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New Year's Backup Check

A backup that isn't checked, is not a backup. You need to know where your files are stored and be sure the important ones are backed up.

It's a good idea to check your backups at least once a year. Where are your files being stored? Are they actually getting backed up? Look and see that the backup files are a reasonable size. Check your local and cloud backups if you have them. Check images. I recommend this be done monthly, but I'm also a realist.

If I'm checking your backups, that doesn't let you off the hook. If you add a program that stores its files somewhere I'm not backing up, my backup checks won't discover the problem. I only check what we decided to backup, perhaps years ago.

What to Back Up

List your critical programs. Email, accounting, calendar and task lists, contact lists, documents, pictures, whatever they are. Then see where those files are being stored and check that you're backing up those places. If you don't know how to do this, call me and we'll do it together. Most programs allow you to store documents in the documents folder, but many put their files somewhere else unless you specifically change where they will be stored.

For example, here's four programs I require that save my data in peculiar places. I needed to find where the data is and make sure my backup systems were copying those places.
  • Essential PIM: Email, calendar, tasks, etc.
  • MoneyDance: Accounting
  • Joplin (my note-taking app)
  • Notepad++

I found the place they store my data and back it up. Additionally, all those programs have internal backup options and I have them back up to a folder called backups. Then, I back up that folder to an external drive, and to the cloud. It's often better to restore from the program's own backup than it is to restore from the actual data. If a program let's you setup a backup, use it. Other programs store in the documents folder. Pictures are usually stored in the pictures folder.

Many programs don't store their configuration files in the documents folder. If your program gets tweaked a lot, it is a good idea to figure out where they store the configuration (or options) file(s) and back it up as well.

You should be able to look at your cloud backup and your data backup and find recent files.

The perfect test is to restore it to a new virtual drive and see how it runs. But, I think, for my clients, simply checking the backup program's log files, and the copy on your external disk is sufficient.

Another useful backup is an image backup of your entire drive. If you do that, which I strongly recommend, you check that it is working.

Two Frequent Backup Mistakes

Some people confuse sync with backup. I sync my Joplin notes between my phone, tablet and computer. This is not a backup. This morning on my tablet I wiped out a couple paragraphs from a note accidentally. I tried to recover it, and failed. I quickly shut off my tablet hoping to do it before it synced to the cloud. I rushed to my Windows computer, but it immediately synced and so the note was missing paragraphs there as well. Fortunately I back up. I found the backup from last night and restored that note's folder. My paragraphs returned! I was happy.

A single copy in the cloud is not a backup. Cloud services sometimes fail and lose data. You could also make a user error and remove files. The basic rule is 3-2-1. Have 3 copies of anything important, on at least 2 different media and 1 offsite.

If your email, pictures or accounting are "in the cloud", don't assume the cloud service is perfect. If the files are important, you need a copy as well. You need to figure out how to make backups of the cloud-based files. Don't assume they are perfect. If they don't have a way to do that, look for another cloud service.

Remember, a backup that isn't checked, is not a backup.

Date: January 2023

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