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Follow the 3-2-1 Backup Rule to Safeguard Your Files

Backup system

Hard drives die. You want to make sure that you have a system in place to back up your data in the event that one of your drives bites the bullet. One way to do so, and to give yourself a few safety nets, is by following the 3-2-1 backup rule.

If I knew where the 3-2-1 backup rule originated, I’d give credit, but it has become such a common backup philosophy that I don’t know who originated it. I first heard about it on one of Leo Laporte’s shows. The 3-2-1 rules goes like this:

1. Keep 3 copies of any important file.

This means keeping your original, plus at least two copies of that original. This builds in redundancy, so that if one of your backups fails, or if a file becomes corrupted, you have it somewhere else.


2. Use 2 different types of media to backup the files.

The idea here is that you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one type of storage basket. So if you back up to a hard drive and also to optical media (like a DVD), you’re protected in the event that one of these fails. In my experience, backing up locally to anything other than a hard drive or network drive is cumbersome, which means that you won’t do it as often as you should. As a result, I bend the rules a bit and count rule #3 as a different type of media.


3. Store 1 copy off site.

If your house burns down, or someone breaks into it and steals all your gear, you’d be out of luck with only local backups. As a result, one of your backups should be offsite. I’ve previously written about CrashPlan as an offsite backup option. CrashPlan offers a free option, if you can back up to your own drive in an offsite location, or to a family member’s computer. If you don’t mind paying for offline backup, the Family Unlimited plan is a great deal, allowing you to back up 10 computers for $119 per year.


Next week I’ll talk about my backup system, which has a few layers of redundancy in it. Do you follow the 3-2-1 backup rule?