.g. in a cloud storage account).
Making use of the 3-2-1 backup approach essentially means that you are never at risk of loosing data if an entire site is damaged or subject to a disaster such as fire, flood or theft. For example if you site was burgled and your computer and single backup device (e.g. an external hard drive) were both stolen, then without a third copy of your data kept off-site (and away from this danger) you could be at risk of loosing all of your data (even though it is backed-up to an extent).
With this and similar dangers in-mind, always try and follow the 3-2-1 backup rule when planning out your backup strategy, if you haven’t already done so then this then our guide on the 3-2-1 Backup Strategy is a great place to start!
3. Check you have enough disk space available
Whenever we are backing up data, we always face the same problem of ensuring we have enough storage space available to store the backup data files which are generated by the software. Add on to this the issue that the size of the backup files will most likely grow over time, thus bringing us to our third important tip – always check you have enough storage space for at least the next few months of backing-up available!
If you are already making use of a cloud backup solution with unlimited cloud storage (such as one of our favourite solutions, Backblaze) then the idea of running out of storage space isn’t really an issue. However, if you are using a limited allocation of cloud storage or a device such as a NAS drive or external hard drive, then the free space available must be carefully monitored so as to ensure there is always enough disk space available for backups to take place.
Most backup software will inform you if a backup has failed due to there being a lack of enough free disk space available at the time the backup was attempted. Having said this, it would be more useful to know that disk space is limited at least a few weeks before such an event happens so that the disk can be cleared or new hardware sought. If your backup software, NAS solution (or even cloud storage provider) does have options for issuing low disk space warnings then ensure these are turned on so as to be aware of this potential issue in good time!
4. Ensure all important files are selected for backup
As we use our devices more over time it can become commonplace to continually set-up new folders and save files in various different locations around the device. This means the set of files and folders originally selected for inclusion within the backup when first configuring the backup set might no longer be correct for the present day!
With this in mind, always take a few moments to double check that all important data is selected within your backup set on a regular basis. This is especially important if you store any data outside of the default folders commonly used for saving user documents to (for example, the default “Documents” and “Photos” folders created by Windows itself for its users).
Another method for ensuring all important data is always included within any backup sets is to simply make use of full system image backups from day one! A system image backup has many advantages over a file-level backup, the main one of which being that it will backup all data found on a computer inducing the operating system, all settings and applications and (importantly) all user saved data on the device (even if this data isn’t in one of the default folder locations discussed just above).
NB – You can learn more about the differences between file-level and image-level backups in our System Image vs File Level Backups guide!
Whichever method you choose, always be careful to regularly check that all of your important data is elected and included within your backup sets!
5. Optimise your use of automatic backup scheduling
When initially configuring a backup set it can be very tempting to simply set the backup to run automatically once per day on a schedule (or even hourly or weekly depending upon how often you use your device). Whilst this is usually an acceptable time frame for running backups automatically, you might be able to optimise this set-up even further!
One of the first things to think about when scheduling backups is how frequently you schedule is really needed. For example, if you work on your computer a lot during the week and have a schedule backing-up your device once per week on a Friday night, your device is actually quite vulnerable to data loss during the majority of the working week given that the backups wont happen until Friday night (meaning that, for example, a hard disk failure on a Thursday morning could see all work done throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday could be lost).
With the above in mind, our first tip in the section is to make sure that you understand how much you rely on your computer and that your backup scheduling is set to be frequent enough for your own personal usage needs!
Another scheduling related issue, especially troublesome for those working with a slow internet connection, is that of large files being backed-up throughout the working day thus slowing down internet speeds as a result. If this issue does affect you then the one of the quickest fixes is to create a second backup set which focuses on backing-up any larger files at a quieter hour in the day or week (say in the early evening or, if possible, overnight). Making use of quieter times to back-up larger files leaves only smaller files being processed throughout the day which leads to less stress on the internet connection overall.
NB – Obviously, if this is something you do plan on implementing for yourself, then be sure that any larger files are first suitable for being backed-up on a delayed plan!
This guide lists 5 quick and easy to implement ideas which can help in optimising your backup solution and, in-turn, help to ensure that your data is backed-up as safely as it can be!
Whilst following each point listed above can be very helpful in and of itself (even if you don’t go on to implement it for yourself), taking the time to further understand your backup solution and how it is working in practice will always be a good investment of your time (your backup solution is, after all, a key component in protecting your digital life).
Overall, as is mentioned in point number 1 above, even if you don’t do anything else then take this guide a prompt to check that you can actually restore your backed-up files (for real) by actually doing it on a periodical basis (once per month would be a good suggestion to start off with).