Why is backing up data such a chore?

The other day I came across a sobering statistic - nearly half of computer users (43% to be exact) don't back up any of the data stored on their PCs. Why is it that that people don't back up? I think it's down to one thing - backing up is a chore!

The other day I came across a sobering statistic - nearly half of computer users (43% to be exact) don't back up any of the data stored on their PCs.  The data makes interesting reading and you can see different breakdowns of the data here and here.

There's a lot of data to work through but some of the numbers are interesting:

  • Digital photos make up the bulk (71%) of data stored on the PCs of those surveyed
  • Next (at 58%) is personal contact information (contacts lists, email and such)
  • 9% stored no data whatsoever on their PCs
  • Of those that back up, 57% back up all their data
  • 37% back up digital pictures
  • Financial files, address books and work-related files come in at the mid-20% mark
  • Only 15% back up music and only 7% back up video and movies
  • 24% have lost stored data in the last 6 months

We seem to be busy creating more Windows could do a better job of separating data away from system filesand more data (in the form of digital photos, video, email, downloaded music and so on) but we don't seem to be backing it up.  Looking at the problem objectively, I think I can see why.

Backing up data is still a huge chore.

There are three options open to most users:

  • USB flash drives
  • External hard drives
  • CD/DVD discs

USB flash drives are only any good if you have small amounts of data (for someone who regularly goes out and fills up a 512MB memory card with photos, they'd need to take out a second mortgage to be able to buy enough flash drives to keep up with their backup demands). 

External hard drives are a another option but it's very easy to fill up even a big drive, especially if you don't delete old backups.  After that, it's back to the shops to buy another one.  Also, external hard drives leave the data open to deletion by viruses and other malware, not to mention hardware failure.

That leaves CD and DVD.  For most users CDs are too small for general backup and that leaves the DVD.  Single layer allows for 4.7GB to be crammed onto a single disc, but with drives capable of burning dual-layer now readily available and affordable, it makes sense to go for that because of the 8.4GB of storage that that can be crammed onto a single dual-layer disc.

(I'm ignoring Blu-ray for now, that's a long way off being a viable backup system, with recordable media costing more per GB than hard drives.)

OK, you've got your dual-layer DVD writer installed and you've got a stack of discs and you're ready to do some serious backing up.  Sorry, but even with the best gear (and the best software installed) backing up 8.4GB is going to take most people well over an hour.  I know, I've watched people going through the process.  It's physically painful to watch.  The process involves digging about for the files that need backing up (since they are stored everywhere on the hard drive), selecting the right files for backing up, dragging them about, zipping them up if they are a fraction over the appropriate size for a disc.  Once that's done the user can look forward to a good half an hour of sitting back and watching the progress bar move towards completion.

Things could be a lot better.

  • First off, Windows could do a better job of separating data away from system files (keeping user settings all separate would be nice too).  That's not likely to happen any time soon so I may as well come back down to reality.
  • More realistically, better backup tools in Windows would be nice. 
  • More sophisticated disc burning tools would also be nice.  Being able to run queries like "find all Word and Excel documents changed or created since last backup" would be really handy.  Another handy feature would be automatic disc spanning.  One DVD disc not big enough?  No worries!  It prompts for another. 
  • How about built-in compression?  That would be a nice feature.
  • Finally, what about creating a simple text file index file of all files stored on the disc. 

We're making more and more data. It’s all data that is important to us in one way or another – otherwise we wouldn't bother taking that photo or video or downloading that song.  It's about time that we had a decent way of backing it up…