Do You Have a Backup – #2: What do I back up?

In the previous blog post on backups, we talked about the kinds of backups that might be used, including simply copying important files to somewhere, using backup software to copy both files and configuration settings, and making a full backup of everything on the internal drive that might even be bootable.

But what do we want to back up? That answer is one of the keys to defining a backup strategy. And the answer is “Whatever is important to you.”

No, I’m not weaseling out on you. Only you can know what files are important to you. Some of the important files could be your family photos, or genealogical research, or your Doctoral thesis, or the Great American Novel you are writing. Or on a more mundane level, it might be your copies of software registration emails, or your password files, or your class reunion addresses for all of your classmates. It could be something irreplaceable or something just close to you.

I know the value of backups because of my long career in information systems management. So, when I started with my first home computer, I already knew backups were important. I had all of my pictures not just stored on my hard drive, I had a copy of them on my backup drive. My disaster was that on the very day my hard drive died completely with no notice, my backup drive also died, and I ended up losing all of the photos, irretrievably. So now I make four separate backups of my photos. Yes, I’m paranoid about it. They were important to me and now they are gone.

So, think about your files, maybe with Finder open to remind you of what you have. I put things in three categories:  critical, non-critical but irreplaceable, and easy to replace.  The critical stuff I back up multiple ways, like my photos. I have two direct backups and two backups of the backups. All told, I have 4 separate external storage devices holding my photos. Remember, I’ve already lost photos before, so they get high value so I never face that again.  Also in that critical category are my financial files—taxes, business-related, accounting, etc. And my passwords are stored in a password keeper application that is backed up not only to those four external locations but to cloud storage as well.

Non-critical but irreplaceable stuff usually gets backed up just to two drives. One is with Time Machine and the other is a clone. (More on those later on.) These files aren’t critical, but if I lose them life gets a lot more complicated as have to prove who I am to get back to where I was. Examples are passport information, travel plans with reservations, vehicle data, ownership stuff. As I said, not super critical, but annoying to lose.

Finally, the rest of the stuff. The easy to replace, or non-critical stuff. That includes, for me, the operating system. “What?” you say? How can the OS not be critical? Well, consider that if I have a total system failure and lose the operating system, I can download it from Apple anytime, anywhere I have access to the internet. So, the system files don’t really fall into the critical, or even important, category for me. Now, if I were running a business and the cost of losing a day’s processing was, let’s say, in the $1,000 of dollars, I might think of the OS as a bit more critical, but for me, as a casual home user who surfs the net, reads his email and won’t be out a dime if the computer is down for a day to restore it, the OS isn’t that critical to me.

But it’s up to you, remember? So, take a look at your system, your files, your operation and categorize things into those areas as part of getting ready for a backup strategy.