One reason people put off making backups is that they take time—time during which you can’t use the computer. With the USB 1.1 connection between my current laptop and my external hard drive, a complete Ghost backup of my half-full 20 GB hard drive takes about 90 minutes. Even with the FireWire connection from my late computer it took 45 minutes. It should hardly surprise anyone if, rather than doing it right before or right after I send out these reminders, I save my weekly Ghost backups for my lunch break or my trips out to do errands rather than doing them during my regular working hours.
The more data you have, the longer it takes to back up. The longer it takes to back up, the more likely it is that the backups will run over into the time when you need to use the computer. If backups interfere with your work time, you’re less likely to make backups. But if you don’t make backups, you risk going out of business if your computer crashes and you lose all your data.
How do you keep your computer up and running during business hours, but still back up your data frequently? This is why differential and incremental backups were invented. Instead of copying everything, these kinds of backups only copy the files that have changed—or possibly only the actual bytes within the files that have changed. Unless you change every file every day, a differential or incremental backup will be much faster to create than a full backup, and give you more time with your computer.
The problem is that differential and incremental backups are slower to restore from than full backups, because you first have to restore the most recent full backup and then to restore the increments. That means keeping track of more tapes, CDs, or files on external drives, and comparing dates on copies of files. And the more things you have to keep track of, the more room there is for mistakes.
It’s much easier to put your computer back the way it was if you have a full backup, and better yet a complete image of the hard drive. Restoring from my 90-minute Ghost backup takes less than 30 minutes, and it puts everything back: the operating system, the software, and the data (audio recordings, pictures, word-processing files, web pages, and so forth).
I’m not normally willing to take the 90 minutes to make that backup more than once a week, so if I relied on that alone, I could lose a week’s worth of work—which would be a lot, given how much I use my computer.
So I have another program that copies my most important files to my external drive every time I start Windows. It compares what’s on the laptop with what’s on the external drive and copies all new and changed files. This takes about 10 minutes. It would be less than that if it weren’t for the Outlook PST file, but that’s the file that changes most often and one which contains some of the most important information. Having those copies has saved me from the consequences of accidental deletions more than once, so it’s worth that 10 minutes two or three times a day.
Backing up only your most important files—which is what most online backup services do for you—does insure that you won’t lose anything irreplaceable. The downside is that if your drive fails or your computer is physically destroyed, you still have to spend anywhere from several hours to several days reformatting and reinstalling your drive. That’s more down time than most of today’s internet-dependent businesses can afford to lose. And that’s why it’s worth taking that 90 minutes once a week to create a drive image, especially if you only have one computer.
Which is more important for your business when choosing a backup system: the time it takes to back up, or the time it takes to restore? If you’ve never thought about it, now is a good time to start.