Starting ITGS: Choosing backup hardware

Backup media

Every teacher has heard the “my computer crashed last night and lost all my work” excuse right before a major deadline, and some students have even experienced this happening for real. Making backups is an essential IT task and there are a wealth of options available. Choosing the right backup medium depends on how much data you want to backup and your available budget.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage systems have become popular in recent years. The advantages of storing files in the cloud is that critical files are stored off-site (useful in the event of a house fire or burlgary), but care must be taken to ensure a reliable company is chosen to look after your valuable data.

Free cloud backup systems out there include DropBox and Mozy. Often they have a limited amount of space which can be increased through paid subscriptions. You can read a brief summary of these options here: Cloud backup systems: some free solutions

I use Carbonite, which is a paid option, to automatically back up my important files into the cloud every night. The software scans the folders I have selected for backup and uploads any changed files. Carbonite places a little orange or green icon on each file and folder so you can tell immediately whether or not it has been backed up. As with all cloud systems, the initial backup (140GB in my case!) takes a while. Unlike some paid services, Carbonite has no space limit.

External hard drives

External hard drive for backupExternal hard drives are always a good insurance policy. While I like cloud computing for its immediacy, I always fear that an outage at the cloud provider could render my data inaccessible. I’m also not a fan of keeping certain types of personal data on a remote server, no matter how much encryption is used. The problem with external drives is they can fill up quickly, so it’s a good idea to buy the highest capacity you can afford.

I’m a big fan of Iomega’s external USB hard drives. I have the 1TB model and the 1.5TB model at home, plus the 2TB model for school (I like backups!). The prices are fair (around $165 for the 2TB version), though my 3TB Western Digital drive was cheaper at $149. The downside of these drives is that they are relatively slow (they connect via USB), and they require an external power source. However, for weekly or monthly backups these are minor drawbacks.

If you need a portable external hard disk that doesn’t require a separate power supply, the Western Digital My Passport models are a good option. Mine served me well until I dropped it onto concrete…

Flash drives / Solid state storage

Flash drive backupFlash drives typically have smaller capacities than hard drives, but are quite cheap and can be sufficient if you only have a small amount of data to backup. Flash drives are also more durable than hard disks (no moving parts) and much more portable.

Prices are constantly falling, with a 32 GB SanDisk Cruzer under $10 at Amazon and even a 64 GB drives are now usually less than $20.

Optical Disks

BluRay backupOptical disks like CD-Rs and DVD-Rs used to be all the rage for backup purposes. However, their storage capacity doesn’t seem to have kept up with modern times (a standard BluRay disk holds 25GB), they are large and fiddly compared to flash drives, and the disks themselves are not cheap (still over a dollar per disk for BluRay). They also require a relatively expensive BluRay-writer, making them even less ideal for laptops (unless you have one built in). One point in favour of optical disks however is their life expectancy, with some manufacturers claiming up to 10 years for a disk which is correctly stored.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

For those with lots of data (and lots of money!), a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device can be useful. Essentially a mini file server, a NAS holds 2 or more hard disks which are presented as a single ‘disk’ to computers on the network. NAS devices can also use RAID technology to offer some redundancy should one disk fail.

Revision questions

A small business has 20 employees and 25 devices, including a mix of desktop computers, laptops, and mobile phones.

  1. Define the term encryption. [2 marks]
  2. Describe two impacts for the business if data is lost. [4 marks]
  3. Explain two data loss risks which pertain specifically to the laptop computers [6 marks]
  4. Evaluate the available backup options available to the company. [8 marks]

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