No matter what type of files and data they are, whether personal or business, media or document, losing your files can be devastating and may cause, in the case of business and work related files, loss of revenue or incur extra cost.
If you own a computer, and you keep your data on it, it is highly likely that at some point something will go wrong, with the potential to lose your stored data. It is also possible that the physical computer itself may be lost or stolen.
Here are some online and offline, hardware and software, ways of preventing permanent loss. It is unlikely that any one method will be sufficient in itself, and multiple ways of preventing data loss are always recommended. Online data storage in particular has certain disadvantages if you are storing a lot of data; most free services have limited amounts of space, costs can quickly climb and are typically monthly or yearly, no one off, and the actual data transfer itself can take a long time, even over a good internet connection. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all possible solutions; there are many similar products and services available.
CD-R and DVD-R
It is now very easy to burn CDs and DVDs. Most computers will have at least a CD writer drive built in, and typically a DVD writer for more recent machines. These won't be separate drives, but will be features of the existing CD/DVD drive.
Both CD-R and DVD-R are WORM storage (Write Once Read Many). They are therefore any really suitable for finished files, as you won't be able to edit them afterwards. You can store works in progress, just realise that if you do change the work, it will need re-saving, probably onto another disc.
It is still possible for data to be lost after burning a disc, due to damage, accident, or even being left in direct sunlight. If you are storing data on discs, it's a good idea to burn at least two copies of every disc created.
Memory cards come in a variety of formats and capacities. Most newer computers have a memory card reader built in, often with the ability to use multiple card formats, allowing you to easily transfer data onto them. These cards are also common in other digital devices, allowing data to be read by multiple platforms. A downside is the price; cards are quite expensive when compared to hard drives, and will store substantially less data. They are, however, much more portable.
Credit: MorgueFileThese are storage devices that have a built in USB connector, and are inserted directly into your computer. USB ports have been common in computers for many years, and, unlike memory card readers, only extremely old and massively outdated computers are unlikely to have them.
Again, these are more expensive than hard drives, will usually store less data, and are more portable. They are typically bigger, cheaper and have a larger storage capacity than memory cards.
External Hard Drives
An external hard disk drive is a complete hard disk drive that is plugged into a computer, usually through a USB cable, and often powered by a separate power cable. These are easy to remove from the computer and can be stored elsewhere when not in use. Substantially bigger and heavier than both memory cards and flash drives, they are able to store a lot more data and store it for a lower cost.
External Hard Drive Enclosure
These can be used in the same way as both removable hard drives and external hard drives. They do not come with a built in hard drive, requiring a separate purchase. They are, however, more flexible, in that they can be used with multiple drives, rather than just the built in one an external drive has.
A major use for these is data recovery, rather than loss prevention. Even if a computer breaks and is unbootable, the data stored on it may still be there. By removing the internal hard drive from the problem computer, installing it in an external enclosure, then attaching that to another computer, you are then able to access the hard drives contents, and can transfer required data from it, leaving you safe to do a reinstall or reformat of the affected hard drive after doing so.
Be sure to run a virus scan on any hard drive removed from a computer like this, as any problems may have been caused by a virus, and you don't want to transfer it to another computer.
Removable Hard Drives
Credit: AmazonRemovable hard drives are essentially an enclosure similar to an external hard drive enclosure, except they are mounted in the actual computer itself. A removable hard disk drive tray is mounted in a standard drive bay inside a computer case, as are normal internal hard drives. With the tray, though, thee is no need to open the case to exchange a hard drive. Instead a drive is inserted and removed through the drive bay in the front of the computer case, allowing multiple hard drives to be used and removed as required.
Hard drives used in this manner do not have the protection from static and damage that those inside the machine, installed in an external enclosure, or built as an external drive have. You need to be careful both removing and storing drives used like this; there is no point backing up your data on a hard drive and removing it if you then destroy or damage the drive the data is stored on.
Fire Resistant Safes
Credit: MorguefileNot actually computer hardware or software, but it does little good to backup your data onto external storage if that same storage isn't protected. A fire resistant safe can provide another level of protection. Make sure the safe in question is designed to protect data, and not paper, as safes for paper are unlikely to, and are not rated to, protect data storage hardware.
Software and Online
Credit: DropboxDropbox is an online file storage and file synchronisation service. With a free account, you get 2GB of storage space, although this can be increased if you refer new users, up to a maximum of 8GB extra. There are also a number of paid account options, with more storage and either monthly or (discounted) yearly billing.
Dropbox allows files to be backed up online, then the Dropbox software will then synchronise those files between any devices you have Dropbox installed on. This isn't limited to desktop or laptop computers, but also includes mobile devices, namely iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android.
Once Dropbox is installed on a device, files are automatically synced when the device is connected to the Internet. New files added to the Dropbox folder on the device will be uploaded to the online Dropbox, and any new or updated online files will be downloaded.
Dropbox also maintains prior versions of files, although these, as well as deleted files, don't count against your allowed quota.
You can also use Dropbox to share specified files and folders with others.
Windows Live Mesh
Credit: MicrosoftWindows Live Mesh is a free service from Microsoft that requires a Windows Live account. It allows you to sync folders between computers by downloading and installing software to any devices that you wish to sync the folders between. This allows you to essentially backup data onto another computer, even if it's at a remote location.
Credit: MicrosoftWindows Live SkyDrive is an online cloud storage service that allows you to store files and folders online, and to share them with others if desired. Using Windows Live Mesh, you can sync files and folders with SkyDrive, as well as between computers, in a similar way to how Dropbox works. SkyDrive has 5GB of free online storage.
Credit: NortonNorton Ghost is software from Symantec that allows you to backup your data. You can backup and restore from CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, external hard drive or a networked attached storage device. Backups are compressed and encrypted to reduce disk space usage and to safeguard your data.
With Norton 360, you get 2GB of free online storage which can be used to store data. The files and folders you want backing up can be defined in Norton 360, and backups of that data will be done at defined times when the computer is connected to the internet.
As well as using it to backup data into the online storage, you can also backup data to your selected storage devices, such as external hard drives or flash drives.