Every year you say you'll be better at keeping your data backed up, but then life happens. You get busy. You get distracted. And the number of files in your digital life grows exponentially--all while you continue to relegate this critical task to the "I'll get to it" pile.
Sound familiar? Thought so. Backup is essential, yet most people neglect it, despite adding ever more files to their digital stockpiles. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average U.S. adult with online access has an average of 1800 digital files. And growing.
We've found the tech that can help you get a handle on your backups--and help you stick to a plan. You'll find many options that lead to the same result. Part of your challenge is picking the ones that are best for you.
1. Devise a Backup Plan of Attack
Survey your backup needs, and think about what you have that is "live" data--your ongoing, working library of files--versus what is archival data, files that don't require changes or additions. Live data might include your collection of digital music and your business documents, while archival data might include your digital photos from the past five years. Think about whether you want all of your data to reside in a single place, or whether you want to spread your backups across multiple devices. Also consider your habits: Do you need prompting to back up, or do you want to invoke a backup at will?
Having evaluated your files and needs, you can better decide on a backup strategy--and on which combination of technologies makes sense for you. You'll likely settle on a strategy that encompasses various devices and services, selected from among USB flash drives, external hard drives (see our latest Top 10 External Hard Drives chart or peek at the newest portable external hard drives), network-attached storage (see our most recent Top 5 Network-Attached Storage Devices chart), and online backup.
Many hardware devices now include a backup utility as a matter of course; but whether you'll find that backup utility (be it a separate application or one that's integrated with the drive) useful will depend in part on the backup approach you've chosen. Do you want to back up all of your files? Or are you aiming to do larger, more-current sets while leaving the file archive to reside on a NAS or on a dedicated 1TB hard drive attached to your system?
In steps two through five, we'll identify some of the best technologies for helping you with your backups--and what situations and needs those technologies are most suited for.
2. Organize Your Files
Various software programs--including the traditional backup programs we rounded up recently, such as NovaStor NovaBackup Professional, EMC Retrospect Backup, and NTI Backup 5 Advanced--will find specific file types on your hard drive and back up those file types per your instructions. But it helps to devise an organized structure for the files on your hard drive; that way, you know exactly where to begin when you establish a backup routine in the aforementioned software, or if you ever do a quick-and-dirty manual backup (in which you simply drag and drop files from one drive to another within Windows Explorer).
See more backup strategies on the next page.