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Backup! It’s so necessary, but figuring out the best method for set up and maintenance can be a real quandary. There are so many options. I’ll talk about some, but I’m sure I won’t cover everything. Please share recommendations and feedback from your experience.

Best Practices
If you’ve worked with computers, you’ve probably heard of the best practices for backup. You want to:

  1. back up on a regular schedule,
  2. keep a copy of the backups in a safe place, and
  3. periodically test restoring from backup to make sure it’s actually working.

Those are the basic concepts, but how best to accomplish them? What is the best schedule? How many and which copies should you save? When and what should you try to restore? Guess what? The answer depends. Don’t you love it?

Backup Schedule
You’ll want to create your backup schedule so that you will have the least amount of work lost as is reasonably possible. You may combine different methods for different data, if that makes sense.

In a small to medium-sized church, a weekly backup would be reasonable. You may want to time it according to when you are creating crucial data. For example, if you do your accounting and create your bulletins on Fridays, it would make sense to perform a backup every Friday evening. That way you’ve got the most recent data for those two crucial functions.

Larger churches might be able to afford a more sophisticated backup system that performs “snapshots” (a copy of all the data as of a particular moment), daily or even more frequent backups, incremental on one schedule and full on another, and so forth. But for those of us with less sophisticated technology structures, that’s not feasible.

Ideally, you’ll set up an automated backup using a program, but even if you have automated backup, you might want to combine that with a manual backup for even more coverage. For example, the administrative assistant at our church makes a copy of the Quicken file each time she completes her accounting tasks, then copies it to a flash drive, and takes that home. This simple, manual task even addresses disaster recovery -- the file is being stored off site.

Online vs. Onsite vs. Offsite, Backup vs. Disaster Recovery
There are several options for backup storage and you may want to use them in combination. Even at my place of employment we use a blend of online, offsite and onsite backup depending on the office location, the amount of data, and what the data is.

Again, at larger churches with more sophisticated structures, you can use sophisticated methods to store data to cover both backup and disaster recovery. The difference between backup and disaster recovery is that, with backup you are preparing for the possibility of losing data and needing to restore it. With disaster recovery, you are preparing for the possibility of not being able to access the equipment that houses the data at all, and figuring out how to continue your activities in spite of that.

For example, you might backup the data on your computer to an external hard drive you connect to your computer. That works wonderfully if your computer drive crashes and cannot be recovered. But, if both your computer and your hard drive are in a building that catches fire, that’s when you need a disaster recovery plan.

Online backup is a way to combine backup and disaster recovery. Since the storage of the backup data is online, if the building where your data is stored is inaccessible, you’ll be able to get to the data from the online storage and continue your activities. Disaster recovery has a lot more to it than offsite storage of your data, but that is a critical component.

Online backup is not the only way to have offsite storage of your data. I mentioned putting data on to a flash drive and taking it with you. You could take an external hard drive with you. Businesses use tape drives for backups and rotate storing them offsite. One IT Manager I met would mail himself the tapes so that there was always one set in the mail system. These are some ways to store data offsite.

Using photo sharing sites is another form of offsite storage/backup. If your photo sharing site stores the original file, you’ve got offsite backup storage right there. You could combine that with another system to backup your other files and be covered, without having to pay separately for backup of all your photo files.

Backup Software/Methods
Here’s where the “bewildered” part comes in. There are a myriad of choices for software backup. Some computers come with a backup system installed. You can purchase software for backup, or online services. Backup might be included in your virus scanning program. There are many, many possibilities.

I cannot give you a definitive answer as to which is the best method or software to use. It is something you will need to figure out and decide. On my home computer, for example, I tried several backup programs using the 30-day free trial they offered. Each time I disliked the way that my computer performance was affected as the software crawled through all the files to look for changes it needed to back up. In the end, at home, I’ve decided to use Quicken Online Backup for my Quicken file, I rely on my photo sharing site for backup of my photo files and I save everything to an external drive. I decided that if I lose other files than the Quicken one or photos from my computer, I could live with it. I use Gmail and Google Docs so they are already protected.

At a church, though, if other files were lost, it would be more than just a minor inconvenience. Thinking of my church’s computer, all the bulletin files, the brochures, signs, and other marketing types of files, and many other things stored on the church computer would be sorely missed if they suddenly were lost.

So, what to do? If you have the budget, going completely with online backup may make your life easier, and it is becoming more and more affordable. There’s no equipment to purchase and maintain and the online host takes care of all the necessary processes needed to ensure your data is safe. Some people are concerned with security, and having their data stored “in the cloud” may not be their preference because it means another company has access to their data. Large, well-known data storage companies must comply with privacy standards, but that doesn’t mean there is no risk. You need to weigh that risk against other methods.

Think about combining various methods if it makes sense. You might back up your financial data with one method, your photos with another, and everything else, or a subset of everything else, another. You might use an external hard drive for storing your files rather than the actual computer’s hard drive, and then back up the files on your external drive on a schedule that makes sense. That way, if your computer dies you’ve got your files right there on the external drive. And if that dies, you’ve got the backup. Various combinations may save money and time.

As far as the software, below are a few sites with some choices you can research. You might also check with friends or church members who have experience with programs that they can recommend. Personally, I’ve had good experience with SOS and DropBox. I also use ADrive, which has 50 GB of free storage, and I’ve heard good things about Mozy from friends.

PC Magazine’s Review of Online Backup Solutions
PC Magazine’s Product Finder - Backup Software
Top Ten Reviews - Backup Software Reviews
Top Ten Reviews - Online Backup Reviews

What about you?

Please share the backup programs and methods you have used. That’s what the network is for -- learning from each other! 


I am currently using a back-up program called Carbonite.  It backs us files whenever I am logged on to the computer.  I also use it at home, and this weekend I had a nasty virus.  I had to reformat my computer and I downloaded all my files from their server without any problems.  Well worth the cost for an off-site backup program.

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