How to keep a perfect backup

16 September 2016 by Kathrin Brekle

Whether a smartphone, tablet, Windows PC or Mac: nowadays keeping an up-to-date backup (at least for your most important data) is a must-have. Accidents can happen at any time, thieves are constantly on the move and data theft in electronic devices are piling up.

I don’t intend to propose a single solution here, but rather offer an overview of what has to be considered to ensure you’re on the safe side when doing a backup process. For example, you should bear in mind that the backup process not only encompasses the actual backup but it also requires checking that you are actually able to restore the files. Unfortunately this is not always the case, for instance, with the Windows internal backup tool.

Generally speaking, a good backup consists of not a single but a double (or even triple) backup. You should store your backup on a different hard drive than the one that needs to be backed up. It is recommended to use an external hard drive (or even better, two drives) in the appropriate size to store the full backup. By appropriate size I mean twice the size of the hard disk that needs to be backed up. The external drive should be separated from the computer after the backup is complete, as some types of malware can infect the device they run on and also spread to peripheral devices or the connected network.

An ideal solution could be to back up on two external hard drives (one of which is kept in the vicinity of the computer, the other - because of the risk of fire or water damage - in a different location). If there is an additional backup in the cloud, it is unlikely you’ll experience data loss if the restoration of the files can be performed. Unfortunately, quite often even though consistent backups are performed, there are no checks done to the restoration process itself so it is only after a loss that one discovers that the backed up data may be corrupted or even non-existent.

What is the best backup method?

It is recommended to save a complete image when you’re using a new device or re-setting the computer system. In that case it is always possible to restore the data back to its original state (from a saved version on a different disk). If the backup is performed consistently you can always rely on being able to access a running system in a very short period of time. Whether you perform a complete backup or an incremental backup, it’s up to you. I would personally recommend doing an incremental backup (as it saves time and storage space) and then additionally, from time to time, doing a full backup.

What kind of data should you back up?

Regardless of the system backup - files that have a personal or business value should be saved: holiday photos or videos of children, personal and business correspondence, invoices or thesis... if it’s important to you, it should be protected.

The easiest way is to use the Backup and File Manager. A much more convenient way would be to use of appropriate programmes. I would suggest you do not scrimp on this as you’ll be exposing the security of your critical data. It is better to purchase a well-known and professional programme, which gives you the option to ask questions and chat about any issues you may experience with real people. These tools have the functionality to back up individual disks, partitions and directories automatically at preset times. Also the checks of the backed up data is handled by these tools as well as being able to perform the restore itself.

A professional tool runs automatically after customising your settings. When using it for the first time a full backup of all built-in and attached disks is applied, thereafter incremental backups are regularly executed. And also a full backup will be done again after a predetermined time interval.

Which media type is recommended?

DVDs are not a very good choice for long-term storage, since they can only store a small amount of data and are very susceptible to corruption and external damage (e.g. from the sun or heat). Even USB sticks are rather unsuitable, since the built-in chips can be of questionable origin which could precipitate data loss or corruption. Magnetic storage (HDD) is easier to recover data than from flash memory (SSD, USB sticks) as SSDs present a very complex challenge for data recovery.

For SMBs and freelancers I would say that RDX drives (Removable Disc Exchange) are the first choice. The name speaks for itself: RDX is a removable media where the actual drive is internally or externally plugged into a special slot. The cartridges are robust and - as they are primarily designed for long-term backups - tested extensively prior to being sold. They are shock resistant and are also available in a heat-resistant version.

For businesses, using magnetic tapes to store data is very common. Magnetic tapes can store a large amount of data, are not expensive and are actually very durable – backup tapes can still be readable after at least 30 years. However, tape drives are not cheap, and handling them is much more cumbersome than with external hard drives. One other thing to consider is that when using tape media a regular check of the readability of the stored data is essential and should be included as part of the backup plan.

Image: Tim Reckmann /

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