Backing up Your Data

General Information

As an individual computer user, you should be concerned with storing three types of information: System information, Application information, and Data. For our purposes, We will define the three separately as:
  • System - Software that makes your computer run or directly affects how it runs. (Windows 7)
  • Applications - Software that generates data output based on your input, even if that input is just telling the software to run (Microsoft Word, Excel, SPSS, etc)
  • Data - Output from either System or Application software (Application: Excel files - .xls/.xlsx, Microsoft System Backup utility - .bkf, System: Microsoft System Restore Point)

The idea behind a good backup strategy is that it protects against what the computer user considers an acceptable amount of risk in regards to the loss of desired information. The risk is usually measured in the cost and time to recover (if it is possible to do so) any desired information that is lost due to a failure of either your computer's hardware or software, or the means to retrieve that information.
How Does Data Loss Occur?
Failure of hardware, software, or the means to access desired information, can be caused by an incredible amount of things. Some you have a little control over, like virus protection - others, like a natural disaster, you have almost none. Because you can never have 100% control over whether or not you experience information inaccessibility or loss, you must adopt some form of backup strategy to make sure that you can continue working if you experience something that causes you to lose part or all of, or the ability to access, your information.

Best Practices

In order to help mitigate risk, an individual user should take the following steps to protect their information.

System and Application information

Protection of this information primarily depends on securing the media it was provided on. CD's/DVD's, along with license information and installation instructions, should be stored in a safe place. Any downloaded software should be put onto removable media and stored, again with license information and installation instructions. Copies of these types of information is required should your machine need to have the operating system or some particular software re-installed.

Concordia provides copies of Microsoft Windows 7 and Microsoft Office that are covered by special licensing, and can provide help in installing/reinstalling these software packages. Any other system or application information that you purchase, or that may come with a computer that you purchase, should follow the media guidelines above.


Data is different. Since data is primarily output (derived information) special steps need to be taken in order to protect against unavailability and loss. Individuals should take a three-tiered approach to risk mitigation:

1) Working Copy - This is the copy that you do all of your work out of. It is the most accessible state your data is in, and usually the most vulnerable. An example would be a paper being written in MS Word, and saved to your desktop.

2) Backup Copy - This should be a relatively easily accessible copy (or copies) of a document saved in a specially designated backup spot. Microsoft's backup spot in Windows is the "My Documents" folder. Since members of the CU community also have network storage space set aside for them, this should be a two step process for any CU community member.
  • A. Periodically, your working copy should be saved to your backup copy in your My Documents folder, so that two copies exist of the document - one very up-to-date (working copy) and one semi-up-to-date (backup copy.) The idea is that if something was to happen to your working copy (it becomes corrupted, or for whatever reason, loses some of the contents) you have a backup copy that is fairly current, missing only, say a days worth (or whatever amount of time you're willing to risk as acceptable) of content.
  • B. Again, periodically, the My Documents folder should be copied to your network share (H: drive) or to an external hard drive. This gives you access to backup copies of your work in case something prevents you from accessing your computer, or if your computer's operating system and applications must be re-installed.

3) Disaster Recovery - This should consist of information that you absolutely can't live without. This data should be saved to media that is external to both your computer and CU's network. This might mean saving a copy of a thesis document or other paper to cd, as an example. The point here is to remove the data entirely from your computing environment, placing it somewhere safe, so if something unforeseen and very bad happens, it can be accessed and recovered.

The important point to remember here is that these steps must not only be taken consistently, but on a meaningful basis as well. Backups that are no longer useful are backups that are just wasting space. Make backups regularly, and rotate your backups so that they stay relevant.


If you have any questions about backing up data or would like assistance, contact the Technology Center via email at for an appointment.

Updated by Steven Quirk 10/3/13