5 Ways to Avoid Data Loss
1. Separate Data from Programs
All disks will fail eventually. Keeping your data files separate from your program files can help ensure you don’t lose data when failure does occur. Because the operating system writes to your hard drive at a significantly higher rate, the likelihood of bad sectors and complete disk failure increases. If your data files are separate from your OS files, when failure of the OS disk does occur, you will only need to replace the OS disk and reinstall your operating system. Your files, saved separately, will not be damaged, and will still be accessible when the computer is repaired, or from another computer, if necessary.
The best way to do this is to use two hard drives: one for the operating system, and one for data files. Of course, for many home (or laptop) users, this is not feasible, or at the least not convenient. If you’re unable to use two hard drives, you can partition your hard drive, using one partition for the operating system and one for the data files. While this won’t save you from data loss in the case of complete disk failure, this will help ensure that the the area of the disk used for saving data is not under as much write stress, translating into fewer bad blocks in the section used to save data.
2. Backup Your Data
Even if you are using two disks, storing your data files separately, it is still important to backup any files you’re not willing to lose. All disks will fail eventually. Keeping a backup ensures that when the disk your data is stored on does fail, that you will be able to restore the data with ease. The only difference between an inconvenience and a disaster is planning.
In the business world, there are a plethora of backup solutions available. Whether you are a very small business or a corporate enterprise, there are a variety of products and services available to ensure that your business data is backed up securely.
In the consumer world, physical backup solutions are available, but they are costly. Essentially, it’s necessary to have a computer that’s sole function is to act as a backup. For most consumers, this is not a cost practical, or even feasible, solution. You can opt to save important files to CD or to have an external hard drive that you use to keep copies of important files. You can also opt to use a cloud backup solution: Carbonite, IDrive, BackBlaze, CrashPlan, OpenDrive, Mozy, Dropbox, and more. Many of the cloud backup solutions offer automatic backups that allow you to pay for the service, install their application, and forget it. It will automatically backup your files, according to the settings you chose - some even offer the ability to only transfer data to backup when the computer is not in use, ensuring that it does not negatively impact your computer or network.
3. Take Appropriate Care with Your Computer
Computers are fragile pieces of technology. Computer manufacturers are doing their best to protect the most fragile parts of the computer from the things we can subject them to, but due to the minute measurements that a read/write head hovers above a hard drive platter, there is only so much that computer manufacturers can do to protect a computer from it’s owner. The best thing you can do for the life of your computer, is to ensure you handle your computer appropriately.
Unless you are using a solid state drive, a computer hard drive creates heat while it operates. Therefore, it is important to store it in a cool location. This doesn’t mean you need to keep your house so cool that everyone is shivering. This does mean don’t set your computer directly next to a source of heat in your home and ensure that your computer has adequate ventilation. Of course, the hard drive isn’t the only part of the computer that is fragile, but it is by far the one piece of your computer you’re most likely to damage. Even if you’re using an SSD, the proper environment is important to extending the life of your computer.
Keep your computer in a dry, cool, dust free environment
A computer hard drive is most likely to sustain damage when it is running. The read/write heads that move across the hard disk while it spins, allowing you to read information saved on the disk or write new information to the disk, hover less than a hair’s width above the disk. If the head crashes into the disk, it will damage the disk, and the debris from the crash can cause further damage to the disk if it gets lodged between the disk and the read/write head. Any jolt to the hard drive (bumping or dropping the computer) while the hard disk is running, is likely to cause a head crash. Each head crash creates more bad sectors on the disk. Treating a computer as though it’s made of glass (and some hard drives are!), will help ensure you don’t inadvertently cause your hard drive to crash.
Don’t move the computer when it’s on. This is especially important for laptops. If you need to carry the computer from place to place, it is always best to completely shut the computer down, not just put it to sleep.
4. Protect your computer: Antivirus / Firewall / Anti-Malware Software
Physical damage and failure is not the only reason for data loss. Logical damage can also cause data loss, and logical damage can be caused by malicious computer programs. Virus and malware programs can delete, modify, or otherwise infect your personal files, causing data loss you’re not aware of until it is too late. While running a firewall, antivirus, or anti-malware program as a stand alone form of protection does help, running an entire protection suite, that offers a fully-functional firewall, as well as robust antivirus and anti-malware protection, designed to work in concert is the best protection you can use. There are a variety of both free and paid solutions. Do you research, and chose the one that is offers the features you need at the right price.
5. Routine Maintenance
Just like you have to perform maintenance on your car to keep it running in top condition, you also have to perform maintenance on your computer. If you neglect to take care of your computer, you are more likely to suffer from data loss due to unexpected hard drive crashes. There are a number of tasks you should ensure you perform on a regular basis:
- Disk Defrag - this ensures that your files are not fragmented.
Scan for Hard Drive Errors - finding and repairing logical hard drive errors will keep you from suffering through an unexpected hard drive crash
Disk Cleanup - clear out temporary and junk files from your computer
Regular Updates - this includes Operating System updates, as well as updates for programs, like your antivirus/firewall programs
Most programs, including your antivirus/firewall are likely to have options to automatically update. If you have this option selected, these four maintenance tasks can be performed monthly. Even if you have updates automatically scheduled, it’s still a good idea to manually check for updates, especially in regards to virus definitions, in case an update failed.