Yet another one of my friends had a computer hard drive fail recently. And, of course, she didn’t have her data backed up. A very expensive service (upwards of $1,000) was ultimately able to recover about sixty percent of her photos and other work, but much of it is simply gone. This happens often. Hard drives are subject to age, damage, and malfunction, just like any other electronic product so it pays to upkeep your computer (which can help you make your computer last for years). Yet people keep believing, “It won’t happen to me.” With everything on the computer now, including many people’s financial records, statements, tax returns, scans of things like marriage certificates and passports, and investment information, not to mention personal data like photos, it’s too risky to live without a backup. If you believe that time is money, you’re looking at a huge financial loss.
If you don’t have a backup when your hard drive fails, the best you can hope for is that you’ll be able to pay someone a boatload of money and they’ll be able to get some of your data back. These services are so expensive that they make a backup drive look cheap. (You can buy a 1 terabyte external hard drive, which should handle most people’s personal backup needs and then some, for under $100 dollars. A recovery service will run at least into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, depending on the work and time needed and it still may not be successful.) At worst, your data is simply gone and you will spend many hours/days recreating lost work and some things, like photos, will be simply gone forever.
There are several ways to prevent this disaster, and most are inexpensive (at least when compared to the cost of a computer or a recovery service). As I mentioned above, an external hard drive will cost you less than $100. Or you can store your data “in the cloud.” Cloud services such as DropBox offer free accounts that offer a limited amount of space, and pay options that give you more space. (Just be aware that any online service is never truly secure. Hacking is always a possibility, so you may not want to trust sensitive information to a service that you cannot control.) There are also other media options such as thumb drives and DVD’s. While not large enough to back up an entire hard drive, you can use these options to at least back up your most important files.
You want to do more than just stick your files on a drive and forget about them, though. While that’s half the battle, it’s not foolproof. If your house burns down or floods, that drive may be lost with the rest of your stuff. Even if it survives, if you haven’t updated the backup in two years, you’ll be missing a lot of stuff. Here are some tips to create a foolproof backup system.
Redundancy Is A Good Thing
You want to keep multiple copies of your backup in multiple places. So, for example, if you’re using an external hard drive and keeping that in your house, you will want to keep another copy of your data either in the cloud or on a drive that you store in your safe deposit box or in a desk drawer at work. This will ensure that if your first option is damaged, lost, or stops working, you’ll still have access to another copy. I know someone who had her computer hard drive fail and when she went to use the backup drive, discovered that had failed, as well. Another lost both her computer and the backup drive in a fire. While rare, such disasters are possible so use multiple backups and keep them in different places.
Keep Your Copies Synchronized
Try to keep your multiple backups within one version of each other. So, for example, if you backed up using the drive in your house this week, the copy that’s at work or in the safe deposit box should be no more than one backup prior. If you can keep them equal that’s even better, but at least with only one version difference you won’t lose that much if total disaster strikes. What you want to avoid is a scenario where the version in your house is being updated every week while the version you keep offsite is only updated twice a year. That will cost you a lot of work if the copy at home is lost at the same time as your main computer fails.
Back Up Photos
When it comes to photos, here’s a special tip. Don’t clear the photos on your camera until you have imported them to your computer AND backed them up to another source. Until you have that second copy, your camera is acting as a temporary backup. So don’t delete the images off the camera until you have them stored in at least two other places. I know one person who never clears a memory card. Instead, she imports the photos to her computer, backs them up, and deposits the memory cards in her safety deposit box. Her rationale is that SD cards are so cheap now, she’d rather just buy new ones and use the old ones as a “last resort” backup method.
If you’re going to buy a computer, just go ahead and factor in the cost of a backup mechanism into the purchase price. If you don’t have the money to either buy a portable hard drive, space in the cloud, or media like DVD’s/jump drives, you really don’t need to buy the computer because you certainly won’t have the money to pay for the recovery service. The risks of going without a backup these days are too great. Too much of our financial, work, and personal lives are on the computer and many of us would be lost without that data. Backing up your data is cheap when compared to the financial cost of a recovery service and the emotional cost of lost data.
(Photo courtesy of jon_a_ross)