Following the 3-2-1 Backup theory – 3 copies of your data: 2 stored locally, 1 stored offsite – your valuable data, including photos and documents, are protected. If a local hard drive fails, you can quickly replace it with the identical backup drive while you rebuild a new one. In the event you lose both local drives, you can rebuild new drives with your offsite backup. This insurance gives great peace of mind; but what about your computer’s operating system (OS)? If your computer’s hard drive fails, installing a new hard drive means you have to install a new OS along with your programs; Lightroom, Photoshop, and Third party plugins. Avoid this frustration by including an OS recovery plan in your 3-2-1 Backup. Here’s how to Build a Bulletproof OS Recovery plan.

Backup Software

Both Windows and Mac computers have built-in software to create a backup of your operating system. Windows 10 uses the older Windows 7 Backup and Restore application found in the Control Panel. Mac uses Time Machine, found in System Preferences.

Our goal is to …

  • Select the operating system to backup
  • Store the backup on an external drive
  • Schedule when the backup occurs; preferably at night


Backing up your Windows Operating System

Step 1: Create your first backup by running the Backup and Restore (Windows 7) application found in the Windows Control Panel. Select Set up Backup

Step 2: Select a backup location either on an external drive –direct attached storage (DAS), or on a network drive –network attached storage (NAS).

Step 3: Choose the files you want to backup with your operating system. Since we are creating an operating system recovery, select “Let me choose” and deselect all check marks. We only want to backup the operating system, all other files should be included in your regular backup plan.

Step 4: Schedule when you want the backup to take place. Select a time when your computer isn’t in use.

Decide how many backups you want to keep

Each time a backup runs, it stores another copy of the system files. This allows you to select which backup you want to restore. In the event one backup is corrupt, you have the option to choose another. Personally, I feel this is a little over kill. I choose to keep only the latest image and minimize space used. To choose to keep only the latest backup, select manage space from the backup and restore screen, click change settings then choose Keep only the latest image and minimize space used by backup.

Backing up your Mac Operating System

Backing up your Mac Operating System is lot easier using Time Machine. Simply turn Time Machine on, select an external or network drive and let it run. One drawback: Time Machine doesn’t have a built-in scheduler to run your backup. You can install TimeMachineScheduler to fix this.

Less options mean more disk space

Time Machine was created to be very easy to use. In doing so, it lacks options. One missing option is to control how many backups it keeps. Time Machine will keep backing up your files until eventually it has to automatically delete the oldest backups when the volume/disk you are backing up to becomes full. This sounds worst than it really is. Fortunately there is a simple solution.

Simple fix:

  • store your data files on an attached external drive
  • keep your documents, programs and operating system on a smaller internal drive
  • select a backup drive or partition a drive that is the same size as your operating system drive.

Automatically applying the 3-2-1 Backup Theory

Storing your operating system’s backup on a hard drive that is included in your 3-2-1 backup plan will ensures you have 3 copies of your OS: 2 stored locally, 1 stored offsite. This “Set it and Forget it” approach will keep your data and operating system files safe and secure.

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