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Keeping Data Backup Storage - How Long is Long Enough?

written by: Jesma•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/20/2009

Backing up crucial data is very important, but knowing just how to go about it and how long to store your backups is a little trickier. This article offers methods to ensure your data is safe for years while not taking up very much space.

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    Data Backups

    If you keep any form of valuable or crucial information on your computer, like finance or tax records, documents, or even family photos, then you probably at the least know that you should be backing that data up. Several questions are raised when it comes to backing up data, however.

    • What should I use to backup my important data?
    • How often do I need to do a backup?
    • and, most importantly, How long do I have to keep Backup Data?

    Data can be backed up in a variety of ways. For home use, the most common data backup solution is an external hard drive. Some people who only have a small amount of crucial data to backup opt for CDs or DvDs instead, often rewritable ones that can be reused. Most home users do not need to use scheduled or automated backup software.

    The frequency of backups is entirely dependent on the needs of the user. Obviously, if you are not adding, modifying, or deleting crucial data on a daily basis then daily backups aren't necessary. As a rule of thumb, if you can't afford to lose it, back it up. For people who update their financial records on their computer regularly, this could very well mean frequent backups.

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    Storing Backed Up Data

    In the manner of our previous rule 'If you can't afford to lose it, back it up,' the rule for storing your data backups is 'If you can't afford to lose it, don't get rid of it.’ Determining what you cannot afford to lose is entirely up to you.

    If you decide that you can never get rid of any of your backups then it may begin to look like you will be forced to store a lot of backups. However, just because you backup data on a regular (possibly daily or weekly) basis doesn't mean that you are doomed to wade through thousands of disks, or purchase a new external hard drive every couple of months. There are affordable and convenient ways to ensure that you do not lose anything, and that your backup solutions take up minimal space. You can reliably backup data for years with as little as 1 external hard drive and 5 DVD-RW's.

    Using Windows built-in backup tool you can schedule daily backups of different types. Store all of your crucial data in one directory. Label 4 of your DVD-RWs with the numbers 1-4, and the last "Daily". The first thing you need to do is a normal backup of all of your crucial data to the external hard drive. Be sure to include the month in the filename. From here on out the only files that will be backed up are those that are changed. Schedule an incremental backup to a DVD-RW (1-4) once weekly. Every remaining day of the week do a differential backup to the "Daily" DVD-RW, being sure to over-write. Alternate the disk being used for the weekly incremental backup (1-4 represents the week of the month). Once per month schedule a normal backup to your external hard drive, and do not overwrite previous backups.

    This method takes determination and daily attention, but ensures that your data is safe and doesn't take up hardly any space, therefore allowing you to store your crucial backed up data indefinitely.