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MedEconomics: Making data back-up simple and secure

It is vital to back up your data. Dr Fraser Hadden offers some tips on the options.

1. Use free software to partition disk space

Disk partitioning allows you to organise and protect your data so as to reduce the risk of data loss through the creating of separate drives for different material.

Rather than spend £40-50 on new partitioning software, a cheaper option is to obtain superseded partitioning software often cover-mounted on computer magazines. There is no need for partitioning software to be bang up to date - anything not more than, say, four years old will be fine.

2. Separate external back-ups

If you should feel driven to spend money, a more data-protective course is to buy an external hard drive for your back-ups. These operate from the USB ports of the computer.

The external drive has the collateral benefits of being portable to another location and offering protection against theft, fire and flood directed against the parent box - provided of course that the external drive is locked away and/or stored off-site when not in use.

3. Consider other storage options By all means spend on other options such as CDs or USB flash memory devices, but be aware of their limitations. I contend that tapes are way too slow and unreliable to use as a back-up medium.

CDs and DVDs are available in write-once and erasable forms. The former are best suited to archive material. The latter are a reasonable stand-in for an external hard drive, sharing the portability and security benefits but falling short in ultimate storage capacity.

There are question marks over the long-term reliability of rewritable DVDs. The write-once variants seem fine, so far, but are a bore to use compared with an external drive.

In normal use, a CD holds 700MB data and a standard DVD holds 4.7GB.

A single CD would store a vast amount of most people's written work. Music and digital photographs, however, are much greedier of space and are better suited to DVD storage.

USB flash drives are portable storage drives and act as mini-hard drives.

They are highly resistant to damage and retain their data without any power requirement. They need power to transfer data but this invariably comes from the host computer's USB socket.

Flash drives are currently of limited capacity, so are best suited to storage of incremental back-ups or for transporting data from site to site.

Users need to be aware that viruses can be inadvertently transferred to a flash drive and thus to another computer.

- Dr Hadden is a locum GP in Ipswich, Suffolk.

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