[DAYS_LEFT] days left of your Medeconomics free trial

Subscribe now

Your free trial has expired

Subscribe now to access Medeconomics

Backing up work you do at home

Dr Neil Paul considers the various ways GPs can keep data safe when using computers at home.

Dr Paul: storage on an internet Wi-Fi network is an alternative for backing up your data (Photograph: David Chadwick)
Dr Paul: storage on an internet Wi-Fi network is an alternative for backing up your data (Photograph: David Chadwick)

Do you work at home? Is the data on your home computer safe? At the surgery, security might all be taken care of, with the IT manager backing up everything for you.

At home this becomes your personal responsibility.

One option is to keep important information on a USB memory stick. You can buy 8GB sticks that should save any number of Word documents or PowerPoint presentations. Some are encrypted for security, and you can take them with you to access files when you need them.

If you use them as a primary source, make sure you back up the stick in case you lose it.

USB port plug-ins
External hard drives that have more space are cheap and cheerful - they plug in to a USB port and are easy to use. Some are even powered through the USB cable and are portable enough to take with you.

Some have two disks - not one - with a choice of how you set them up. One method splits the data between them and gives best space and speed, but it doubles the risk of failure. If one of the disks crashes you lose all your data.

For safety, many technical types prefer to set the two disks so that data sent to one is mirrored on the other, which keeps an exact copy.

You may think this is overkill but if, like me, you are paranoid about hard disk crashes I advise having this set up at home, and it is indeed what I have.

There is another option called a RAID array - a disk subsystem that is used to increase performance or provide fault tolerance or both. This needs a minimum of three disks. It is more efficient in terms of disk usage and just as safe.

The data is split up between the disks giving a level of redundancy. If one disk crashes the system just carries on. Usually the user is alerted so you can take out the bad drive and put in a new one without turning anything off.

Arrays with five or more disks can lose two disks before data is at risk. While this may seem over-the-top, it can have advantages if you have a lot of video or photos.

Direct computer connection
External hard disks are available in 'networkable' form rather than by direct connection to your computer. They can take a long time to transfer files, but there are often clever features built in like the ability to access the files from the internet or from more than one computer. These devices could be considered mini servers.

If you leave your backup disks at home they can be vulnerable to theft or damage. The Cloud is an alternative for backing up your data: it builds and operates low-cost high-performance public access Wi-Fi networks.

There are plenty of online storage sites and most offer several gigabytes of free storage, which should be enough for backing up your work.

These are stored in data centres where great care is taken. If you are anxious, you could save your data in more than one of them. Remember though, that these are often sited in other countries where there may be different privacy laws.

The biggest disadvantage of online sites is the speed of uploading data: this can take ages if you are backing up a lot. Some of these sites even have internet browser access, meaning you can get at your data from any computer.

The software you use to manage your back ups is important. You want it to be automatic, up to date and efficient.

When storing your data think about encryption. However, the methods used are often proprietary and you are then reliant on the company and software remaining solvent.

  • Encrypted USB memory sticks.
  • External hard drive (one or two-disk system).
  • RAID array - a disk sub-system requiring minimum of three disks.
  • 'Network-able' external hard disks.
  • Free storage on internet Wi-Fi network The Cloud (www.thecloud.net).

Dr Paul is a GP in Cheshire

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles
and free email bulletins.

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.

Database of GP Fees

Latest Jobs