Data backup is the first line of defense to securing your files so that you can survive a hard drive failure. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this goal. If you have a local computer specialist that is working with your systems, please talk to that individual about a sensible backup program for you.
Any backup is better than none. You can backup your data to tape, diskettes, Zip drives, another hard drive, to a CD, to another machine on your network, and you can even backup your files to a server on the Internet. No matter what choice you make, any backup is better than none at all.
What files should you backup? The most important files for you are the data files you create when you operate your e-mail software, word processor, spreadsheet, accounting software, etc. Not all files are automatically saved to your My Documents folder (in the case of Windows users) and you may have to do some investigation with your programs to find out where all your data files are. The programs themselves are not as important because, if you have a full failure of a hard drive, a restored program rarely will operate correctly. In order to restore your programs you should reinstall them from the original disks.
How often should you backup? That's a question only you can answer. How many days of data can you afford to do without? Some companies have backups running constantly so they can restore data to the minute. Most computer users don't have that level of need. Decide what's important to you, then create a schedule to backup your data on a daily or weekly basis.
Backup software is available in a variety of forms, both for tape and other methods. If you're not planning to use a tape backup, check out some of the software titles available in computer stores. Any software worth its salt will allow you to schedule automatic backup files at a frequency you select. You can use these software solutions to reduce the data to a single backup file of a size that will fit on some sort of removable media (Zip, Jaz, removable hard drive, Read-Write CD's, etc.) Typically, using the non tape method, you would create a backup file on your hard drive. Once complete, copy the backup file to your removable media.
Rotate your media so that you always have at least one backup copy from the previous backup. Many will use daily tapes, backing up on Monday to the Monday tape, Tuesday to the Tuesday tape, etc. That way, if you have a failure and your most current backup is bad, you get another shot with the one that's a day older.
You're not finished just because you made a backup! Two other essential steps must follow.
Testing your backup is a must! Try to restore your data to a different location on your hard drive, then test it by opening a few files. You don't want to restore a test to the original location because it will overwrite the existing files and that would be a terrible way to learn that your backup files do not have integrity.
Remove your backup copies to a location other than where the computer is. If you keep all of your backup copies in a media case at the same location as the computer, a fire, flood or theft could destroy both. If you have an office and a home in two different places, rotate your office backups between the office and your sock drawer. If you don't have the two-location luxury, create one with a friend or relative.