I have noticed that packaged software is hogging more and more disk space with every new release. I remember when software was distributed on a diskette or two. I laughed in the early 90's when I received an IBM OS2 installation package that required 75 diskettes. About a decade ago, software makers started distributing on CD's where they could ship a few hundred megabytes, and then along came DVD's that often contain multiple gigabytes of stuff. None of this is really a problem because most of us have many gigabytes of disk space on our computers. We don't really care how much disk space our software wants to eat up.
Software programs and all of the files associated with the setup and installation usually use significantly more space than our data. If you like to backup your entire hard drive, then you may find that it is getting more and more difficult to backup everything. Many of us started backing up only the data and not wasting time and resources backing up program files that can easily be reinstalled if needed. Backing up program files is often a waste of time because you will need to reinstall them from the installation media if your hard drive crashes. Simply restoring your program files back to the disk is usually not enough to get them back up and running. Most software has configuration information registered with the operating system or in other places that are not always restored with the program files.
Data only backups are a great way to save valuable time and resources, but be aware of potentenal problems when you need to restore:
- In the event of a disaster you will need to have the software installation media and license keys available to get your system back up and running. If your home or business is destroyed or damaged by disaster, then you will need to be able to retrieve your software as well as your data to fully recover. Store copies of your software media, including download URL's, and all require license and activation keys in an offsite location.
- If you suffer a hard drive failure or other loss of your computer, it will take time to reinstall your software as well as your data. This is a calculated risk and is usually worthwhile. If your situation requires a very quick recovery, then you may need more than a data backup to get back up and running in an acceptable timeframe. Disk image backups can make recovery easier and faster. Hot recovery sites can also be used to almost eliminate downtime. In most typical circumstances the cost and maintenance of disk images or hot recovery sites are not cost-effective, and data backups along with backup copies of software installation media make economic sense.
Taking a little time up front to assess your backup and recovery needs will be well worth the time in the event of a loss. Most small businesses and home computer users are usually well served by data-only backups, but don't forget that you will need your software if your hard-drive or computer is destroyed.