Why People Don’t Take Backups
Originally I had intended to call this article “Why My People Don’t Take Backups” but I didn’t want to give the impression that people call me El Presidente. My people are individuals who I meet when giving office productivity training. Normally this training is conducted over five half afternoons with a half hour tea or coffee break. I feel that breaks are critical towards rapport building. I find that after the first or second break sessions, shy people have a greater probability to open up and participate more during class sessions. People who are afraid of asking a question for fear of making a statement that will be so utterly stupid that everyone else will ridicule them, will, during a break session, ask their question in private and get an answer to something that has been keeping them from using the product to complete a task they regularly perform. For many, these sessions constitute a time to ask questions related to computing in general and by the third day questions originating from spouses or children are floored. On my part, break sessions allow me to get a better understanding of what people use the office product for and their general level of computer literacy. I need to clarify that break sessions are also a time for chatting about a multitude of topics that would have made the headlines as well as a time to move away from the computer.
My people are working individuals who have completed secondary education but who, in their majority, have not necessarily attended university. Some of the people take or have taken some sort of adult education training besides this training. Many have a home computer which they share with at least one other person. The absolute majority of people who have a computer at home have an internet connection. Most of their online time is spent on email, on social networking sites and chatting. Watching internet TV, reading online newspapers, buying stuff as well as participation in some sort of virtual world are other activities people get involved with. If a member of the family is still in school, the computer would be used for school-related assignments.
Over the past few months I have been trying to educate myself on the topic of backups. So during one or two breaks I would try to get answers to the following questions:
- Have you ever lost data on your computer?
- Do you know what a backup is?
- Do you regularly take a backup?
- What would be your ideal backup solution?
Have you ever lost data on your computer?
Many people reply yes to this answer. In a number of cases, the loss is related to a genuine hard disk failure. On the other hand I have been told stories of computers being wiped clean without taking a backup first simply because the computer would not boot Windows or to remove an insidious Malware infection. In many such cases, I learnt that the computer owner is a self-made computer technician who has just graduated the 101-Format-and-Install-Windows-from-scratch course—and knows nothing else. Others would have taken their computer to their son’s friend or to some amateurish setup that seem able to eradicate the problem only if they format the computer. Sadly no one ever bothered to make a copy of the My Documents folders on the problem computer beforehand!
The stuff lost normally always includes digital photos. On those computers in which at least one of the users is in school, such a loss is associated with lost assignments (sometimes very critical). People also mention emails as being something they severely miss after a loss. Although not as important as the other items I have mentioned, a lot of people find that re-entering ISP settings, setting up printers and other devices, remembering web site addresses and passwords and the process of making a computer function as it did before the event is a hassle.
Do you know what a backup is?
Everybody knows that a backup is a process in which important files are copied to a separate medium just in case the computer breaks down or one deletes a document by mistake. The majority of people know that they can backup their important files to CDs, DVDs or USB sticks. Few people know whether their operating system comes bundled with a backup program and fewer people can mention by name a company that sells a backup solution or at least the name of the backup program itself.
Do you regularly take a backup?
Less than five percent of the people I have spoken to claim that they regularly take a backup. My definition of regular for the home user would be at least once a week in those quite periods, at least daily during that time when the user is using the computer for a critical task. I would consider critical any of the following situations: a thesis or project that could pass or fail a person or that could increase the person’s overall score; a work related project that may be mentioned in a performance review; a task assigned by the voluntary group the person is associated with that is important for the group; any home related part time work that is done on the computer; any photo or sound clip of a person or persons covering a past event; any document that is currently being updated and into which one has put months and years to create and which, if lost, would probably never be recreated. I need to point out that this short list sums up many of the stories of data loss I was told by my students. Many of those who have performed a backup use the Windows Explorer program to drag files from their original location to the CD or DVD icon or to the USB drive. Issues related to media spanning or a single file being larger than the media on which it is to be backed up constitute an issue for many. In the case of the latter scenario many people simply do not back up the file. I once had a student who told me that she would back up her files onto a USB stick but would erase the USB drive every time she needed the gadget for something else—not the best backup strategy around!
The remaining ninety five percent of people do not take regular backups or have never done so. The group that has never taken at least one backup tends to be those who have never suffered a data loss. They tend to be relative newbies to the world of computers. The impression I get from speaking to people who have taken at least one backup is that backups are like New Year resolutions; a lot of drive and determination at the beginning that fizzles out over time. Taking a backup tends to be bound either to a recent data loss or to the energy and drive that normally accompany the beginning of an important project that demands the use of a computer.
What would be your ideal backup solution?
From the hundreds of people I have spoken to on this subject I have come up with the following definition of what an ideal backup should be.
“A Backup should be a solution that is easy to setup. When I open the program it gives me a Windows Explorer-type list that allows me to choose the directories I want to backup. The backup should be over the internet so that I do not have to fiddle DVDs and CDs. The backup solution should work in the background monitoring my selected directories and should automatically backup changed files without any involvement on my part although it should have an icon on the desktop which when clicked will run the backup manually. The backup should keep files I delete for at least 7 days just in case I deleted a file by mistake.
If something happens to my computer and I lose everything, I want to be able to install the program again and after typing in my username and password, the program automatically downloads saved backup setting so that I do not have to recreate them. I want to have a Restore icon on my desktop that, when clicked, will allow me to restore individual files, complete directories or deleted files. The interface should be similar to Windows Explorer.”
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