Backing Up Data at Northwestern

Data loss can be devastating. Backing up is the process of copying data for future use in the event that original data is lost, stolen, or corrupted. Additional copies of data are called backups.

Why is backup necessary?

Regular data backups reduce the risk of permanent data loss. Data loss can happen for many reasons:

  • Hardware failure
  • Malware
  • Theft
  • Power failure
  • Natural disaster

How can I back up my data?

There are several considerations when determining the best method of backing up your data.


Where will your backups be stored?  Weigh the costs and benefits of each option.

Local backups are backups to the same system or to a portable drive connected to that system.  Backups that are stored on the same device or in the same geographical vicinity as the original data are easier to control access to, but are susceptible to many of the same causes of data loss as the original data.

Cloud backups are backups to Internet-hosted services such as iCloud or Google Drive.  These backups are accessible from anywhere and likely safe from physical damage, but may require additional protections to maintain their confidentiality due to their accessibility from the Internet.

Participating campus groups are able to access a secure cloud-based storage solution powered by CrashPlan Pro.  Contact your local IT support team to find out if your are eligible for backing up your Northwestern data to CrashPlan.


Most backup utilities will allow you to configure automatic backups at regular intervals.  Should you backup once a day, once a week, or once a month?

It depends on how valuable your data is and how often it changes.  Backing up your data every hour may take up more storage space, but if vital changes are made to the data hourly, this may be the appropriate configuration for you.


Most backup utilities will also allow you to configure regular deletion of old backups.  How long do you need to keep your backups?

If you want to be sure you can roll back changes for about a month in case of error, you can delete backups that are older than one month.  If you are legally required to keep backups of certain data for 7 years, you should make sure you are securely storing that data for its full lifecycle.

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Article ID: 1881
Thu 7/14/22 12:40 PM
Mon 1/30/23 8:01 PM

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Regular data backups reduce the risk of permanent data loss that can occur for many reasons including hardware failure, power failure, and virus attacks. In continuing its commitment to the protection of mission critical data at the University, Northwestern IT is participating with University schools and departments to provide a secure hosted data backup solution for workstation machines.