Choosing a backup system

Tips & Hints

Backup systems

24 July 2005

It’s nearly four years since we last looked at backup systems and in that time costs and technology have changed dramatically.  

When choosing backup systems, you have to decide between cost, portability and capacity. Naturally your backup has to have enough space to fit your data and the system needs to be within your budget. Portability is important because a backup is no good if gets damaged, lost or stolen with the computer.

Portability is one reason why tape is still the choice for many small businesses. While it's not cheap (around $2,000 + $500 a year on backup media) tapes fit into a pocket or handbag and the backup process is easily automated. Tapes do have some disadvantages in the difficulty in restoring data and the risks that tape backups don't always work.

The fastest growing method of backup is external hard drives. We're particular fans of these, but they do have the drawback of being larger than tape or CD/DVD. The mini hard drive which fit in the pocket or handbag are perfect for off site storage although they are little pricey.

CD and DVD burning is excellent for archiving and small business backup. Coupled with an external drive, this is probably the best small business backup option. Dual layer DVDs fit 8Gb of data, are portable and easy to recover data from, their disadvantage is that it's difficult to automate the burning process.

Flash disks have replaced floppies and zip drives. They are cheap and very portable with 1Gb and 2Gb capacities becoming common. These are perfect for backing up smaller documents, accounting data and other critical information.

Flash disks

For smaller files and businesses, flash drives are the ideal backup, small, easy to use and cheap (free in many cases.) Flash disks just need to be plugged into a USB port and they behave like any other drive. Users of older computers may find their systems don’t work well with newer USB equipment.

Expect to pay from $50 for a 128Mb flash drive up to $500 for a 2Gb drive. Different models are suited to been kept on keyrings or in bags. Choose the size that will fit the data you need to backup.

CD and DVD-Burners

Most modern computers come with a CD or DVD burner. In fact, we’d recommend every home computer should have one. A CD can backup up to 650Mb of data, a single layer DVD 4.3Gb and a dual layer 8Gb.

This is probably the most popular backup system for small business and homes. The disadvantage is that it is very difficult to automate a CD/DVD backup and the software is often not the most user friendly. The advantages are that disks are portable and cheap.

CD burners usually cost around $70, DVD burners around $150 although installation will cost more. External burners are around $100 more. Most newer computers will come with some sort of burner included.

External Drives

Recent years have seen external hard drives plummet in price. These are now an excellent way of backing up data. The advantage with them is they offer huge storage capacities, against them is that they are not particularly portable.

External hard drives cost between $150 and $800 depending upon the data sizes. Smaller, more portable external hard drives cost between $200 and $600 although these have smaller capacities. The smaller drives are a better investment if you want to make sure your data is taken offsite.

Tape Drives

For businesses tapes are still one of the most important backup methods. While they are expensive, sometimes unreliable and the user software is usually dreadful, tape works best for automatic backup. We recommend tape for businesses but it is essential that businesses test their tapes at least quarterly.

A tape drive will cost around $1300, the tapes to go with it will cost between $50 and $150 each depending on the capacity and technology, we’d recommend a minimum of five tapes. Software is usually included with the tape or operating system, but specialist backup software can cost between $300 and $1000.

Backup needs vary with the needs of the individual computer user. So only you will know which works best. For many homes and businesses we find a combination of the above methods work best.
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