The notion of backing up your data is very simple: Keep your data in more than one location. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, from network storage with your U: drive, to USB flash drives and external hard drives. However you do it, you want to make sure you never have important data in just one location.
If you don't have your data files stored in more than one location, you're betting that none of the following will ever happen to you.
- Hard drive failure
- Computer damage
- Accidental deletion
- Computer theft
It's a bad bet.
Where to Store Your Files
The first step in developing a back-up strategy is to organize how you store your files. Here are the basic guidelines.
For critical or sensitive data: your U: Drive or designated network storage space
Amherst College provides all users with private space on a network server called the U: drive. On Windows computers, this space is by default mapped to drive letter U: (for user files). The name has stuck, even on Macintosh computers (which don't use drive letters). You can mount your U: drive on your Mac and save the folder location to easily access it.
Storage capacity on your U: drive is small so you probably can't use it to store all your personal files. If you're a student, we recommend that you use your U: drive for your academic work files. For faculty, we recommend you put sensitive date such as grading files and letters of recommendations that should not be stored on your computer's hard drive. For staff, we recommend you use the U: drive for work files that you wouldn't normally store on your department drive.
Your U: drive is accessible from any computer on-campus, and for most users except those staff and faculty whose U: drives are on a non-VPN accessible server from off-campus via VPN. The contents of your U: drive is backed up every day by the IT department, so you don't have to worry about backing it up yourself.
Faculty and staff can also store files on department shared network space. Contact the IT Help Desk if you have network storage space requests.
For non-sensitive data: your computer's hard drive
First of all, non-sensitive data does not mean that it is unimportant, it's simply data that isn't covered by various federal and state privacy laws. This can include everything for music and picture files to 20 years of faculty research data. You store this data on your local hard disk, as there is usually far too much of it to fit on your U: drive.
It is the data stored on your local hard drive that exists in just one place and that needs to be backed up.
Backing up Your Hard Drive
Where to put your data
A typical computer hard drive can hold hundreds of gigabytes (GB) of data. To back it up, you need a something else that can hold hundreds of GBs of data. That something is an external drive.
An external drive plugs into your computer--usually with a USB cable--and acts like a second hard drive on your computer. However, we don't recommend that you use it as a regular hard drive; we recommend that you dedicate it to backing up the contents of your computer's internal hard drive.
Please note: The College network does not allow the use of external drives that are also wireless routers. Wireless routers attached to the Amherst network cause serious problems and can seriously disrupt or interrupt the operation of the network. An example of a disallowed external drive back-up device is the Apple Time Capsule.
How to get your data there
Once you have somewhere to place your back-ups, you have to make sure your data is getting backed up to it. The simplest option is to manually copy the files you'd like to back up. In this case, however, simplest is not best.
To back up your local hard disk to an external one, we recommend two easy-to-use yet powerful tools--SyncToy from Microsoft for Windows Vista or XP and Time Machine from Apple. Both have the added benefit of being free (SyncToy is a free download from Microsoft and Time Machine is included with the Mac OS). For Windows 7 or Windows 8 computers, use the back-up utilities that come with the operating system. The Windows Backup utilitiy has been greatly improved and works well for Windows 7 and 8.
The following links show you step by step how to back up your data with these tools.
- Windows XP and Vista - Back Up Data with SyncToy (external link to microsoft.com)
- Windows 7 - Back Up Data with Windows Backup (external link to microsoft.com)
- Macinotsh OS X - Back Up Data with Time Machine (external link to apple.com)
Note that most external hard drives come with more traditional backup utilities. Unless you have a good understanding of backup concepts, we recommend that you avoid these utilities.