Back-up your data!

deaddrives1The term “Data Backup” can be daunting to folks who are not entirely comfortable with computers in the first place. A good way to conceptualize this idea is as a separation between your computing device (laptop, desktop, tablet) and your work (or data). At any given moment we should be comfortable with the possibility of the complete loss of our computing device through theft, natural disaster (Hurricane Sandy anyone?), damage, hardware failure, or other random misfortune. I say comfortable, not happy, because the loss of these devices will cost us hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars, which will most assuredly not make us “happy”. We should be comfortable though, because our data will be backed up in other, secure locations and accessible to us at all times. Here’s how:

There are two main types of data that I see clients collect. The first includes text documents, PDFs, bills, statements, contact lists, and any other file in which the primary information is text. I like to refer to this type of data as “Digital Paperwork” because all of these things were once on paper and have now been completely moved to computers. Digital Paperwork for most people will not exceed 1GB (Gigabyte) in total size. The second type of data includes photos, videos, music, and other types of creative/business files which I’ll call “Large File Data”. This could be your family videos and pictures (which, if not yet digitized, should be as soon as possible), your business databases, or other files such as large 2D/3D designs, GIS data & maps, slideshows & presentations, and disk image files (the largest of all). I’ve had clients with well over 1TB (1,024 Gigabytes) of personal photos, videos, and music alone. The strategy you use to back up your data will depend on several factors: size, type of data, back-up budget, and the amount of time you’re willing to spend.


For data in the <1GB range (typically Digital Paperwork), the three best options for backup are (in order of personal preference) Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box. Dropbox will give you 2GB of storage for free, with the ability to earn more free storage for referrals or very simple tasks (I’m up to 16GB on my account and I pay nothing, which is why I prefer Dropbox). Google Drive and Box both give you 5GB free storage and at the moment there is no way to increase that amount without paying extra. Even though I say these are good backup options, these services are much more useful than merely as data backup. I will go into the other features of these services in future posts, but for now I’ll explain the general idea behind them.

Once you sign up for an account you’ll be asked to download and install the client application (same process for all three services). Once you do this and follow the configuration directions (which are extremely straightforward and easy to follow) you will end up with a new folder on your computer called “Dropbox” or “Google Drive” or “Box”. In addition, there will be an icon on the top status bar of Macs and on the bottom Quick Launch bar of PCs that will allow you to access program settings and the folder where your files are kept. All three programs also have versions of apps for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch), Android Devices, and Windows Phone Devices so that you can access your files anywhere on the go.

Now, simply move all of your important Digital Paperwork into the newly created folder and your files will automatically be securely encrypted, and then uploaded to a server. The files now exist simultaneously on your computer’s hard drive as well as the company’s server. In the event that your computer is physically destroyed or otherwise made unavailable, you can access your files from any device with an internet connection. In the event that you lose your connection or the company’s server is down, you still have all of the files on your computer. If both of those situations occur at once, well, you’re out of luck. Unless of course you’ve been keeping copies of your files in both a Dropbox and a Google Drive folder at the same time. Now both companies’ servers would need to be offline, and your computer would need to be unavailable for your files to be inaccessible. Keeping your files in two backup folders of course requires some housekeeping (manually copying the files over from one to the other every so often).


For “Large File Data”, the above services are not the best choices. Dropbox will charge you $499 per year to back up only 500GB of data. This is just not cost effective. Using a service like Dropbox will also only back up items that are in the Dropbox folder so if you forget to put something important in there and your computer crashes, you are out of luck. A much better option for huge amounts of data is an online backup service like Crashplan. For a fee (sometimes as low as a few dollars per month) you can subscribe to an online backup service which will automatically upload and back up any folders that you select on your computer. The program will run in the background constantly or at specified times and upload your data a little bit at a time, running periodic checks to see if your data has changed at all (requiring the new data to be backed up). The software usually also supports local backups to an external or secondary hard drive which is nice because then your data exists in three places, gets synchronized automatically, and is accessible even without an Internet connection.

crashplanproeA third option suitable for either type of data is external portable storage such as an external hard drive or small USB flash drive. The main reason I don’t like this solution is because you still need to either remember to back things up manually, or use a software solution to do it automatically. On the other hand, devices like external hard drives and USB flash drives are extremely useful for transferring large amounts of data, and it’s a good idea to have one on hand for temporary backup purposes or for moving lots of data. If you want some suggestions on what to buy, stay tuned for my hardware recommendations page which is coming soon! Even if you back up onto external storage, there is still a risk of the backup device failing or being stolen or destroyed along with your computer. Another option I havent mentioned yet is enterprise level hardware-level backups (otherwise known as RAID, or Redundant Array Internal Disks). This can work in conjunction with a service such as Crashplan mentioned above. Systems like this are expensive and most useful for users that require extreme speed as well as redundancy in their backups and isn’t typically the best choice for an individual or small business (unless the business works with large files regularly). With the incredible bandwidth of most Internet connections these days, it makes all the sense in the world to involve one or more of the cloud-based storage backup solutions mentioned above in your data protection plan. If you’re interested in learning more or need help implementing a data protection solution, please contact me!

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