Although making a “backup” goes to the heart of protecting computer data, creating a thoughtfully conceived “safety net” developed after an analysis of risks, needs and budgetary restraints, will minimize your frustrations, stress and computer “down” time.


Start by listing possible computer failures and data loss scenarios that may affect all of your devices, including your desktop and laptop computers and your cell phone and tablet. Talk to friends and family and search the internet for ideas. My list includes: internal and external hard drive failures, deletion of files, corrupted files, incomplete backups, inability to access data on an external drive, corrupted backups, failure to boot up, destruction of disks due to fire or earthquake, and loss due to theft. Also consider the impact of being unable to access data–for example, nonfunctioning computers mean the risk of extended downtime from work projects.


Once you have a list of risks you can determine what you “need” as part of your safety net, to address each of the items on your list. The internet, including posts on, will provide invaluable information as you develop your “Needs List”.

Some examples to consider:

  1. Complete Onsite Backups. Implement complete onsite backups of your computer hard drive.  Do this on separate external drives or a Drobo RAID system or similar, as protection from the failure of any of your drives. The recommendation for best practices is to have at least three copies of all computer data.
  2. Offsite Backup. Utilize offsite backup, in the event your onsite drives fail, are not accessible, or are damaged, destroyed or stolen. By way of example, I use cloud storage through “Backblaze”. I relied upon it when my computer’s logic board was replaced and my computer files were compromised. My external hard drives would not stay mounted due to the logic board failure and backup was inconsistent plus, as I will describe below, the data on one drive was totally inaccessible. The best practices recommendations are to store backups on two different media, and to store one copy offsite. Using external hard drives for backup plus cloud storage satisfies best practices guidelines.
  3. Bootable Drive. Create a bootable USB recovery drive (thumb drive) for your operating system, in case you are unable to boot up your computer.
  4. External Backup. Backup to an external hard drive that contains a bootable copy of your computer’s main hard drive. It will enable you to boot up immediately and get right to work using the external hard drive when your computer fails. I use Carbon Copy Cloner. If any of your software applications require activation to work, you may have to reactivate them with your license key when you are working off of the cloner drive.  If your software only allows usage on two computers, and you have installed the application on a laptop as well as on your computer hard drive, you may have trouble activating it. I actually experienced this problem with my Adobe products when my logic board was replaced and my software thought I was using a new computer.  I contacted Adobe Support and they helped me solve the problem.  I recommend keeping an activation keys file, containing all keys, in a convenient location in your working files.
  5. Create a Mirror. Mirror your every day working files on your backup disks so that you can find and restore deleted files easily. I can’t tell you how many times I have restored deleted files.
  6. What Kind?. Determine what type of backup to implement after you do a full backup (a backup of all files)–differential or incremental. Each differential backup saves all changes since the last full backup. Each incremental backup saves only what has changed since the last incremental backup. If any incremental backup file is corrupted, you may have to go back to the last full backup to restore your computer, which will increase the risk of losing data. In addition computer restoration may take more time. Differential backups take more time to complete and more space on your external drive. If you find this confusing, read about the different backups on the internet.
  7. How Often?  Decide how often the backup should occur. For example, do you want your system backed up hourly or daily? If you have been working all day on a project, but it has not yet been backed up, you have a risk of losing all work for the day. Also determine how often you should schedule a full backup versus an incremental or differential backup.
  8. Connection Type. Think about the speed of your system—how quickly does it backup?  Perhaps you should change from a USB 2 connection to a USB 3 or possibly a thunderbolt cable if you own a Mac. A slow, sluggish system means that a backup may not be completed before computer failure. Don’t forget to evaluate your internet upload speeds for uploading your data offsite.
  9. Trust But Verify.  Check your backup to make sure it is backing up; verify data and keep software up to date.
  10. Be Careful of Encryption.  Access to external drives may be problematic if you password protect your drive and if you replace the logic board or possibly hard drive of your computer. I was unable to access my encrypted external hard drive after my computer’s logic board was replaced–my computer and my password were no longer recognized. I suggest researching this topic before making encryption decisions.
  11. Offsite Backup. Move at least one of your external hard drives off site, when you leave town. I lock one of my external drives in a fireproof box inside a fireproof safe (double coverage recommended by company that sold me the safe as hard drives need greater protection from fire). I also give one to my brother to keep at his house. Consider leaving a drive in your safety deposit box when you leave town. Here’s a good article about offsite backup.


Although the price of external drives has gone down in recent years, backup systems can be expensive. Know your budget, and develop a plan that you can afford to implement. Do your best to address all your needs. If you cannot afford to buy what you need, prioritize your risks, and make difficult decisions on what you can and can’t do. But realize, something always fails, by computer or human error. If you decide to assume certain risks, you will have to endure the painful consequences.

As you analyze and implement your plan, research the products you buy carefully. Review failure rates of hard drives, and recommendations from recognized experts. A risk/needs assessment is ongoing and fluid, and should be re-evaluated on a continuous basis. There will be holes in your safety net. You can’t think of everything. At least you should sleep better at night knowing that you have carefully implemented a back up plan based upon your risk assessment, needs and budget.