Our computers have become an indispensable part of our lives. For shopping, for work, and for play - they have reduced the need for stereos, encyclopaedias, and even the post man. We store our photos and our personal documents on them, we run entire business operations on them, and we trust all along that they will keep running smoothly and efficiently.

But computers are not perfect. Motherboards malfunction, CPUs stop processing, and files become corrupt, leaving us living in an electronic nightmare. While the loss of data, on a large or small scale may not be the end of the world, it certainly is frustrating and even heartbreaking.

The only defence against this potential catastrophe is data backup. The backing up of data is a vital function for any business, as lost information can cause a major crisis, leading, as a worst case scenario, to the failure of the business. Home or personal users run a similar risk, though perhaps without the enormous consequences.

Most large companies and organisations have IT professionals, in their permanent or temporary employ, who design and implement data backup plans, and who put systems in place to recover from potential disasters. They typically implement backup retention policies and off-site backups that are costly and labour intensive, putting them out of reach of the typical small business or home user.

Most small businesses and home users do not have any system for data backups in place, though they would do well to implement some of the standard practices used by larger business. While they do not have the same requirements, they do want to retain data for many of the same reasons as big businesses.

For small business and personal users, it is crucial to always make at least one extra copy of all business, tax, and other financial records; important text documents and emails; videos and photographs too.

A complete system backup, such as a disk image, will speed up the recovery time after a complete loss of data, but it is an expensive and perhaps prohibitive option.

A simpler, yet effective, option is to only backup data files and folders, as these will contain the majority of data that you would not like to see being lost for good should something go awry. Though it will take time, it is perfectly possible to reinstall the operating system and the applications from the original discs supplied with the computer, and then reload the backed-up data files and folders from their stored source.

Before data is sent to its storage location, it is selected, extracted, and manipulated. Many different techniques have been developed to optimise the backup procedure. These include optimisations for dealing with open files and live data sources as well as compression, encryption, and de-duplication, among others.

Using VBA macros, such as those in Excel, one can very easily create backup versions of active files and folders. This sort of advanced knowledge can be gained by attending a training course, such as an Excel Visual Basic training course, where the functions and implementation of macros are covered.