Windows XP / Networking

Establishing a Plan for Backing Up Data

If you take the time to establish a plan of attack, you can fight back when disaster strikes. For computers, the best plan of attack is a well-designed plan for backing up your data. Your plan must provide protection for important files and must be so easy to implement that you won't be tempted to skip doing it.

You should back up files on all the hard drives in your home network every day. But you won't. People don't back up regularly until they have a disaster and they realize how long it is been since they did a backup. That is an awful situation, and it provides the impetus for backing up religiously (at least for a while, until the memory fades).

Back up often

Sometimes only one part of a computer dies, but it is usually one of the important parts, like the hard drive. You have to approach the use of computers with the attitude that one of the machines on your network could go to land, or that a hard drive could go to hard-drive heaven, tomorrow.

If you don't plan for a sudden demise of your equipment, the computer fairies figure it out - they notice that you are complacent and they break something. Computer fairies must be the culprits - nothing else explains the fact that most computers bite the dust the day after the user has finished writing the greatest novel in the history of literature or an important report for the boss that is sure to mean a promotion, and no backup files exist.

Making a backup does not prevent the death of a computer. And there is no proof that skipping a backup invites a serious problem - it just seems to happen that way. But just in case, backing up important files every day is imperative.

You need to back up your data files religiously. If you have a tape backup system or a large removable disk, such as a Jaz drive or a CD-ROM burner, you can back up everything on each computer in the network, but it is really only important to back up essential data.

Safeguard backup media

Whatever backup media you choose - whether it is floppy disks, Zip cartridges, backup tapes, or CDs - make sure that you have more than one disk, cartridge, or tape on hand. Don't back up on the same disk, cartridge, or tape that holds your last backup - if something goes wrong during the backup, not only do you not get a good backup this time, but you also destroy your previous backup.

The ideal situation is to have a disk, cartridge, or tape for each day of the week. If that seems too difficult or too expensive (in the case of cartridges and tapes), create one set of disks, cartridges, or tapes marked Odd (for odd days) and another set marked Even (for even days).

If a fire, flood, or other catastrophe strikes, then after you clean up the mess, you can replace the computers. You can replace and reinstall software, but you have no way to restore all those important documents, accounting information, and other data that you created on your computer unless you have a backup that is stored out of harm's way.

That is why, once a week, you should take your backup media out of the house and leave it with a neighbor, at work, or at your vacation home. Don't forget to bring the backups back the following week so that you can put a current backup on the media and take it away again. You will probably be able to find a neighbor with a computer and backup media who wants to do the same thing, so the two of you can trade disks or tapes.

Configure computers for efficient backups

If something bad happens to one of your network computers and you have not backed up, you can reinstall the operating system and all your software.

The easier it is to back up data files, the more likely it is that you will perform the task every day. Think about it: If you keep the vacuum cleaner in the hall closet, your house will stay cleaner than it would if you kept the vacuum cleaner in the attic. Convenience is an invaluable assistant.

Store all data files in the My Documents folder, and make sure that all the people who use the network do the same. If you like to organize files by type, either by software application or by some other scheme (perhaps separating letters from other documents), create subfolders for each type of file. When you copy the My Documents folder, you copy all of its subfolders.

Some software applications have a backup routine that is built into the software. If the software backs up your data files to a floppy disk, that is best. If, however, the software backs up your data files to a separate backup directory on your hard drive, redirect that backup to a subfolder under your My Documents folder. Otherwise, you have to take the time to back up that separate folder in addition to your My Documents folder.

Safeguard software CDs and Disks

If a hard drive on the network dies, you have to install Windows on the replacement drive. Then, if you have a total backup of your entire drive, including the registry, you can restore that backup and put everything back the way it was before the demise of your equipment. You usually have to do a bit of tweaking, but essentially, the move to the new drive goes pretty smoothly.

If you don't have a total backup of your drive, all is not lost. As long as you backed up the data files, you can reinstall the operating system, reinstall your software, and then restore the data files that you backed up.

This plan works only if your original software CD or disks are available. Storing the original disks for Windows and the software that you purchased in a safe place is important. If you have software that you downloaded from the Internet, copy it to a subfolder in the My Documents folder so that it is backed up when you back up your documents. If you have a large removable disk drive on your system, dedicate one cartridge to downloaded software programs (most downloaded programs don't fit on a floppy disk).

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