Make Better Backups
Too often, people plan to use a network drive for regular hard disk backups, but never actually do so. Maybe the network share isn't mounted (visible to your backup program) when backup time rolls around (add it to My Network Places to avoid this situation). Or the system to be backed up is turned off, asleep, or on the road. Or the backup is interrupted. Here's how to increase your odds of success.
Choose network drives carefully: Shared network storage drives come in two basic types: regular external USB drives designed to attach either directly to the USB storage port included on some routers or via an ethernet adapter such as D-Link's $80 Express EtherNetwork DNS-120 Network Storage Adapter; and network-attached storage (NAS) drives that have built-in ethernet.
If you go with a USB drive, you can usually detach it from your router and plug it into a PC (say, at another location) if you like. USB drives tend to be easier to set up, and you may use an old USB hard drive you already have as your storage device.
True network drives, in contrast, have their own processor and OS, and can be attached only to your network. They generally have many more features, and they normally allow setup of private user accounts ("shares") as well as public areas of universal access. The models topping our Network-Attached Storage Devices chart are the Infrant ReadyNAS NV (about $900) and the Maxtor Shared Storage II (about $750).
For best security and performance, use a NAS drive that has gigabit ethernet (buy a gigabit router if you don't have one) and RAID 1 or 5 redundancy. Don't risk losing a 500GB music collection stored on a NAS drive without any backup; the best way to maintain a copy of your NAS drive is to mirror it using a RAID array.
Whichever type of drive you choose, make sure that it's large enough to accommodate future growth. Backups often fail because the backup drive is full. We recommend setting aside 1.5 to 2 times the storage capacity of your current network for your backup drive; double that if you intend to mirror your network drive.
Perform incremental backups: By copying only files that have changed since the most recent previous backup, you'll vastly reduce the load on your network, and the length of time it takes to do a backup. Cobian Backup (free) can perform full or incremental backups with or without compression, and can encrypt your data for better security on shared network drives.
Keep your PC awake: The need to ensure that your PC is up and running at backup time may seem obvious, but offline computers are the most common cause of failed backups. Don't turn off your computer at night--just let it hibernate. And make sure that your backup software can wake up your computer. If it can't, use XP's Scheduled Tasks wizard (under Programs, Accessories, System Tools) to wake it up at backup time; for more on how to set this up, see "Schedule Your System to Start Automatically."
Multiplatform Network Backups
If you have several PCs running different operating systems that you plan to back up on one network drive, you may run into a problem with file names that work fine on one system but are illegal on another. If you truncate or change the names when you back up the files, the backups won't be useful. So instead of using USB-attached storage devices, which usually can be formatted only as Windows drives, purchase a NAS drive that offers specific support for each platform you use; afterward you can designate shares as appropriate (for instance, Windows or Mac).