Data Backup – Part 1

I haven’t posted for quite some time so I thought it appropriate to submit my recent research on online data backup. I wrote an article on the Technical Difficulties Podcast a little over a year ago so I will post that first as part one of this two part segment. Some of the information in this article is a little out dated but most of it still applies.
You can find the original article here: http://www.techdiffpodcast.com/?p=12
Update: The original site is having some technical difficulties (pun intended) right now so I will point you to the temporary WordPress site until the issue is resolved: Backups: Everybody Is Doing It. Why Don’t You?

Backing up your personal computer data is probably the most important weekly task you probably are not doing right now. All those photos of your family and friends, that video of your child’s football game, that spreadsheet you created of your personal financial budget, even some of those work files that you may have saved on your personal computer while working from home one day is just sitting there on your hard drive awaiting that one time when your hard drive crashes and everything is lost forever. That is all it takes, just one time for your hard drive to crash – and it will crash at any time – that will cause all that personal data to be wiped out.
Many people do not realize it but we have been backing up our personal data since the beginning of time; this ancient form I am speaking of is handwriting. If you think about it, when we write down that grocery list, or take notes in class, at church, or in business meetings, handwriting is a form of backup. It is taking the data from our brain and transferring it to another form of media storage so that it will not get lost just in case our brain wipes it out by forgetting. Backing up our personal data is just as easy as handwriting. If we own a computer, another type of brain, and are storing personal data on that computer we should be doing what we do every day when we write on a piece of paper.
There are many ways to backup your personal data on your computer. Some of them inexpensive and some of them free. First, I will tell you what I do in my personal backup strategy. Most of the data I own that is vital and precious to me are my photos and videos of my friends and family. I have other data in the form of documents and also some applications that are not available online any longer. I store all this data on the hard drive that came with my computer. Knowing that this was my only copy, and knowing I needed to backup my data, I went to the local retail store that sells computer equipment (Best Buy, CompUSA, Staples, OfficeMax, etc.) and bought a Western Digital 500GB MyBook USB external hard drive to plug into an available USB port on my computer. You can get this item, pretty much, anywhere for less than $100. If you want to save money on an item like this, it would not hurt to search online on a site like pricewatch.com for bargains. Once I got this external hard drive home and plugged it in, I then copied all my personal data that was under one folder (a.k.a. My Documents in Windows) to a folder I created on the external hard drive. Now, every time I add data to my computer, be it a transfer of photos from my digital camera or a document I created, I also copy those files to my external hard drive. As a safety precaution, I also use Microsoft’s SyncToy to synchronize my local folder to the external hard drive once a week. That way if I forgot to copy the files in that first stage when I originally created them, then a confirmed copy would take place with SyncToy in the second phase. Another precaution was to buy a small portable 160GB USB external hard drive in the form of a Western Digital My Passport drive so that I could carry around a third copy of my data in my laptop bag. In the extreme, if my house were to burn down while I am away from home I still have all my personal data with me in my laptop bag and nothing is lost.
Some of this, you may say, is a little extreme or too much. Actually, if I were to go a step further and actually bought another 160GB USB external hard drive to copy my data to and store at a family member’s house or in a safe deposit box would be labeled as extreme, but not insane. I have heard many experts state that this “extreme” step of storing your personal data off site is actually the only true means of ensuring valid backups. Corporations do it for all their business data to ensure they stay in business in case of any major catastrophes. Why shouldn’t a home user do the same thing when their personal data can be classified as just as critical?
There are so many ways of backing up your data; my strategy was just one example. Separate from completing backups to a local storage, you can also backup your data to online storage. There are quite a few online sites that offer this service at a cost and for free. Box.net is a service that offers both free and pay service. I actually use a paid box.net service for some of my storage so that I can get to the data I need at any time when I have a internet connection. Here are a few other services that offer online storage: Amazon’s Jungle Disk, Dell’s DataSafe, and Carbonite. The beauty about these online backups is that they usually have an application that you can download, install, point to your data folder, and schedule it to backup your data in the background once a day. This way is all automatic and no extra steps are needed by you to complete a backup versus completing a manual backup to a local hard drive.
No matter how you do it, it is really important that you backup your data. Do your research first and find out what suits you best in your weekly, or daily, backup task; local backups to a hard drive or remote backup to an online service. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Since writing this article I decided that local backups to external drives is just not enough for me, especially in the case of natural disasters. With the increase in popularity of online backups I decided to do some research to find an online solution that works for me. In part two I plan on discussing some of these services, what I have found in my research and the personal choice I have made.
Stay Tuned.
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