I’m not going to lecture you on all of the reasons why you need to back up your computer, because you already know you should. Instead, I want to focus on what you need to do in order to keep your files protected. Ultimately you want to be in a place where a hard drive failure, or lost computer will not wreck your entire world. If your computer fails, for whatever reason, you will have a means to get your files back if you just follow a few simple steps, which I have outlined below.

I would love to say that there is a simple one click “Backup” button on your computer that will magically backup all of the files, but in reality that just isn’t the case. It may not be a single button, but it is easier than you may think. Let’s walk through the steps together.

Step 1 – Buy a Backup Device…or Two

There are a lot of backup devices to choose from, which one you choose is ultimately a personal preference. I will share some pros and cons of the different options to help you with your decision. One thing for sure, you need to select a device that is capable of storing all of your data times two at a minimum, in order to allow enough room for growth. I would recommend purchasing two of whatever device you choose,  which will allow you to rotate your backup devices. The last thing you want, is to go to all of the trouble of backing up your data, only to have your backup device fail, leaving your backups useless.

Here are a few backup device options:

  1. CD /DVD / Blue-Ray
  2. USB Flash Drive or Thumb Drive
  3. External Hard Drive
  4. Network Attached Storage (NAS)
  5. Tape

CD / DVD / Blue-Ray: This is bar far the easiest backup media to come by, as most everyone has a stack of CDs or DVDs stored somewhere in their home or office. Optical discs are the most cost-effective option although they do have a few downfalls. The biggest issue I see with this type of media is storage capacity, or lack there of. Because of their smaller file capacity, you may end up needing more than one disc for a backup. If your backups are scheduled to run at night, it can cause issues with your backups running properly, as you won’t be around to swap out the discs. Also if you are not organized in your labeling and storage, it may be hard to remember which disc or discs to use, should you need to restore.

USB Flash Drive: Flash Drives, also known as Thumb Drives are a great option in that the device is highly portable, yet small enough to keep attached to your computer for regular backups. I would recommend using a 3.0 USB as they are much faster than 2.0 USB. The primary con with this media is their durability. They are more prone to accidental damage than other devices.

External Hard Drive: Depending upon how much data you need to backup, an external hard drive may be a viable option for you. They are relatively inexpensive, have a higher storage capacity than flash drives and are also portable (although they may not fit in your pocket or dangle from your key chain).

Network Attached Storage: NAS devices are a great option for small businesses or home offices as they allow you to save data from multiple computers (or servers) on a network to a single device. They are a little more difficult to setup but once configured, they are really a set it and forget it solution. They are also portable and great for offsite backup storage.

Tape: Tape drives are most suitable for offsite data archival purposes as they have a longer shelve life and are very durable. The initial investment for tape is a bit higher than just purchasing a NAS device, but replacement media is cheap.

Still not sure what option to choose, explore the different backup devices in more detail.

Step 2 – Select a Backup Software Program

There are a lot of backup software programs to choose from. Even Windows 8 has its own built-in backup utility, but it is not as comprehensive or versatile as professional backup software programs. Only professional backup solutions will give you true backup automation with easy restoration, plus disaster recovery, file versioning, virus-free backups and more. When selecting a backup software program, there are a few features to look for.

Automatic Backup Scheduling

The backup software should allow you to schedule your backups to run automatically on regular intervals. This is especially useful if you want to leave your storage device attached to your computer for backups (recommended). If you set up your backups to run and the device you set it up to save to is not attached, it will fail.

Incremental Backups (and Differential Backups)

Another feature, although common is incremental backups. Rather than doing full backups every time, you want the ability to just backs up the data that has changed since your last backup (whether full or incremental). Incremental and differential backups are both smaller in size and faster to run than full backups. Some backup programs will even allow you to backup files that are currently open, which is a great added benefit for those of us who keep files open for extended periods of time.

File Versioning

When you accidentally save over that presentation you labored over all day, you’ll find this feature essentially useful. File versioning essentially gives you the ability to roll back to an earlier version of your file so you can pick up where you left off, rather than starting over from scratch. Not all backup software programs will include this, but file versioning will let you find and restore historical versions of a file. It shouldn’t matter when or where the files were backed up in order to roll-back to earlier versions of your files.

Disaster Recovery / Image Backups

Another feature that is a must-have is disaster recovery. Some programs call it an image backup, or disk image or even system backup, but essentially it is the same thing. Image backups allow you to create an exact copy of your old system including your operating system, applications, files, images, videos, emails, personal settings, preferences and more. This allows you to recover everything exactly as it was. Where some programs differ, is in their ability to restore to systems with dissimilar hardware. Not all programs allow you to do this, so be sure if find one that does. In reality you are not going to purchase the exact same computer when it comes time to restore your files. If your computer crashes, you want to make sure that you can get back up and running quickly on any computer.

Step 3 – How to Backup Your Computer Files

Now that you have selected your backup software, here are the basic steps that you will need to follow in order to perform a backup. These may vary between specific backup software programs, but these are essentially the steps needed to perform a backup.

Key Steps to Perform a Backup:

  1. Install the backup software you selected
  2. Plug in your backup media device
  3. Launch the software
  4. Select the files you want to backup
  5. Select the destination of your backup (your backup device)
  6. Select when you would like your backups to run
    Recommendation: Run full backups once a week and then just backup changes on other days (incremental or differential backups).
  7. Schedule your backups (this will automate your backups for you)
  8. Run your first backup
    Recommendation: Switch out your backup devices regularly so you always have a backup of your backup.

If you decided to go with NovaBACKUP software, we have written a complete step by step guide on how to backup your computer with NovaBACKUP.

A full Disaster Recovery image backup is the only way to protect your complete system so that you can get back up and running immediately after restoring your system. All of your applications, photos, emails, videos, files, bookmarks, setting and your operating system can quickly and efficiently be restored as if nothing ever happened. Keep in mind, if you have made changes to your documents since you created your image backup, you will also need to use your file backups to restore your files.