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Media Size Matching
One very, very important factor to consider when looking at backup alternatives, is matching the size of the backup medium to the amount of data you need to backup. As hard disks continue to increase greatly in size, it becomes more difficult to find backup solutions that can handle the entire contents of a PC using a reasonable amount of media. It is essential that the size of the backup medium be matched to the size of the data being backed up.
It is tempting to ignore this issue as unimportant, but my experience (and that of others) is very clear: the more disks or tapes it takes to perform a backup, the less likely it is that they will be done on a regular basis. The reason is simple: when it takes a lot of media to back up the disk, backup becomes a chore, and when it becomes a chore, people avoid doing it.
In fact, the best situation of all, and one that I recommend, is a backup solution where the entire contents of the hard disk can be stored on a single backup tape or disk. What this buys you is the ability to do unattended backup. You start the backup, and then leave to do something else. When you return, the backup is done. If the contents won't fit on a single cartridge, you have to intervene at some point to change media. This changes backup from something simple to something complicated. Don't underestimate capacity when comparing backup solutions.
Since you don't always need to back up the whole hard disk at once, a backup unit that can't hold the entire hard disk, but can hold most of it, will normally suffice. If you can store half the hard disk on a single cartridge, you can do unattended backups of half the drive at a time. Less ideal than doing the whole system at once, but still quite tolerable, and you maintain the ability to do unattended backup.
Let's take an example look at the Iomega Zip drive. This is a removable storage device with a capacity of about 100 MB. A very useful drive, it stores data reliably, and if the parallel version is used, can be extremely handy for transferring information between PCs. However, it is also advertised as being great for backup. Well, I guess it depends on your system, but mine has over 3 GB of programs and data on it. Many people have over 1 GB on their hard disks. For this amount of data, the Zip drive is not suitable as a backup device. Backing up 3 GB of data onto Zip disks would take 30 disks (costing several hundred dollars, mind you) and the disk swapping would be annoying enough to guarantee that the backup was rarely if ever done. A 100 MB drive can be useful for archiving parts of a large disk, but it isn't a solution for a general backup, because you can't even do half or even a quarter of a modern hard disk on such a unit.
Next: Floppy Disks