Dodging digital disaster
How to avoid that sinking feeling when your hard drive fails
I remember saving up over a whole summer to buy my first 40 GB hard drive. Everyone wondered what I would use all that space for, but after spending weeks turning my CD collection into MP3s, I finally had the drive full. I returned to college overjoyed with my new music collection, only to hit the power button and hearing nothing but an ominous click. My new 40 GB hard drive had just died! Fortunately, it was under warranty and I received a replacement. But all the work I had put into my new music collection was erased in just a second. Anyone who has suffered digital loss knows the frustration and grief accompanying the harsh reality that those pictures you took on family vacation or that term paper you spent a semester writing are forever gone. Today, I have terabytes of data. If it were to disappear, I’d probably cry like a baby.
Thankfully, today’s hard drives are much more reliable. But that does not exempt you from digital loss. Fire, disaster, theft, ransomware, a pot of coffee, or any number of accidents can still take those precious memories. Here are a few ways I use to prevent digital doomsday. The three places you should backup those irreplaceable memories are onsite, offsite, and in the cloud.
Windows Backup and Apple’s Time Machine are built-in programs that you can use to set up an onsite backup—namely a backup made at the same location as your computer. Onsite backups are important because they allow quick recovery from small and large data losses. Deleted a file yesterday? Kids played on the computer and now your program is gone? Both Windows’ and Apple’s backup programs enable you to look at what was on your computer before and restore it to where it should be. An onsite backup is especially critical if you work with lots of files or the data you are preserving exceeds a few gigabytes.
The above two programs can also create offsite backups, where backups are stored in a different location from the computer. For example, you could save a backup of all your family’s photos and videos up to the end of last year and store them at your parents’ house. Having an offsite backup is critical in the event of fire, theft, lost luggage, or other catastrophe that also destroys your onsite backup. If you or your business works with other people’s information (including photos, videos, audio recordings, and other personal information), having an offsite backup can help keep things running smoothly, even when large amounts of data are lost. An offsite backup also does not have to include everything—just those things you cannot live without. An offsite backup differs from an onsite backup in that it usually only recovers information up to a certain time.
The final place you should keep a backup is in the cloud. A cloud backup provides seamless protection for your data when you are away from your other backup solutions. A cloud backup is not the same as cloud sync services like Google Drive and Dropbox, which are designed for sharing files in a folder between computers. Cloud backup protects everything.
If you do not currently have a cloud backup, I recommend starting with CrashPlan (www.crashplan.com) because it is easy to use and its plans are affordable. CrashPlan can even be used for free since it allows you to use the free space belonging to friends or family members that are CrashPlan users. Other cloud-backup providers that get high marks are Carbonite (www.carbonite.com), Backblaze (www.backblaze.com), and SpiderOak (spideroak.com). While a cloud backup may sound like the solution to all your backup worries, remember it could take weeks to download your files if something destroys your data. Onsite and offsite copies come in handy if you need your data fast.
Following these guidelines can help you to protect your precious digital memories and resources for future generations to enjoy as well as enable you to continue to operate smoothly if your work involves digital files.