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Way to automatically backup documents to HDD?

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June 21, 2011 11:45:05 PM

Is there a way i can have my computer automatically backup my documents, my videos, my pictures, my downloads all automatically to another HDD whenever files are added? Thanks for the input! :) 
a c 289 G Storage
June 22, 2011 1:22:26 PM

There are many, many ways. The "best" way is really a matter of personal choice and how much time and money you are willing to invest.

Any decent backup software will do periodic backups of all new and changed files in any directory or drive that you specify. One that is mentioned here frequently is Acronis. You can set any of these applications to monitor a whole drive, My Documents, or certain types of files and back up changes to a specified destination once a day or even once an hour. Or every five minutes.

It might be a good idea to backup to a network drive, or a drive in another machine, so that you don't lose your backups if your main machine dies due to physical or electrical damage.

I'm going to take the liberty of splitting this post into two parts. If anyone is interested in musings on some of the various considerations and tradeoffs in backups, stay tuned. If not, ignore my next post.
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a c 289 G Storage
June 22, 2011 1:47:25 PM

Ahh, deciding the "right way" to do backups. A topic with many, many branches and many tradeoffs.

Off the top of my head, some of the most important considerations are
  • How much time and money are you willing to put into the process?
  • How much of your material are you willing to, or can your business afford to, lose?
  • How many days, hours, seconds of work and data can You afford to lose? Note that if you are running a stock trading system, the answer to this may be "None." That's a different kettle of fish.
  • How far need you go to protect against unlikely events? The building burning down? A blackout on the East Coast? An earthquake? Civil war?

    And some of the issues are
  • What should be backed up? Critical files? The entire system? I personally have two different backup regimens, one for my system drive and one for the data drives. The system drive is always backed up as a full image backup, and at any given time I am willing to restore to my latest backup, or even an earlier one.
    My data backups are usually incremental, and done more often than my system backups. I wouldn't mind rolling my system back a month, as I keep notes on what changes I have made since them. I would prefer not to lose many days of my work, though. And my mail file is mirrored in realtime to a second drive.

  • How often should it be backed up? The key issue here is: how much of my work and data can I afford to lose and have to reconstruct. There are actually products to do "live backups" that will record changes to the target storage in nearly real time.

  • How many copies should be retained? This ties in to the previous question, "How often should it be backed up." If you backup every five minutes, and keep the latest copy, what happens if you accidentally store your Word document after erasing a key part (I've done that). You backup system faithfully stores the deletion. For at least working files, you may want to retain several copies, or one copy per day for the last week, or whatever makes you comfortable.

  • Where should you back up to? This question comes in parts. The first part is, where should my backups write to initially? I personally do not like using another drive in the same machine. If I get a virus, or it rains on my machine, I lose the backup, too.
    On a small scale, it is reasonable to back up to a removable drive, a network drive, or another system on the same network. At the other end of the scale, my employer's datacenter is mirrored in realtime to a site on the other coast of the US, and backups are done to a central silo.

  • What should you do with the backups? This is where the question of what kind of disaster you want to plan for comes in. If you keep the backups in the same room as the machine (which I do), you lose everything in case of, say, a fire. If you clone them and give copies to a friend who lives down the block, you will not lose them in that case, but an earthquake would make them pretty unavailable. If you want to be able to keep going after a local disaster, maybe you should Fedex copies of them to a friend in Kansas, or use the services of Iron Mountain. Again, it depends heavily on your needs.

  • Backup types and schedules. I am not going to go into backup cycles of how often to do full backups vs. incremental backups. I will just call attention to the topic and you can read up on it.
    Read also about media rotation schedules. If you have one backup drive, and do full backups weekly, what would happen if the system failed during a full backup while you were overwriting the previous one? A good backup plan will have more than one complete, separate set of media.


    And a caveat to those of you who use RAID: RAID can make your system more reliable. It is not a substitute for backups. If your machine is hit by lightning, if your programming error erases all of your data, if a virus scrambles your files, no level of RAID will do you any good.
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    June 22, 2011 2:08:21 PM

    Question about raid. How would you implement raid 0 on a desktop, besides having two drives, do I need to buy anything, is it just a matter of downloading free software, do I need to reformat my main drive? And would there be a performance increase with striping?
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    a c 289 G Storage
    June 22, 2011 2:53:33 PM

    Fast answer: Don't use RAID0 with your system drive.

    For RAID0, you should have two drives with the same capacity and as close as possible to identical performance. Some people will only RAID the same model drive. RAID 0 combines the space into twice the space, and writes alternate blocks to alternate drives. Ideally, this can double both read and write throughput, but it will have little effect on seek time.

    RAID0 more than doubles the risk of losing data, and makes the task of recovery from a drive failure much more problematic. For an SSD, it is always better to buy the next capacity up in a line then to RAID two of them in RAID0
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    June 22, 2011 7:22:38 PM

    If I wanted to put two secondary drives in a raid 1 configuration, how would I do that?
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    June 22, 2011 7:35:57 PM

    Correction, I meant raid 0. I wanted to use it to experiment with something. Is there a free way to do this?
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    a c 289 G Storage
    June 23, 2011 12:55:21 PM

    kr0490 said:
    Correction, I meant raid 0. I wanted to use it to experiment with something. Is there a free way to do this?

    Yes there is. I strongly suggest that you look through the RAID subset of the forum for one of the many threads on the topic. Most current motherboards will support RAID0 at the chipset level, which will require setting the drive controller mode to RAID, interrupting the BIOS at the appropriate point (it will prompt for you to press something like ctl/A for RAID setup), and build the two drives into a RAID0 volume. All data on the drives will be lost.

    It can also be done inside Drive Mangler in Windows. This method is somewhat less "efficient" in that it has more overhead. OTOH, if the computer dies and the drives survive, it is more likely that you will be able to recover data by mounting them in another system.
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