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What are the Different Ways to Backup Data?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are a wide array of methods that can be used to backup data. Which is best depends on the amount of data to be backed up, the importance of that data, and the funds available. Some of the most common data storage solutions include the following:

  • Tape Backup: At one point the preferred data solution, with the lowered costs and availability of other media solutions (such as DVD-R), tape backup has become less popular. This method comes in a number of varieties: 8mm helical scan technology for mid-range systems, 4mm helical for low-end systems, and technologies such as AIT for high-end systems. The write speed for magnetic tape is relatively slow when compared to other solutions, but the durability is very high. With falling costs for other methods, it is unlikely that tape will remain a reasonable option much into the future.

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  • Flash Drives: For small amounts of data, flash drives (also known as thumb drives or memory sticks) are a very good solution. They are small enough to fit in a pocket, offer virtually unlimited rewrite capabilities, and are easy to plug into any computer with USB port. Capacity ranges from 64MB to upwards of 1GB. Data durability is estimated to be approximately ten years and, unlike hard drive backups, they are not susceptible to damage by magnets.

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  • CD-R/CD-RW: CD-R and CD-RW technology offers a number of advantages as a backup solution. Both types of media are incredibly cheap (especially when bought in bulk), write times are fast, and the data is easily accessible by virtually all computers. Their capacity is 650-700MB. Recent studies have indicated that their durability is less than was initially presumed, however, with retention dropping after five years.

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  • DVD Technology: DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM, and dual layer DVD technologies are essentially the replacement for CD backup for most people. A DVD can hold either 4.7GB or, in the case of dual-layer DVDs, 8.5GB. This media is currently comparable in pricing with CDs, with discs available in bulk relatively inexpensively. DVDs have similar durability to CD technologies.

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  • Hard Drives: As hard drive prices continue to drop, many businesses and individuals are turning to external drives as a backup solution. The cost per gigabyte can be very cheap, and copying the data is incredibly easy. Hard drives are prone to physical malfunctions and corruption by a number of forces, however, making their durability questionable.

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  • FTP: Solutions exist online that allow computer users to upload their data to a secure server co-located in a protected environment. This is often a good option for important data that is not particularly large. Security is a concern for some, but most FTP solutions offer extensive security features to better protect the data. These data farms backup their data in turn, usually using tape or DVD technology (or a hybrid of the two), further ensuring the data's durability.

As technologies continue to develop and prices continue to drop, more solutions appear each day. At present, a good recommendation for small amounts of highly critical data would be FTP. For anything else with a limited lifespan, DVD media may be best, and for long-term data storage, tape remains a strong option.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By meva12 — On Mar 16, 2014

Whatever the kind of data lost, you can use AppleXsoft data recovery software to get them back. It is the most powerful tool to recover your lost files!

By heath925 — On Mar 25, 2011

I didn't know people still used tapes at all as a data backup option. It seems to me like these will be completely obsolete in the near future. I don't think I would want to store anything important on something that won't be around much longer. Even if the durability of a tape is good, it doesn't really matter if a day comes when there is nothing to play the tape on.

In fact, if I had information stored on tapes, I would probably be trying to find a way to transfer the data onto something digital that will be around more long term.

By upnorth31 — On Mar 22, 2011

I didn't realize that the data on CD-Rs and DVD-Rs only lasted for a certain amount of time. What happens once that time is reached? Is the data completely lost? Or can you find it but it's of lower quality?

I have been under the impression that these were great ways to store all of my digital photos. I thought if I had them on these discs, they would last forever.

I have heard of online data backup services, but I have been nervous to use them. I just don't know if I want to trust someone else with my treasured photos.

What is the best way to back up my photos? They are extremely important to me and I would never want to lose them.

By mydoglouise — On Aug 27, 2007

A virus on my windows XP is causing me to reboot the operating program. I want to backup my files and photos in the safe mode. A window tells me that my drives are disconnected and that I have to manually enable the drives in order to begin backing up the files. How do I do that?

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