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Test and Organize Backups on External Drives

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/4/2010

No matter what type of backup (or what combination of backups) you create you must test them regularly and keep them organized. Start by organizing backups stored on external or network drives.

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    Testing and Organizing an External Hard Drive

    Testing the data on an external hard drive is just as easy as testing the data on a CD or DVD; you just need to browse to it and see if the data is there. If it’s there, you only need to be able to open and use it. If anything ever happens to your PC, you can simply drag and drop the data to recover.

    Note: It’s important to actually open the data folder and then some data inside. Although it rarely happens, data folders and data inside the folders can become corrupt and you won’t be able to use them if this happens. Only by opening the data can you really ensure the data is reliable.

    Unfortunately, external drives almost always end up unorganized. You’ll likely have various folders copied in no particular order, zipped files next to Word documents, and randomly saved picture, music, and video files. You’ll probably also have files and folders on the drive you no longer need.

    As with other organizational tasks, avoiding the issue is the best option. To avoid creating an unorganized backup drive or to clean up one you already have, perform the tasks here in the following order:

    1. Regularly delete (or delete now) any files you no longer need.

    2. Create folders for the items you’ve backed up--Pictures, Music, Movies, Documents, Work, Clients, Ongoing Projects, Finished Projects, and so on--and move stray files and related folders into them.

    3. Create a folder called Mail, and move all of your e-mail backups into it.

    4. Create a folder called Internet, and move all of your Internet-related backups into it, including downloaded files.

    5. Create a folder called Microsoft Backup, and store backup files there you create with any XP or Vista backup utility. (Third-party backup programs should also have their own folder.)

    6. From the View menu, point to Arrange Icons By, and select Name to organize alphabetically or Modified to arrange from newest to oldest.

    7. When saving new backups, always browse to the correct folder or create a new folder that represents the data.

    Finally, to be on the safe side, borrow or purchase an external DVD+RW drive. Make copies of the data stored on your external hard drive. Do this once a year.

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    Testing and Organizing Windows Backups

    The only way to really test the backups you’ve created with any Microsoft backup utility is by restoring the data using the utility. For the most part, all you have to do is select the option to “restore”. You can choose to restore the data to its original location, an alternate location, or a single folder. For testing, I’ll suggest you choose to restore to a single folder. After the restore process, you can browse to that folder to see if the data was restored properly. (Of course, when restoring after a crash, you’ll choose to restore to the original location.)

    You’ll learn more about restoring (which is, in essence, the same as testing) in the final articles in this series.