You may be the network administrator for a large technology firm or simply a home office end-user, but chances are you store sensitive data on a computer hard drive somewhere. In this day and age where many people are going paperless with their records and other sensitive data, an important component of data management is data backup. In the past, nothing short of fire could destroy sensitive records filed away in a cabinet or lockbox. Hard drives, however, are machines that can wear out or fail and are subject to the ever-present threat of viruses, malware, and other infectious Internet threats.
There is a multitude of options for backing up your sensitive data. You could of course manually back up whatever files you deem necessary onto whatever media you prefer, such as flash drives or DVD's, but that would be rather inconvenient and inefficient in the long-term. More recent operating systems usually have an integrated data backup utility, such as the Windows Backup Utility. However, they are typically not nearly as fast at backing up data, nor are they as robust as full-featured 3rd party data backup software solutions.
Perhaps the most well known and widely used data backup software solution is Norton Ghost, from Symantec. It has a very robust feature set, and I would highly recommend it. In order to avoid exponentially increasing the length of this article, the best advice I can offer on choosing a data backup solution is research your choice as best you can, and learn the features of whatever piece of software you decide upon inside out.
Another very important factor is where you want your data to be backed up to. Another directory on the same drive, or even another partition on the same drive, is usually not a good choice. This is simply because if the drive were to fail from a hardware issue, obviously the backup would be just as compromised as the rest of the data on the drive, is that it's stored on it as well. Some suitable options for backup storage are a second hard drive in the same machine, a network drive (a server on your network), or storage space online on an off-site server.
Once you're ready to start a backup routine, you'll have to decide on what types of backups you want to include in your routine. In general, across all data backup solutions there are 3 types of backups:
Full backup - A complete set of all files you wish to back up. This is the starting point of any backup routine and creates the "reference copy" of all the data you chose to back up. Full backups are only necessary every once and a while.
Differential backup - This is a backup of all files that have changed since the last full backup. These are advantageous because they typically have reduced restore times in comparison to full backups and incremental backups(assuming you don't perform them too often).
Incremental backups - These back-ups any files that have been altered since the last backup, period. Whether it be full, differential, or incremental. These are good because they take the least time to complete, but have lengthy restore times.