Did you know that last Friday was World Backup Day?
Me, neither. But I heartily applaud the idea because anything that helps make people aware of the need to back up their data is a good thing.
And not doing it is just plain idiotic. Stop and think for a minute about what the consequences would be if you suddenly lost all of your digital information: documents, photos, financial records, email history…everything.
For most people it would be terribly inconvenient. For others it would be downright awful. For people like me, it would be catastrophic.
I “went paperless” about six years ago. Virtually every piece of paper that comes into the house that’s worth saving — credit card receipts, bank statements, invoices, photos, letters, research documents, draft manuscripts of my books, everything — gets scanned and shredded. I not only managed to get rid of two 6-foot filing cabinets, I’ve also got all of my information available to me at a moment’s notice no matter where in the world I am.
Those files are also far better protected than all that paper was: They can’t be burned, waterlogged, or misplaced. They can be stolen, but I’ll still have them.
On the other hand, if those digital files were somehow lost or destroyed, my life as I know it would be forever altered and I might as well go live in a cave somewhere. Even losing a single critical file can be a major problem.
Having everything in one place is therefore a bad thing. The solution to this “single-repository vulnerability” is not to have a single repository.
Because of the enormous consequences of losing all my digital stuff, I go to great lengths to make sure it won’t happen. And I confess that I am extremely judgmental of people who are highly dependent on their digital property and don’t do anything to protect it.
Especially when doing so is so easy and cheap it’s almost laughable. If you don’t back up your data now, I’m going to assume that it’s because you didn’t know that. And if you get to the end of this column and you still don’t?
Then you’re an idiot. Ain’t no putting a polite spin on that one, bub.
Here’s what I do to protect my digital life. As soon as you come to one method that you think might work for you, stop reading and go git ‘er done. Two is better, but I’m not going to push the issue so long as you’re doing at least one.
- Use an online backup service. Incredibly easy and cheap. Takes a few minutes to set up, five or ten bucks a month to fund, and zero (yes, zero) effort to use. It all happens in the background, automatically, and the only time you need to pay attention is if you lose a file and want to get it back.
Online backup services store your data on their own servers (“the cloud”) so even if your machine falls off a boat or your office burns down, your data are still safe (and secure).
The two I use are Backblaze (www.backblaze.com) and Mozy (mozy.com/product/mozy/personal). Most people can back up their files for about $6 per month. Your entire hard drive is a little more expensive. (I have 225 gb backed up across three computers for about $22/month.) Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) is also popular.
Backblaze and Mozy are excellent services: Both backup either continually or several times a day, and both have saved me any number of times. They’re literally set-and-forget, but make sure they’re configured to send you an email if, for some reason, backups aren’t occurring. (This is why I use both services instead of just one: A few months ago I went to recover a lost file from one of them and discovered that no backups had been occurring for two weeks because of a technical issue. I got the file from the other one.)
As an added bonus, if you accidentally delete a file, both of these services will keep it for thirty days rather than delete it right away. A real lifesaver when you want to get it back.
- Back up to your other computers. I have several machines, and at least once a week I back them up to each other so that the files on all are identical.
This technique is technically not “backing up;” it’s synchronizing. But the net effect is the same. It can also get a little tricky, because the idea is to make sure that the latest version of each file is the one that gets transferred. This isn’t something you want to do manually because you will for sure make mistakes, which will make things worse rather than better.
Best bet is to use a piece of software that compares files on two machines and always transfers the newest version. The program I’ve been using for over ten years is ViceVersa (www.tgrmn.com), which lets you set up scripts that you can then run with a single click. It’s a bit of work to get it configured, but a snap once it’s running.
- Back up to an external drive. This one is also absurdly easy. External drives are very cheap — you can get a trillion-byte drive for around $80 — and you can back up your entire hard drive with a few clicks. You can also use an even less expensive thumb drive; it will accommodate most of your important data but not your entire hard drive.
You’ll want to encrypt any external drive once it contains all your data, since those things are highly “portable.” It’s easy to do with some inexpensive software. And, needless to say, store the drive somewhere other than the same room as your computer.
(You might also consider “cloning” your hard drive instead of just copying it. That way, if your main drive goes bad, you can just swap in the clone and be up and running instantly: no program and driver reinstalls. But that’s a bit of a task and you shouldn’t let it distract you from the real job here, which is to back up your data.)
So what are you waiting for? Go!
Lee Gruenfeld is a Principal with the TechPar Group in New York, a boutique consulting firm consisting exclusively of former C-level executives and "Big Four" partners. He was Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Support.com, Senior Vice President and General Manager of a SaaS division he created for a technology company in Las Vegas, national head of professional services for computing pioneer Tymshare, and a Partner in the management consulting practice of Deloitte in New York and Los Angeles. Lee is also the award-winning author of fourteen critically-acclaimed, best-selling works of fiction and non-fiction. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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