You need multiple backups to adequately protect your data from disaster. Your computer normally stores your working data such as photos, documents, and data files. You must first protect your data in case your computer fails. There are a variety of backup systems including:
- External Media: Most computer have CD or DVD drives. These devices are cheap and reliable but have limited storage capacity. When you discard old backups be sure to destroy them. If you just tossed your discs in the trash then a clever dumpster diver could abscond with your data and create lots of unpleasantness. Be sure to break old discs and be aware that breaking discs can create plastic disc shrapnel.
- Thumb Drives have limited storage but can work very well for your critical data such as annual data.
- External Drives have much more storage capacity. Thumb drives can work for small amounts of data but they are more expensive, slower, and will eventually wear out. USB drives store much more data, connect via a USB port, come in various sizes from large to mega-giganto, and start at around $60.
- Cloud and Internet can be used for external storage. Cloud backup companies save your data on secure servers that are protected, backed-up, and co-located (redundant server in different geographic locations). Remember that cloud backup is only as good as the company that stands behind it. You may not find out if their services are adequate until after a disaster. If they were not as good as advertised then your data may be compromised or gone. Companies also get bought and sold. Your backup company may be solid when you join and turn subpar over time.
- Multiple Backups are required regardless of the backup method used. Cloud backup companies normally do multiple backups but access to your data is only as good as your Internet connection. I prefer physical backups rather than using the cloud. If you use an external drive then you MUST have multiple back-ups. Personally, I have my working data in my computer, a local backup drive, and another backup drive in a safe-box at the bank.
Which method is best? It depends on the amount of data, the value of that data, and your personal comfort level. For low volumes of data CD/DVDs or a couple of thumb drives might be fine. If you have critical data then you may want to use multiple external drives or the cloud.
While your needs may differ from mine I like using multiple USB drives. One drive resides in my home office and one is stored in a safe box at the bank. If the home drive is destroyed I have the off-site backup at the bank. I have a large amount of data (mostly photos). I do NOT like cloud storage because it is only as good as the company that owns and maintains the servers. Also, if I needed to restore all of my data it would take considerable time and bandwidth to download a few hundred gigabytes from the cloud. For me, multiple USB drives work best, are flexible, and are very cost effective.
I keep my critical data on a non-descript thumb drive that is difficult to find. This thumb drive contains my tax records, receipts, etc. Never keep this type of data on your working computer. I copy the contents of the thumb drive to my archive drives when I do my normal backups.