How to Back Up Computer Data

Keep your data safe with these backup options

External hard drive
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If your computer were to fail today, would you be able to recover the data on it? If the answer is “no”, “maybe”, or even “probably”, you need a better backup plan! If your data is extremely sensitive or important to you, such as irreplaceable family photos or videos, tax returns, or data that drives your business, you should have multiple backup strategies.

Backup Strategies: Local & Online

The backup approach you’ll ultimately decide take depends on what you have access to, and options generally fall into two categories (both of which you should employ).

You can keep the data on your computer, physical devices you purchase and maintain like DVDs and USB sticks, and external hard drives that you connect to your computer. These are under your complete control and are generally within your physical reach. These kinds of backup are susceptible to the same things that can destroy your computer though, like fire, water damage, natural disasters, and theft, but are certainly convenient.

You can also back up data to the cloud. When data is “in the cloud” it is off site and off premise, so you don’t have to worry about the same natural disasters and physical theft that could compromise your computer destroying the backup too. This also places the responsibility of securing your data onto someone else. Companies that maintain cloud data have many safeguards in place too, far more than you could ever manage on your own.

Keep it Safe; Choose Two!

The best backup plans include both on site and cloud options. The main reason to use both strategies is to protect yourself in the rare instance when one of the backups fails. It’s incredibly unlikely that data in a cloud account would be lost, but it has happened. And of course, computers and external drives can be damaged or stolen. There are viruses to worry about too; having multiple backups gives you protections there as well.

Another reason to keep two types of backups is that it makes it easier to move data around when you get a new computer and want to transfer your old data to it, or, if you want to share specific data with someone else. Sometimes it’s more productive to copy specific files to and then from a USB stick than to try to sync parts of a backup from the cloud. Other times it’s better to simply transfer everything you’ve backed up, for instance, when setting up a new computer.

On Site Data Backup Options

There are many ways to protect your data at home or in the office, and on site. Here are some personal data management options to choose from:

  • Purchase and install a physical backup device like an external hard drive and copy important data to it yourself, manually. Position the drive as far from the computer as you can and off of the floor.
  • Copy sensitive and important data to CDs, DVDs, and USB drives and store those in a safe place, perhaps a safe deposit box.
  • Use a Windows backup program like File History or Backup and Restore for PC backup, or the Apple backup option, Time Machine for Macs. Store the computer backup on your external hard drive(s) or disc(s).
  • Backup data to a network device such as another computer in your home of office, and make sure there's a backup program running on that computer.
  • Use a third-party backup program to automate backups. See our Free Backup Software Tools for Windows if you're interested in this route.

Cloud Backup Options

You also need to include a cloud backup. One way is to use what's already built into Windows and Macs. Microsoft offers OneDrive and Apple offers iCloud. Both offer free storage plans. Saving there is as easy as storing to the local hard drive because it's integrated into the OS. If you use up your storage space, you can get a lot more for a minimal fee; generally, less than $3.00 a month. There are other cloud options though, including Dropbox and Google Drive. These offer free storage plans too. You can download their software and integrate it into the operating system, again, making saving data there a snap.

If you’d rather automate your backups, consider an online/cloud backup service. They’ll do all the work for you including the backup tasks, management, and securing the data. Check out our Cloud Backup Services list for a ranked and continually updated list of these services. If you're a small business, see our Business Online Backup Services list for plans more tailored for you.

Whatever you decide, put two types of backup strategies in place. It’s okay if you just save important data to OneDrive and copy it again to a USB stick. That might be all you need to backup your computer. If you need more though, options abound!