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Why You Should Backup Computer Data Regularly


In this fast paced world we live in, ours lives and livelihoods are increasingly relying on electronic information of one sort or another.  At work, we create spreadsheets to forecast our sales or purchasing needs, we create contracts in our word processors, and we use presentation software to win that big sale.  At home, we take digital pictures by the album full, we manage our bills with financial software, we download our favorite music from the internet, and we even do our taxes every year on our own PC.  

All of this information, all of this data, usually has one thing in common; it is stored on a hard disk drive.  For all of the advancements in the technology over the years, the mechanics of a hard drive have not significantly changed that much.  While the physical size has shrunk and the capacity has grown exponentially, hard drives are still composed of multiple magnetic disks that are read by moving heads, supported by ball bearings, and spun by an electric motor.  In short, they are still machines.  

In fact, hard drives are very sensitive and amazingly complex machines.  Today's hard drives are extremely reliable, and with due care, they should last for years.  However, as with all machines, they are subject to a variety of circumstances that could cause the loss of every bit of data they contain.  Lets take a quick look at these threats and the possible fixes.

Threat: Wear and Tear or Accidental Damage

As mentioned above, hard drives are machines, machines with moving parts.  Even the best engineered machines eventually wear out.  In hard drives this could take the form or a burnt out motor, a bad ball bearing, or even a faulty read/write head.  Hard drives are particularly sensitive to vibration while reading or writing information, since they spin at anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 rpms.  Once a hard drive stops spinning or the read write heads stop working, it is impossible to get any data off of it with conventional means.

Fix: Send hard drive off for repair or retrieval of data.

There are a few services out there that can actually rebuild the hard drive by salvaging the magnetic disks and placing them in a new drive.  This process is costly, often times costing many multiples of the hard drive and software contained therein.  The recovery process requires the use of clean rooms and expensive equipment, so there are relatively few competitors in this area, also driving up costs.

Threat: Malicious Software


We have all heard the story, Joe User clicks on an email link and within seconds the contents of his entire hard drive have been wiped clean.  While this story has a hint of Urban Legend to it, computer viruses are a real threat to the integrity of your data.  They can corrupt hard drives, rewrite boot sectors, erase certain data after copying it to an offsite location, or just plain slow things down.  A good piece of anti-virus software should prevent 99.9% of these kinds of attacks, but the people who write and update that software are not mind readers.  They usually only find out about a new type of virus after someone has gotten infected; meaning someone usually suffers a loss in every virus attack.  

Fix: Hire a computer "Geek" to recover what data he can.

There are numerous services out there that can come in and undo most or all of the damage done by a virus, but they can be costly.  The prices can start at $150 and rapidly climb depending on the type of virus and the amount of damage done.  

Threat: Damage or Theft of Entire Computer

Physical threats to you computer are probably the most common causes of data loss in today's society, especially with the migration to laptop and notebook computers from the more firmly planted desktop and tower computers.  Its very easy to drop a accidentally drop a laptop computer in such a way as to be left picking up the pieces.  Fires can ravage your home or office, and even if the fire does not directly burn up your computer, damage from heat, smoke, and water is a definite possibility.  Then we get to theft, whether they raid your home, your office, or your car, computers and especially laptops are increasingly popular targets or the opportunistic thief.

Fix: Generally None

In the case of fire damage or a mangled computer, the aforementioned data recovery services are an option, but are even more costly and less likely to recover data in these circumstances.  As for theft, even if you are lucky enough to find your computer at the pawn shop around the corner, thieves are becoming more and more sophisticated, often removing or replacing the hard drive before they sell the computer in a bid to erase the identity of the rightful owner.


THE FIX OF ALL FIXES: BACK UP YOUR DATA REGULARLY

While we haven't covered all the ways you can lose data on your hard drive, there is one fix that can save you time, money, and headaches in virtually any data loss situation.  That is backing up your important data.  Pictures that can't be retaken, business records that can't be easily recreated, music that would be costly to re-download, all of it can and should be backed up on a regular basis.  If your computer is stolen or destroyed in a fire, your insurance company will buy you a new one and all you have to do is reload your data.  If your hard drive crashes, buy a new one and reload your data.  If virus takes out your data, clean your hard drive and reload your data.  It can't be simpler.  There are two important parts to this fix and each is equally important.  Backing up your data is great, but if it is not done regularly, you still stand the chance of losing important information created since the last backup.  Monthly backups are good, weekly backups are great, but daily backups are the best.  The key is to have a plan, create a schedule, and then stick to it.