Backups on Neptun Devices
Creating secure backups of your data can be tedious, but particularly for people in an academic environment they are essential. Dealing with a corrupted seminar paper file can put your degree into jeopardy and losing data from an experiment can mean losing months or even years of work. To keep disaster from striking, you need to do backups that work when they are needed and that are frequent enough.
What is a backup
A backup is a secondary copy of your data onto a different storage medium in a different system than the original copy. If the original copy of the data is lost, it can be recovered from the secondary copy. Storing the original data on a RAID (an array of disks where the loss of a disk does not lead to data loss) or on a cloud drive that is continually synchronized only offers more redundancy and reliability, but it is not a true backup, since hardware failures or mistakes by the user, like accidental deletion of files, can still lead to data loss. However, since some cloud services offer versioning and a recycle bin, the difference between redundant storage and a backup is sometimes muddy. If you do not continually synchronize your local data to the cloud with a desktop client, the cloud can also function as a backup, but then you would lose out on the most useful features of the cloud. A good backup should offer recovery options if the original data is plagued by hardware failures, mistakes by the user, virus infection, theft, natural disasters, and anything else that might lead to data loss. Additionally, a backup strategy needs to be tested to actually work in case recovery becomes necessary.
A backup also needs to happen frequently enough so that it is useful in case of recovery. For a PhD thesis this might mean hourly backups, while your holiday photos may only need to be backed up a single time after you are back from your travels. A backup can also be implemented with a versioning system to allow you to access the state of your data at different times.
Which backup media to use
All backup media have their advantages and drawbacks. For students we recommend that you store your important data on your laptop and that you synchronize it to the cloud with a cloud agent. This data can then be backed up at home to an external storage solution like an external hard drive or NAS. This way, your data will survive the loss of two of your three elements of data storage (laptop, cloud, backup drive). Additionally, you are also safe from problems like accidental deletion and viruses. For people with access to university network storage, you can also back up your data to that location to add an additional layer of protection. If you have extremely important data, keeping multiple backups in different locations is advisable.
In terms of physical media, we would not recommend CDs, DVDs, or USB drives for backups, since disks are cumbersome to handle and USB drives often have some reliability problems. External hard drives and network storage, on the other hand, are a good fit. However, always keep in mind that all hardware can have malfunctions. Saving your data to a secondary cloud location without the use of a local sync client can also be a good idea.
Which software to use
Neptun customers are entitled to a free copy of Langmeier Backup which far exceeds the backup capabilities integrated into Windows. With Langmeier you can create backups with versioning of selected files or of your entire system and save them to all sorts of backup media and network destinations. Backups can be scheduled and automated, even if your backup media are not constantly attached to your laptop. Simple backup strategies can be implemented using the intuitive setup wizard, but you can also take a look at the manual to create more complicated backup strategies.
Users of macOS can take advantage of the powerful Time Machine backup software that is integrated into the operating system. Time Machine offers similar functionality as Langmeier and the tight integration into macOS makes setting up reliable backups very easy. You can find a guide on how to set up your backup here.
Linux users and macOS users who do not want to use Time Machine can use the command line program rsync to set up their backups. Rsync is just as powerful as Langmeier or Time Machine, but it needs a bit more work to set up for first-time users. You can find a newbie guide for rsync here, but there are also lots of videos about the topic on Youtube.
For users with encrypted disks in their device, it highly advisable to also encrypt the backup. Otherwise, there will be a hole in your security chain, particularly if you carry you backup drive with you. Both Langmeier and Time Machine have built-in encryption options.
We regularly encounter desperate customers at our help points who have had their data lost, corrupted, or stolen. In cases with defective SSDs or hard drives, some data can be recovered sometimes, but more often than not, the data is just gone. This can even happen with cloud storage when the cloud operator suffers from data loss or when an account is suddenly closed or inaccessible. Therefore, we highly recommend using a good and reliable backup strategy. You are welcome to stop by one of our help points if you need help setting up your backup or if you have questions about your current backup strategy.