Help Desk

Computing & Information Services

Back Up Your Work

Making regular backups of your work is the most important thing you can do to protect your data.  We provide recommendations for students, faculty, and staff below:

Why should I back up?

Backing up your work provides insurance that you will be able to restore your work from a backup copy if the original is lost due to theft, accident, hardware failure, software bugs, or a computer virus. Your only hope of protection is a good backup!

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What should I back up?

At a minimum, you should back up your most important work and other files that would be difficult to replace (e.g., thesis, final papers, research data, address books, etc). You may also want to back up serial numbers and license codes for personal software, as well as preference files for specific software. If these files are backed up, reinstallation of your operating system and software will be much easier.

Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems store data for each user account in a specific folder. This includes files saved to the desktop, your documents folder, as well as some software preferences. Backing up this folder will preserve much of your user data.

  • On OSX, the user folder is found in /Users/<your_username>
  • On Windows, the profile folder is found in C:\Users\<your_username>
  • On Linux, the home folder is found in /home/<your_username>

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When should I back up?

You should back up often enough that a hard drive crash wouldn't be a disaster.  Once a week is a common choice, but pick what is right for you. The most important thing is to make it a regular habit, since you can't predict when something will go wrong.

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How should I back up?

You should keep several things in mind when choosing how to back up your important files:

  • Develop a quick and easy backup routine. The faster you can backup your work, the more likely that you'll actually backup your work regularly. It may take some additional effort to plan this routine, but it will pay off.
  • Backup software can be used to back up specific files and folders or even an entire computer. Software built-in to the operating system, such as Time Machine in OSX, Backup Utility in Windows 7, XP and Vista, and rsync on Linux may make it easier to implement a backup routine, especially for students. See our recommendations for faculty and staff below.
  • Don't back up your files on the same computer. Instead, back up your files on a separate disk (or disks) and keep them separate from your computer.  There is advice below on selecting backup media.
  • It's most important to have at least one good copy.  But it's even better to keep separate backups in two or more different locations, and to make sure one of them is separate from your computer at all times.

Recommendations for Faculty, Academic Staff, and Administrative Staff

CUS now recommends CrashPlan as an automatic backup system for faculty and staff. Learn all about CrashPlan here!

For users who require additional backups, CUS can provide backup software recommendations and an external hard drive. For Mac users, we recommend and support Time Machine backups.  For Windows users, we recommend a built-in program called Backup Utility. Contact CUS if you have questions about your backups.

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Recommendations for Students/Personal Computers

There are many different storage mediums that provide various degrees of backup protection, portability, and affordability. Choose a method that best meets your needs:

Name Capacity Cost Local/Remote Notes
Google Drive (Reed account) Unlimited Free Remote Automatically syncs files, saves old revisions, requires internet connection
Cloud Backup (BackBlaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan) Unlimited Varies Remote Data is backed up automatically, but this requires an internet connection
AFS 4GB Free Remote Requires internet connection
CD (burning instructions) 900MB ~$1.70 Local Portable, easily scratched
USB Flash Drive 1GB-1TB $3-$40 Local Fast, portable
External Hard Drive 50GB-8TB $30-$100 Local Fast, high capacity, somewhat portable

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Backup Tips

  • Don't forget to save a document frequently while working on it.
  • Make frequent backups.
  • Don't work directly off backup copies, especially those on the Home Server. Instead, copy files to your desktop first to work on them, and then copy them back when you’re finished.
  • Be very careful when copying files between one medium and another because you could accidentally overwrite the newer file.
  • Backup to multiple locations (e.g., external hard drive and Home Server)
  • Keep more than one old version of your most important and fast-changing documents (such as a paper or thesis).  This will provide protection against accidents while editing.
  • If you lack enough disk space, you should compress your files before copying them. There are many compression utilities that you can use including 7Zip (Windows), StuffIt (OSX), and p7zip (Linux). These utilities compress a large file or a large group of files into a single smaller file.
  • Generally, remote data is safer, because your data and computer are always separate. Data should be encrypted before uploading it to the cloud.

If you have questions about backing up your data, contact Computer User Services.

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