Back up - Back up - Back up

Hard Drive InternalThere are so many sob stories out there, about the hard drive that failed and the whole digital life of some poor person disappearing in an instant. Years and years of family photos that are irreplaceable. It could be a novel that was ninety five percent finished or the data from the accounts program. A digital artist could lose all the work that they were working on. It may have taken hundreds of hours that will never be able to be replaced. If you are a Podcaster you could lose your latest recordings. This heartache of a hard drive biting the dust could cost you money and not just your memories.

Are you Feeling Lucky?

Have you considered what your back up plan is? Is it crossing your fingers and doing the touch wood action on a daily basis. If that is the case then it is not good enough. It is not the case of if the hard drive fails. It is when the hard drive fails. They are mechanical objects and they do degrade over time. Another thing to consider is the stupid factor. This is when you are doing something and you wonder what will happen when you press this button. All of a sudden a huge pile of data has gone missing and you might not notice straight away. Then the next time you are looking for that data you are horrified to find that it no where to be found.

What should you be doing to protect your data?

The widely accepted intelligence on this backing data problem is that you should have each piece of data in three places or it is not properly backed up. The three places should be as follows -

  1. On a separate hard drive that is an incremental back up
  2. On a another separate hard drive that is a full disk bootable back up done at specific intervals - daily, weekly or monthly depending on how much content you create.
  3. Off site back up - cloud based or on a drive stored in a different building or even in a different town. If thieves were to steal the computer, then it would be worse if they stole the back up drive that was next to it also.

Data Backup Solutions

HardDriveExternalThe solutions to keeping data safe I will describe using a Mac but you can find equivalents for Windows too. The first step is to buy an external hard drive that is around double the size of your internal drive. If you have 500GB in the computer then get a one terabyte external. Connect it to your computer either by firewire or USB and start Time Machine. That's it - Let Time Machine do the rest for you. It will incrementally back up all that you tell it to on an hourly, daily and weekly basis. You can use the default settings and forget about it.

Make a Bootable Back Up

On the second hard drive you connect it periodically and let it do a full bootable back up. This drive should be the same size as the one in the computer. The two applications to choose from are Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper. If you are daily creating a lot of data then have it set to to the back up each day. You will get away with weekly if you are creating less. If you are doing it weekly consider storing the drive at your moms house, or at work. What would be an extension of this idea, would be to have a pair of drives that you rotate. Back up on one of them and next time back up on the other. Continually swapping the drives for the back up. You will have an extra layer of protection then.

Cloud Data Storage

For the off site back up you could have that covered by storing the drive elsewhere as per the previous tip. In any case what you should do is to use cloud storage for some or all of you data. This is only the data and doesn't need to be the system files, we covered that in the bootable back up. There are cloud storage solutions that you can use for free. DropBox, Mozy and Zumo drive to name just three of them. You will get as much as 2GB of space to start with for free, and you can extend that if you wish. DropBox you should have anyway as it is also a great way to share files with other people if you want to.

SSD Drives in the Future

In time we might have available the solid state drives which could be more secure due to having no moving parts. But for now vigilance is required to keep things safe. Now that you know this you have no excuse and you will not get a sympathetic ear if your drive fails taking your data with it. It is possible to take a failed drive to specialists that can attempt recovery of the data. You might not get all of it back depending on the damaged drive and it will cost you a lot of money.