Being the founder of a property management software business (LandlordMax), I can’t tell you how many times we’re contacted by people who’ve lost their data because of a hard drive failure, a complete computer failure, a virus, and so on. It happens all the time. So much so that a few years ago I wrote 4 Simple Steps to Protect Your Data From 99.9999% of all Computer Failures to help prevent this from happening to as many people as possible.
The good news is that today I’m seeing a lot more people pro-actively backing up their computers and their data. The bad news is that not all solutions are good. Whatever your backup solution is, you should test it before you NEED to use it. You might be surprised at how exactly it works. Or maybe it just simply doesn’t work. Maybe the automated backups aren’t actually backing up anything. Maybe it’s backing up the wrong files. Maybe the software you’re using is faulty. Whatever backup method, test it.
To give you an example, I was recently talking to a customer who was very active in her backup procedures. She knew that backing up was important, and she was very actively using a service to remotely backup her data in real time. I highly commend her for that, that’s better than most people. That’s exactly what we all want to see. I can’t praise her enough for being pro-active. And because of this she felt confident that her data was safe, which is completely reasonable, I would too.
However there’s one very big issue, and maybe you’ve already spotted it. If not, re-read the previous paragraph. Can you see it now? Her data was backed up in real time! If you think about it, this only protects you from a hardware failure or theft at best. And even then, if the harddrive is bad, you’ll still have the bad (corrupted) files overwrite your good files!! It only really protects you from a computer failure that’s very quick (power supply that shorts the machine) or theft. Maybe a few other situations, but it’s very limited. It doesn’t protect you from a bad harddrive, you’ll just push the same bad data to the backup service as the files get corrupted. It doesn’t protect you from a virus, the virus is just pushed over to the backup. It doesn’t protect you from accidentally deleting a file, the file is just as fast deleted on the backup!! Real time backups are good for backing up you system as it is exactly right now, good AND bad!
In other words, real time backups can be very limiting unless you can revert to a previous day, week, or month. And because most of these services are low cost, they don’t really offer these options. They just can’t, it’s not economically possible. For example, the solution use by the previously mentioned customer charges $54.95 a year for real time backups. If you look at the numbers, that’s less than $5/month for unlimited storage. I did notice that in her case the bandwidth was really slow, an 8MB file took about 15 minutes to restore. I would also assume support is about as good as $5/month hosting. But ignoring that, how can they feasibly offer tagged (dated) backups at those prices? Would most consumers pay $100/year for backups? My guess is probably not. Which means you won’t be able to revert to a previous version, just to your current version, whether it’s good OR bad.
Which means that if you overwrite a file, it immediately overwrites your backup. You can’t revert. You can only get what’s on your disk right now. The same is true if you’re infected. All you can do is get back the infected files. The only time it will save you is if you’re computer dies suddenly due to a hardware failure, theft, or other even less likely events.
So the moral of this post, whatever your backup solution is, I strongly recommend you verify it before you NEED to use it. You may be in for some surprises. The backup disk may not work. The backup system may not actually be backing up anything. Can you get a previous backup that’s not from today (in case you have a virus)? How long will it take you to get your computer back up (at 8Mb/15 minutes, a 1 GB backup could take days!!)? Don’t just think because you have a backup solution that you’re good to go, test it!