A backup is like religion - when you need it most and don't have it, you become a true convert and wonder why it took you so long. I've had my bacon saved by a backup more times than I would like to count. Take it from personal experience and do a backup now before disaster strikes. And be sure about this, disaster will strike!!
Maybe you've been thinking you're safe and you can just reload your system if something goes wrong. Sure you can reload your OS from an Apple restore disk but what about your personal data? What are those pictures from your last vacation worth to you? How about all your music or video files? Some are irreplaceable and if you lose them, they are gone forever. So protect yourself, your pictures, and your data, and do a backup.
When starting a backup for the first time, one of the things to decide is what are you going to back up to. Will you backup to a DVD or CD? Will you backup to an internal or external hard drive? Maybe you should use one of the many online backup services. My answer to these questions is: Yes! All of them should be part of your plan. If you think that's overkill then you've never had your hard drive crash and loose all your data. By spreading out your options you get the best chance to recover your data when things go wrong. With the right backup plan it won't be a chore to have multiple backups. So let's talk about those destination choices.
Using DVDs for your Backup
If you have a 1TB hard drive and want to backup all your data to DVD it will take a while. Oh, and by the way, you will need over 200 DVDs. 200 DVDs is two 100 packs worth of disks and at Costco sale price it will run you about $40 for every backup. That isn't a lot of money to keep your files safe but in this economy it's not chump change either. Because of cost and time you may be tempted to only backup part of your data. That's OK. Having some of your data backed up sure beats having none of it backed up. Just be sure to store your DVD/CD somewhere where they will be safe.
One thing to consider about DVDs is that the data stored on it may not be as permanent as you think. Did you know that DVDs fail? Over time, even if the disks aren't scratched or broken, DVDs can stop working and that time varies by manufacturer. "Only 47 percent of the recordable DVDs tested indicated an estimated life expectancy beyond 15 years. Some had a predicted life expectancy as short as 1.9 years." Do you really want to risk losing all your data after only 2 years? All in all backing up to DVD can be an easy way to backup smaller amounts of specific data but it isn't the best way to do regular backups of all your data.
Backing up to a Hard Drive
Backing up to in internal or external hard drive is probably your best option for backing up everything you have. Hard drives are cheap these days and run you pennies per GB. Backup is fast, convenient and allows you to have incremental backups. You can backup every hour if you want which will allow you access to the most up to date files if you need them. If you use Apple's Time Machine you won't even have to buy software. It's included with the OS. The big down side is safety. Aren't you backing up because you fear your main hard drive will fail? And now you are trusting another hard drive to backup to. So using a hard drive is cheaper and faster than DVDs but there are still risks.
There are other safety considerations other than outright hardware failure. Because hard drives are attached to your computer they might perish along with the computer in a fire or flood. In the event of theft they might be stolen along with your computer. If you want 100% assurance that your data will be there when you need it you may need to make multiple backups and keep one hard drive off site.
Off site Backup
So one key to a successful backup plan is to have off site storage of your data. You can backup some of your data to DVD and store it somewhere else. If you can afford it, buy two hard drives. Keep one and do regular daily backups and use the other to do a full backup, then have a friend or relative keep it at their house. The problem with that is both DVDs and hard drive off site backups is that you need to continually do a manual backup and move it to another location. Unless you do it frequently your data will be out of date when you need it. Maybe one of the online backup services is a better choice. Especially if you are a procrastinator and won't don't make that second backup when you should.
There are a lot of online backup services available. Some, like Apple's own MobileMe, have a limited capacity. Others like Carbonite, Mozy or Crashplan have the ability to backup your full hard drive but you pay a lot more for the service. Another thing to consider is security. Do you trust the online backup with your personal data? Are you SURE no one will have access to it that isn't authorized? Your data may be encrypted but there have been many cases about hackers getting personal information from online services. Make sure you don't delude yourself into thinking that no one would ever be able to get to your data. Just because some online company assures you that will never happen doesn't mean it won't happen. Online backup is a great solution if you have the money to spend, a fast Internet connection and are willing to trust an online service with your precious data.
As you can see each backup destination has some gaps. But if you use a combination of all three backup types you can cover those gaps and give yourself the best chance of recovering data when you need to.
I've only scratched the surface of the backup topic. Over the next few days I'm going to go into more depth and publish a series of articles about how to do backups, what software you can use and some easy methods to get started. I hope you'll be back to read them.