Sometimes it takes a disaster to realize the importance of backing up your digital information. I’ve had the same computer running at home for nearly 6 years. Like many others out there, I store everything on it: family pictures, videos, music, financial records, tax returns, … The list goes on and on. I went for years without any worry at all about the implications of losing all that data.
Fortunately for me, I didn’t. Well, not that data anyway… I showed up for work one Monday morning a few years back and found my development computer was turned off. This was odd as I always kept it on over the weekend so I connect remotely to it if I needed to get some work done. I booted it up and hit the BIOS setting stating that it was missing a hard drive. After some digging around, it turns out the hard drive went south hard. I went out and bought a new drive and within a few hours I was back up and running. The only problem was that all the development work I’d been doing was on that old hard drive. That along with the nearly 100’s of presentations I’ve done over the years. At one point, I had copied some things over to a portable hard drive but I had never done a complete system backup. I tried several ways to restore some of the data off the drive and it turns out the controller on the drive went bad so it couldn’t be accessed at all. It wasn’t the end of the world but I did lose a week or so of work that I couldn’t get back.
Now back to home. If my high end development system could go belly up with no warning, then my home computer sure could do the same thing. I had been toying with buying a backup system for a while but that hard drive crash at work made the decision for me. I ended up buying a Windows Home Server which has been working wonderfully since the day I bought it. I haven’t had the need to use a restore from it yet. Actually, I could care less whether I had to ever use it. Much like the generator I bought for my house that has been gathering dust in the garage for the last 3 years, the fact that it’s there and ready if I ever need it is good enough for me.
Oh, and drive failure isn’t the only thing you need to worry about. What about theft? What about a fire? I know a friend who lost 10 years of his family pictures after a small fire took out the computer in his den. That’s 10 years of his kids lives that he can’t get back. How do you put a price on that?
B is for Backing Up Your Data
There are many ways you can go about protecting yourself from a data disaster in many different pricing levels. It can be as simple as creating Data CD/DVDs with the contents of your drives, using a commodity external hard drive, investing with a dedicated backup system, or even going with an online service that will back things up remotely.
The main point of caution here is that no matter what solution you go with, include in your plan a way to store your data in a different physical location than your computer. Having dozens of backups sitting right next to your computer won’t help much when there’s a fire…
External Hard Drives
External hard drives can be purchased at nearly every store that sells any sort of electronics. They fall in the $50-$200 price range depending on the brand and storage capacity. At the time of this post, you can get a decent 500GB drive for well under $100.
Most of these types of drives have a USB interface. That means that using it is as simple as plugging it into your computer and allowing your computer time to recognize it as a hard drive. You then use file system tools (or built-in backup software) to copy the contents of your files to the backup disk.
If you go this route, I would recommend purchasing two drives, one to keep up to date at home and one to store away from home. By making it a plan to swap the two every couple of weeks means you will likely be covered for any disaster you may have.
Dedicated Backup System
The downside with using external hard drives is complacency. It’s easy to put off backing things up if you have to spend any amount of dedicated time to do so. Next thing you know it, it’ll be 6-months since your last backup. That’s where a dedicated backup system will help folks like me. There are many of these on the market. For Windows users, the various Windows Home Server appliances are great choices. Mac users can use Apple’s Time Capsule product. These devices sit in the background and rely on software running on your computer to backup the data at regular intervals. The price here is for devices can fall in the $300-$700 range.
Internet-Based Backup Service
If you are too lazy to manually back things up and don’t want to pay all the money up front on a higher-price device, then an internet based online backup system, may be just the ticket for you. This solution has all the benefits of the two previous options. The main difference is that you will likely get tied into a monthly service contract. Do a search for online backup and you’ll see the likes of Mozy, Carbonite, Dropbox, and many others. Here’s a link to an review of various online data backup services to give you an idea of the features they provide and what it will cost you. The cost really depends on the amount of data you will be storing and in some cases, how often you access it.
My main word of caution on using an online based service so to make sure you go with a reputable vendor. This is your sensitive information so make sure that their storage is encrypted and redundantly located.
No matter what option you go with, get started on a backup plan as soon as you can. The minimal cost up front will save you many times over if anything unexpected happens.