NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2008
Backup Your Computer with NTI
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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The oft repeated three most important words in computing are “Backup, Backup, and Backup”. Murphy’s first law of computing is, “A properly backed up hard drive will never fail, but as soon as there is not a current backup, the hard drive will always fail at the most inopportune time.” Another cliché is that there are only two types of hard drives, “Those that will fail and those that have already failed.”

Despite evolutionary changes in hard drive technology, especially in capacity, with terabyte drives now readily available and affordable (a terabyte is either 1000 or 1024 gigabytes, depending on the reference); hard drive life expectancy and failure rate is still a vital and contemporary issue that we all must ultimately deal with. Despite exercising proper precautions such as providing clean and uninterrupted power via a UPS (uninterruptible power supply), and adequate cooling, I still have had hard drives fail in my primary computers. The computer I am typing this column on has a three year old hard drive that has been heavily worked, but presently tests OK; despite that, I keep current backups of all critical files on my hard drive. As frustrating as it may be, hard drive failures are quite survivable provided a current backup is available. In addition to hard drive failure from heat or dirty power, data on hard drives can also be damaged or lost by external forces, such as fire, theft, flood, hurricane, or other maladies. As Hurricane Rita threatened the area, I performed another complete backup of my hard drive. When I complied with the mandatory evacuation orders for Rita, the very first item I packed in my suitcase was my external hard drive with my latest complete backup, a set of emergency recovery CDs, and other CDs containing copies of critical data files such as spreadsheets, tax information, and other important personal information that I had on my computer. While the data on the CDs were duplicate copies of what was also on the external hard drive, redundancy is a wise precaution to take for otherwise irreplaceable files. While my computer survived the ravages of Rita, many others in the region were not so fortunate, and lost years of critical data, family photos, music collections, family financial information, and other important data.

I have two external USB 2.0 hard drives that I use for backing up data, only one of which is plugged into the UPS, and connected to the computer at any given time. The other external hard drive is stored away from the computer, and periodically rotated with the one that is connected. External hard drives can fail also, and I do not want to be caught unprepared when my primary internal hard drive eventually fails. I use two separate backup programs from NTI (http://www.ntius.com) to backup my hard drive and its critical files, with each program providing different functionality and protection.

The program I predominately use to backup critical data files is NTI’s Shadow (currently version 3.7), currently available for PCs, Mac, and U3 compatible flash drives for about $20. Shadow does not perform a complete backup of the hard drive, but instead backups selected data files, selected formats (such as .jpg, .doc, .xls, etc.), or selected categories (such as photos, music, videos, etc.) to any desired device; my personal choice of backup device is to an external hard drive. Shadow is not a resource hog and does not adversely affect performance, and I have it running in the background whenever my computer is turned on; that way my files are being continuously backed up, including any new or changed files saved to my hard drive. Shadow backs up files in native format, which means that they can be read directly from the backup device without the necessity of any additional software or utilities. Recovering or restoring any damaged or missing data files on the hard drive is simple, accomplished by simply copying the desired files from the external device (or CD, DVD, flash drive, etc.) to the internal hard drive using Windows Explorer or any other file manager program. Another feature in Shadow is the ability to sequentially save up to 10 revisions of any data files; this column, for example, has already been saved to my external hard drive several times by Shadow, each additional save, up to the selected limit (uses “first in – first out, or FIFO”), to control the number of sequential saves. I just looked at my external hard drive and there are four previous “saves” of this current file I am typing and auto-saving every five minutes. If I wanted to go back to an earlier version of this column, I could very easily open it from the external hard drive, using a sequential copy saved by Shadow.

I use my other external hard drive to periodically make a full backup of my hard drive, sometimes referred to as an “image” of the hard drive. With an image, if my hard drive were to fail (and it eventually will), I could install a new hard drive in my computer, boot the computer with a bootable CD, and copy the image of my defunct hard drive from the external backup drive to the new drive. After restoring the image to the new hard drive, it will appear identical to the failed hard drive with all programs installed and running, and all data files in their proper places. My chosen program for this backup function is NTI’s Backup Now, currently in a newly released version 5. The new NTI Backup Now 5 comes in two versions, the $50 Standard Edition, and the $100 Advanced Edition. Some might feel that spending $50 or $100 for backup software may be expensive, but the cost of losing data, or recovering data from a dead hard drive, can be many times that.

The Standard Edition is a comprehensive and adequate backup utility with a variety of features. It can backup selected files and folders, filter by file type, backup to almost any type of device (hard drive, CD, DVD, Blu-ray DVD, etc.), perform incremental backups (only backup files that are new or changed since the last backup; this is what I do on a regular basis), span across multiple drives or discs (if one is filled, another can be used), encrypt the backups, and backup across networks. The Advanced Edition does all of that, plus offers the additional functionality of continuous or real time backups (like Shadow), file version control (also like Shadow), can create complete images of the hard drive, offers disaster recover utilities, an open file backup (can backup files that are write protected at the time of backup), and “Test Drive Utilities” to check the functionality and condition of any backup media.

On my computer I have the NTI Backup Now 5 Advanced Edition installed, because I choose to have the increased functionality. I use the Advanced Edition to periodically (about monthly) make a full backup or image of my hard drive, and about weekly, I perform an incremental backup, which backs up any new or revised files to one of my external hard drives. I also used Advanced Edition to create an emergency or rescue CD or DVD, which may be necessary to boot the computer with a new replacement hard drive installed, and then restore the backed up image. On a continuous basis, I have Shadow running to make contemporary and real time backups of all of my critical data files to my other external hard drive. In the event of a catastrophic hard drive failure or other major damage, I can be up and running in a few hours, having lost nothing but the restore time.

It may be a slight inconvenience in time to create and maintain backups, and a moderate expense to have backup software and hardware installed and running. This inconvenience in time, and the cost, is very minor when compared to the aggravation, and likely major expense of a catastrophic data loss. Whatever hardware and software you choose to use, just remember to backup, backup, and backup. It is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

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