About eighteen months ago, I started working on an article about backup strategies for computer users. A few months after I put the finishing touches on that opus, it was published in the Quorum Magazine. That is a little-known publication put out by our local chapter of the CAI. Local means Coachella Valley and CAI means Community Associations Institute. Neither of those facts has much to do with what I am about to say. What I am trying to say here is that I’ve done this before and it is worth doing it again, with new emphasis provided by recent events. If the CAI is still running the data-backup technology I installed for them, they are about as well protected from data loss as any business in this valley. The only company I know of that has better protection is Rouzell Enterprises, Inc. Yes, that’s me.
Recent events, as mentioned above, include two computer thefts and one computer crash, along with just some strange behavior that is causing some anxiety. The first three result in irretrievable data-loss, while that last one presents a challenge, but will be resolved. Here’s the thing; data backup should be one of the first few things you install and configure on a new computer. Very few computer users will not create data that is irreplaceable. I’ve met a few myself, but I’m on the other side of the spectrum, with tens of gigabytes of data that is important to me. My stuff is protected at least two or three different ways and I’m going to share with you three strategies I use for this process. Each has its merits and each has its cost and return on investment.
Whenever I talk about data backup, I talk about return on investment. It only takes a moment to draw the analogy to data restoration. There is no other purpose to backing up your data, except certainty that you can retrieve it when necessary. This is the bottom line, right in the middle of this article. That being said, here is method one – synchronization.
After a brief review of cloud-based backup services, including well known names like Mozy and Carbonite, I settled on SugarSync. You may already know why, based on the name. The biggest names in online backup are focused on ease of use, “set it and forget it” installation and configuration. For me, I chose synchronization, so I get backup and restore. In essence, that is what happens – my data is backed up to the cloud, then “restored” to a directory on another computer. Actually, there are three other computers. The likelihood of data loss is further reduced by the fact that each computer lives in a different environment. One is at home, one in my office, one is in a home office in another city and one is a laptop. The chances of all four computers being lost, stolen, or dying simultaneously are pretty slim. Even with all of that certainty in my case, I’ll tell you about method two – disk image backup to a local external drive.
I’ve backed up each of my computers (at least once) by creating an image of the entire drive, which creates a file to be stored on another disk. Given that hard drives today hold hundreds or thousands of gigabytes of data and I only have tens of gigs to preserve, there’s plenty of room for this method. I’ve been through a few computers in the last decade and I have images of those drives stored somewhere on other drives. For this, I use a product called ShadowProtect desktop, made by StorageCraft. It’s not cheap, but it’s easy to understand and run and it can be used for continuous incremental updates. The only drawback here is that you really should store your backup drive in a location other than right next to your computer. One of the victims of computer theft had his backup drive stolen along with his primary computer. He will not be restoring his lost data from that drive. That’s the problem with local backup. Which leads us to method three.
You can get a 16 or 32 GB USB drive with a backup program built into it. This handy little gadget provides the simplest method of protection. You plug it in, answer a few questions, and in a few minutes you’ll have all of your important documents in your hand. The downside is, it is a handy little gadget, which means it’s very easy to lose. You must now protect it with all of the fervor commensurate with the value of the data on it. That means lock it in a safe, or at least keep it as safe as you would your car keys or your wallet. In other words, know where it is and don’t misplace it. Lose this little gadget and your backup strategy is pointless.
That’s it for now. I could beat this up a bit more by telling you how hard it is to put a dollar value on photos and documents you’ve created and stored on your computer. But, I won’t. I’ll simply repeat the basics here. Start backing up your data as soon as you realize it is valuable to you. Use one of the three methods mentioned here. Get a USB drive, use disk imaging software, or subscribe to some online backup service. Just do do something before your computer is lost, or stolen, or simply dies from any number of unnatural causes.
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