The only thing certain in the world of computing is that hard drives fail. Hard drives, which consist of moving parts, are prone to an incredibly high failure rate. It's worth accepting that at some point in any given three year period, your hard drive will fail. Sure, it's not a fun reality to accept, but it's the only safe way to compute.
As a result, there is a heavy industry built up around backups and protecting your data. Any data you cannot afford to lose, you should regularly back up. It's the only smart way to go about your computer usage.
To start backing up your computer, keep in mind a few principles: **automatic is best**, **rotate your backups**, and **make your system redundant**.
The best way to make sure that your backup system is complete is to set it to automatically back up your hard drive. There are many programs which will automatically do this. If you have a Mac, you can do so by setting up Time Machine on a backup drive (Time machine is included with all versions of Mac OS X from 10.5 forward). Windows users can use the Backup and Restore preference within System Maintenance to accomplish the same functionality.
Automatic backups mean that you never have to worry about how up-to-date your backup is. A good rule of thumb is to back up your data once every night as you sleep. That way, your backed up data is never more than a day old.
If you use a disk-cloning utility (such as Super Duper) to make copies of your hard drives – a great practice for retaining the stability of your backup system – make sure that you rotate your drives out. You can buy 1 TB hard drives *incredibly* cheaply on NewEgg.com (or similar sites). Every month, back up your hard drive on a new backup drive, and rotate them just as you would rotate your tires.
By rotating your backup drives, you will decrease the likelihood that you will rely on a faulty drive by introducing entropy into your backup system.
Don't rely on one backup system –В use a combination of recommended backup techniques. For example, don't simply use an automatic time machine backup, as that time machine drive might fail. Also clone your drives with an app like Super Duper. In addition, pay $5 a month to a site like Mozy.com, which provides unlimited backup.
By hedging your backup methods amongst all of the various methodologies, you will not be leaning on *any one* backup methodology. It's never good to put all of your eggs in one basket, especially with something as risky as hard drive storage.
Always assume that your hard drive is close to dying. That way, you can prepare for the worst. In the world of hard drives, the worst will *inevitably* hit. After all, computers are just machines. Hard drives, with their incredible fragility, are bound to fail just as much as any other fragile component of a machine. Until Solid State Drives become more reliable, it's imperative to have a sound backup system.