No matter how often we bang on about it, there will always be some people who neglect to back up their valuable data. But it’s an important task, so we’ll repeat our advice: fail to back up, and you’ll risk losing everything stored on your PC.

You might think your daily computing activities are relatively ‘safe’, and have perhaps never even had a virus on your machine; you may believe it will never happen to you. But data loss is often caused by events outside of your control. See Security Advisor.

Your PC could be stolen, for example, or suffer fire damage. A simple power surge could take it to an early grave. Hard-drive failure is another what if, and data recovery won’t always be possible.

Whether your computer is primarily used for work or leisure, the results of data loss can be catastrophic.

Don’t keep putting off to another day the proper safeguarding of your data. Scheduling backups to occur automatically requires only a little thought and energy.

If nothing else, you could copy to an external hard drive all your irreplaceable photos and important documents. Although this won’t eliminate the potential for local damage or theft, it will rule out data loss in the event of total hard-drive failure. Offsite backup is a better choice.
 
Over the following pages, we explain how to set up and use CrashPlan, a cloud-based storage service with a cross-platform desktop client.

CrashPlan works with Windows, Mac and Linux, while Android, iOS and Windows Phone support is coming later this year. You can download a 30-day free trial from crashplanuk.com. Download Crashplan.

Get started with Crashplan

Step 1. Head to crashplanuk.com to take a look at the options on offer. For the purposes of our workshop, we downloaded the 30-day trial. Click ‘Download Free 30 Day Trial’, then click the correct link for your operating system. We chose ‘Download for Windows’. Opt to save the downloaded file to your machine. See Crashplan review.

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Step 2. Run the setup file and follow the prompts to install and configure CrashPlan. The setup wizard will request that you create an account by entering a username (a valid email address) and a password. Keep a note of your login credentials, since you will need them to access the service. See Crashplan Pro review.

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Step 3. CrashPlan will begin backing up your data as per its default settings following the completion of your account. This can take some time, depending on how much data is installed on your computer. CrashPlan will inform you when the process is complete via its simple, easy-to-navigate interface. Crashplan wins Best Utility 2011.

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Step 4. A number of configurable settings allow you to ensure CrashPlan is covering your backup needs effectively. Click Settings, then choose the General tab. From here you can specify when CrashPlan runs its backup duties; you can also give your PC a meaningful name – useful if you have more than one machine.

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Step 5. Still in the Settings menu, click the Backup tab. Choose ‘Change Selection’ next to ‘Files and folders to back up’, then check that CrashPlan is backing up everything it should. You may need to double-check where applications store their data to ensure that the selections you make here are spot-on.

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Step 6. You can exclude certain file types to save time and space. For example, backing up your music library is unnecessary if it’s already synched with a number of devices. Click Settings, Backup, then choose Configure next to ‘Filename patterns to exclude’. Enter here any file extensions CrashPlan can ignore.

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Step 7. CrashPlan offers additional peace of mind by sending out regular backup status notifications via email. To configure how frequently this information lands in your inbox, click Settings, Backup, then choose Configure next to ‘Backup Status and Alerts’.Alternatively, you can switch off this feature in the same dialog box.

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Step 8. If you choose to accept CrashPlan’s email notifications, it will send out clear and concise, at-a-glance updates of your backup status. Given that CrashPlan will also notify you of any issues it encounters, you shouldn’t find yourself routinely needing to log into the service to check everything is okay.

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Step 9. Access to CrashPlan’s desktop client can be password-protected, which will prevent other users from accidentally messing up your backup schedule. Click Settings and choose the Security tab. From here you can also choose to encrypt your archived data using a dedicated password or your account login.

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Step 10. Unless you’re lucky enough to have access to super-fast internet, you may find CrashPlan’s use of your web connection is affecting your browsing experience. Click Settings and choose the Network tab. Specify the sending rate for when you are present or away from the machine using the adjacent drop-down menus.

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Step 11. CrashPlan affords you control over where your archived data is stored. Click Destinations, then ensure you’re looking at the Overview tab. Select one of the three options offered: Computers, to back up to another computer; Folders, to back up to an attached drive; and Online, to back up to CrashPlan’s online servers.

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Step 12. Backing up to another computer might be useful if you have business templates and the like that must be kept up to date on more than one machine. Note that you’ll need to install CrashPlan on any PC that is to be used as a backup location. To back up to an external drive, simply specify its location on the Folders tab.

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Step 13. If you have more than one computer registered to use CrashPlan’s backup service, you can access information on them and configure their settings using the online dashboard. Any changes you make here are reflected on the computer itself, so there’s full two-way transparency.

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Step 14. The online dashboard also lets you trigger the restore process. You can choose specific files and folders to restore, and which date you wish to go back to. Since this process works remotely, CrashPlan can also be a useful backup service for any less tech-savvy friends or family members whose PCs you maintain.

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