How To Plan A Backup Strategy For Your Digital Content

In this article, I will show you how to plan an effective backup strategy for all your digital content like documents, music, pictures, videos etc. We will discuss storage options, how to cost them and which ones to choose. What to backup and how often. Whats the difference between full, differential and incremental backups. When to use compression and when not to.  

Why You MUST Have a Backup Strategy Up And Running

In the years that I have been working with customers in my software business, I have encountered a number of clients who have lost their important data and media mainly due to hard disk failure, virus attack and theft of their laptops. I have also known a few who lost their data due to natural disasters like floods, fires and earthquakes. In an event like this, not only can you use your work data but you could also lose family pictures and videos that are simply irreplaceable.

File Protection

Data lose can easily be prevented if we only put in place an effective backup strategy before disaster strikes. There are a number of good quality tools and online storage service providers out there who make the task of backups and restore really easy and almost foolproof.  All it takes is for us to be a little proactive about this and get a backup plan up and running before its too late.

Your Storage Options

Local Backup

When it comes to backup storage for your digital content, we have a lot of options like DVD’s, USB flash drives, external portable and desktop hard drives, network attached storage (NAS) etc. These are generally classified as Local Backups as they are plugged in or attached to the computer when backing up. While they offer some protection from a virus attack or hard disk failure, they still don’t offer much protection from theft and natural disasters.

It is a common practice to regularly backup to an external hard drive and bring home that hard disk to form an offsite backup. For very vital data, some people would take the extra measure of taking a trip to the bank and drop the backup drive in their safe deposit box and rotate with another drive for the next backup.

Online Storage or Backup

In the last few years there has been another option that is gaining popularity very quickly called the Online Storage Service or Remote Storage Service. These are offered as a service by commercial grade data centers. Basically you sign up for a plan with the service provider where you pay a monthly or annual fee, you are allocated storage space on their secure data center. You send your data over the Internet for storage. Many of these service providers also provide free storage quota from 2GB to 7GB.

Which Storage Options To Choose

It would be great to just dump everything in the online storage service and forget about it but you need to think this through.

  • On line storage is still relatively expensive compared to local storage. For example, a 1000GB external hard disk will only set you back about $100. Conservatively, the lifespan of this hard disk may be about 3 years.  One of the cheapest Online storage currently (Google Drive) for 1000GB will cost about $600 per year. That’s $1800 over 3 years for online storage vs $100 for local storage.
  • Some Internet Service Providers only give you a limited amount of downloads and uploads per month. If you have a Broadband Internet plan where you have a set quota per month for downloads and uploads then you must work within these limits when you plan your backup strategy. Yes that’s right, your online backups will count towards your monthly uploads so don’t get caught.
  • Should you need to do a quick restore, a local backup will be much faster to restore than an online restore. Having said that, with online storage, your content is always available as long as you have Internet access. You don’t have to restore everything in one go. Just request the files as and when needed.

If you have the budget for it with fast and unlimited Internet access downloads/ uploads, then by all means do all your backups to a online storage service. If you are based in areas that are prone to floods, earthquakes hurricanes then online backups are the best option.

I like to use a combination of online backup and local backup for my backup strategy. My media of choice for local backups are external desktop hard drives which works out to be the cheapest per GB. DVD’s are very unreliable and make a poor choice as I found out the hard way. USB Flash drives are an expensive storage option per GB when compared to hard disks. Its only good for backing up small amounts of data.

For local backups, call me paranoid but I like to have at least 2 external hard disk and rotate between them. When finished backing up, don’t leave it next to the computer that you just backed up. Store it at another office. If its your own data, take it home so that you have an off-site copy. This protects you from thefts, fire and other disasters.

What To Backup Locally and What Goes Online

Local Backup – I backup all my digital content here. Documents,  work, projects, databases, music, pictures, videos etc. TIP : If your computer has a USB 3 port, purchase an external hard disk with a USB 3 connection and your backup could be about ten times faster. It doesn’t take long to backup a huge amount of data locally especially if you have a USB 3 connection and you do not compress it.

Online Storage – I like to use this for essential content and content that I need to access from other computers or mobile devices. Things like pictures, videos are also a good choice as it can be viewed from any device like your Ipad on Android tablet devices. Document and spreadsheets are also a good choice. Live database files like Quick Books and Access data files are a poor choice and do not sync well. Do NOT put live database files in a sync folder as this may corrupt the data. It is okay to periodically make an archive or zip copy of the data files an put that in a sync folder.

One at a time, right click your Documents, Music, Pictures and Video folders and note down how much space you need to store all of them online. Then have a looks at your service providers plans and see if you can fit everything on it.

Pick a budget/ plan that you are  comfortable with. If you can fit everything on that budget, great. If not, you need to prioritize. Things that you need to share across your devices and computers should be your top priority for online storage. Videos also take up a lot of storage space you may want to leave this out for a start and leave that for local storage.

Backup Up Types And Lingo

There are a few types of backups that you need to be aware of. These are essential terminology used in backup utility programs so its good to know what they mean.

Full Backup – All files in the source are copied to the destination each time the backup is run.

Differential Backup – A full backup is done the first time, for subsequent backups, the source is compared with the last full backup. Only changes are copied. Differential backups are significantly faster than full backups.

Incremental Backup – A full backup is done first. For each subsequent backup, the source is compared with the last backup. Only changes are copied. Incremental backups are faster than the Full backups and usually faster than Differential backups.

When To Backup ?

With Online storage, there is no need to think about this at all. Backups are usually done in real time. This means, when the system detects a change in a backup or sync folder, it uploads your changes to the storage server right away as long as you are logged in to the computer.

For local backups, depending on the tools you use for local storage, you may need to decide on how often you need to backup. If the data or work is frequently updated you may need to do it as often as once a day or more.

When To Compress ?

Compressing files (like zipping) before storing can save you significant storage space and reduce your Internet upload data count. The same files stored compressed can occupy as much as only 25% or less of the same files stored uncompressed. Needless to say, you save considerably on your storage cost by doing some compression on your files before backing up. Also compressing your files before uploading can also lower your upload and download Internet access usage if your are on a quota.

Since external hard disk are dirt cheap these days, I prefer not to compress anything on local backups. Using backup tools that I will discuss later, I make a verbatim copy of my work onto my backup hard drive as it is, uncompressed.

With on-line storage, I’m a little selective. Files that I want to access on other devices are placed on my online storage sync folder uncompressed. These include current work, pictures and videos that I want to view on my other computers and portable devices.

For dated work that I hardly access but want to archive I like to compress them. Some files used on the Internet are already highly optimized and not worth compressing. You will not gain much additional storage by compressing these files. Files not worth compressing include MP3 (Audio), MP4 (Video), PDF, JPG, GIF, PNG (Pictures).


Most online storage service provider state that our content will be encrypted when stored on their servers. Most also say that our content will be encrypted during the upload journey to their cloud server. However it you have very sensitive content that you intend to store on an online storage facility you may still want to encrypt them before it is placed in your sync or backup folder as an added security measure. Note that if you forget your encryption password, you are will NOT be able to access your data and all your effort backing up will be for nothing.

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Demo On How To Backup Your Files And Media