At least 2 or 3 times a month, I hear from PC users whose computers have simply ceased to function and cannot even be booted into Windows. This may be due to hardware issues, corruption arising from a failure to close Windows properly or from the presence of malicious software such as the currently fashionable ‘ransomware’.
That’s a particular genre of malicious software which totally locks up your computer and then demands payment to restore.
It’s not really sensible to give your bank or credit card details to people who are basically criminals and you really don’t need to be in this situation.
For ‘serious’ PC users, the consequences of a system crash, hard disk failure or theft can be catastrophic.
Hard disk failure is actually quite common, especially on laptops and notebooks which tend to get thrown around a lot more than desktop PCs ─ the advent of the solid-state disk is improving matters but you are asking for trouble if you disturb a drive whose read-head flies nanometres above a spinning surface.
While it is always possible to buy a new computer, the loss of valuable business information could easily lead to business failure and I know of several instances where it has done.
Whatever the ‘experts’ might suggest, recovery of a corrupt Windows system is fraught with difficulties and often involves the complete re-installation of both Windows and applications software while attempting to preserve the user information and restoring it to the correct location.
At best, a tedious, time-consuming and high-risk process.
Actually, the solution is surprisingly simple though rarely practised by individual and small-business users—you need to do regular backups.
Dragging selected files to an external disk or to the cloud is better than nothing but, as night follows day, this is rarely done in a ‘disciplined’ manner and you inevitably find that the one file you really needed was not included in the backup.
In my experience, most problems arise from the corruption of Windows or other software so a sensible strategy is to back-up the entire system on a regular basis.
In the first instance, a backup can be done to an external USB disk ─ a 1 Terabyte disk costs about £50 from Amazon.
This is the sort of price I was paying for an 80 Gigabyte disk 10 years ago ─ you can now get a dozen times the capacity at a similar cost.
You could also backup across your network to another PC but this tends to be considerably slower and reduces network performance for other users.
Over the last couple of years, it has become feasible to back-up an entire PC to the cloud though this does require a fast internet connection and is not really practical with a phone-based service whose maximum upload speed is around 1 megabit-per-second (Mbps).
With my present fibre-optic connection from Vision Fibre Media, I can upload data at around 40 Mbps and I experienced similar performance when I used Relish (available in Central London) whose service is based on the 4G mobile phone network.
I have noticed that BT and Virgin-based fibre-optic connections typically produce good download speeds but somewhat slower uploads ─ though still several times faster than phone-based internet.
After many years of using Norton Ghost and it’s successors for backup, I have moved on to Acronis True Image which manages disk and cloud backup within the same product.
Unlike several other ‘cloud’ services I have tried, Acronis seems to accept data at the speed of delivery and also works unobtrusively in the background with no major impact on system performance.
Also, if the computer is shut down during the course of a backup, Acronis takes a minute or so to tidy up so that it can easily resume the backup after restart.
My preferred backup strategy is to have an external USB disk permanently attached to the PC so that backups are performed methodically.
The system is scheduled to make an occasional ‘full’ backup with hourly ‘incremental’ backups (of changed files) during the working day.
The software will keep track of the backup ‘sets’ and delete the oldest when it reaches a specified number ─ hence if you get the numbers right, you should never run out of disk space, which is a major problem with the free, but less-sophisticated, Windows Backup.
The Acronis ‘cloud’ backup works slightly differently in that it makes an initial ‘full’ backup with all subsequent backups being of changed files only.
It takes about 4 hours to do a full cloud backup of my PC whereas the full backup to disk would take about 40 minutes ─ full cloud backups are not really practical using phone-based internet but are still worth doing for important files.
While the disk backup is fast and efficient, an off-site backup covers the situation where the disk might be stolen or destroyed.
I don’t rely entirely on a cloud backup because, at the end of the day, it is on an external computer which is not under my control.
In either case, recovery from a serious crash would typically take less than one hour though individual files can also be recovered in a few seconds.
An important aspect of this strategy is that you can recover both PC and individual files from any backup point ─ for example if you want a version of a document as it was 4 weeks ago, you simply go to that version of the backup.
Acronis True Image can also be used to backup Apple MAC computers and will do limited (data only) cloud backups on phones and tablets.
Given the potential consequences of lost business data, the cost of this service is trivial ─ a single-user licence with 500 Gigabytes of cloud storage is available for an annual subscription of £43.98 at the time of writing (3-users, £63.98).
A non-cloud version is available for a one-off cost of £59.99.
A one-month trial version of the full product can be downloaded from www.acronis.com
Other backup services are available.
About the Author:
Les started programming computers at the age of 18, which was a very long time ago. In addition to an extensive background in the development of IT systems, he is a small-business entrepreneur who has successfully managed several enterprises including IT Staff Recruitment and Property Maintenance companies.
Not having the inclination to ‘retire’, he currently works from home, providing IT Support for small businesses and individuals whose needs are not catered for by the major consultancies.
This includes on-site, telephone and remote assistance support for Windows-based PCs.
He also specialises in the development of ACCESS database and EXCEL spreadsheet applications.