Backups: Protecting your Data!


No one else will do it for you… sort of. Nowadays the average person has gigabytes and gigabytes of data to their name: whether it’s music, photos, videos, documents or assorted other items. How best to protect all that precious data?

Your data is in danger! Not just from malware and other internet threats but from the inside. Data can be a fragile thing: it can be corrupted, deleted, destroyed, misplaced or tampered with. There are a myriad of ways you can protect your data… or maybe pay someone else to do it for you.


Save! And save often!

I know it sounds like schoolboy stuff but it needs to be said: saving is the most important and fundamental way to protect your data. If you don’t save then it’s as if the file never really existed in the first place. Hitting Ctrl and S has become so engrained in my personal computing use that it’s an unconscious action. There is no such thing as saving too much!

Many applications have auto-save features which you can take advantage of, which save your work automatically at set intervals. You might even consider saving multiple versions of the same file. It is possible to recover a past version of a file but saving multiple versions at different times could save you the hassle of going through the recovery process.


Backups

Once you saved your file and it’s all safe and sound sat on your HDD, what next? Copy that file! As many times as you can on as many disks, USB’s and external HDD’s as you have to hand.

You don’t need to go too crazy: I have a desktop PC which houses everything, the files (music, photos, documents, videos) are also on my laptop and then backed-up on an external HDD which is stored away from the other two, in case of fire or the sporadic explosions my house is known for. Whilst I was working on my dissertation at university I also had it and a few other important files on a memory stick or two, to be extra safe.

It might sound like overkill or completely unnecessary but imagine your HDD failing whilst you’re in the middle of writing your magnum opus. They most assuredly do fail, just like any piece of equipment, from time to time. Usually you can recover the data but that takes time and money, isn’t completely guaranteed to work and your deadline is coming soon! Not to worry, if you’ve got recent backups to fall back on you’re in the clear.


The Cloud… fluffy and helpful

Don’t have a myriad of HDD’s, memory sticks and other devices to back up onto? Worry not; the mystical cloud is here to help. The Cloud and cloud computing have become tech buzz words in the past couple of years but it’s not all that complicated.

In effect the Cloud is essentially like renting a friend’s HDD and having them look after it for you at their house: it’s obviously a little more than that but it’s a helpful metaphor. The down side is that when they are out, or when your internet is broken, you can’t get access to those files: that is to say that if you store files on Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox and one of those services goes offline you can’t get at them.

You also might have to worry about someone breaking into your friend’s house and pinching the HDD with your files on them. No doubt you’ve heard about the scandal involving some NSFW pictures of celebrities being stolen from Apple’s iCloud. You essentially have to trust that your friend (any cloud storage service) has some pretty killer locks on his doors and makes sure that all of his windows (pun fully intended) are locked up tight as well.

A cloud service going offline is obviously a problem but it is usually a rarity. If you are paying for a cloud storage service, like any of the three mentioned above, a hefty chunk of that subscription goes toward maintaining a stable and constant connection: these services are built to stay online and they have a reputation to maintain by minimizing downtime.


Going back to the source

Downloading music, movies and TV shows is big business now and as such you can potentially have a free(ish) constant backup of your downloaded media.

I’m talking about going back to the source. If you’ve downloaded music from services like Amazon or iTunes and your computer dies, losing all of that precious media, worry not! You can just re-download it. That’s the beauty of buying things digitally and the reason I don’t backup much of my music, games and films: for one thing they are usually huge, much larger than simple document files, and secondly I can just re-download them if there’s a problem. If you have superfast fibre optic broadband then you might even be able to download all of your tunes and games faster than transferring them over via external HDD.


My Backup solution

I honestly don’t expect everyone to read this but it can be difficult to imagine just what all this backing-up looks like and how it slots into your daily, weekly or monthly computer use. Therefore I’m going to take you through my backup routine and the services I make use of. This is by no means the “best” way to do it but depending on how much you use your various computing devices you might not even backup this often.

First things first my PC has 3 HDD’s: A 2TB HDD which has all of my documents, pictures, videos and other miscellany on it; another 2TB HDD which has all of my games on it; and one Solid State Drive (SSD) which houses my OS and programmes. The idea here is that my Games drive is likely to be under the most load and will therefore burn out before the others. If this does happen then my OS drive and my documents drives will be fine, in theory.

Next I have a laptop and an external HDD. Every month at the very least, preferably every couple of weeks, I backup all of my documents, photos and videos on the external HDD. This really doesn’t take very long and if your PC is powerful enough you can more or less use it as normal whilst you’re doing it. From there I also copy that backup onto my laptop, with the most up-to-date version of those files. So in terms of physical backups I have my most important data in three places minimum at any given time.

During my time at University I worked on a few important essays and other projects. These important files would get backed up during my usual routine but also every time I finished working on them. I have a 16GB USB stick which houses an up to date copy of my most important in-use documents. I also used this for quickly backing-up important files onto my laptop or a University computer to work on later.

In terms of cloud backups I use Google Drive, Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Drive. Google Drive has a fair bit of free storage just for having a Gmail account and also features a nice suite of apps (Spreadsheets, document editing, notes, etc.) which can store various file types to download later or view and edit online. Google Photo allows you to automatically sync photos taken on your Android devices with your Google account, storing them safely on the cloud.

Dropbox is great for sharing and collaborating on documents with multiple people at once. You can easily share a Dropbox folder and its contents with a team or group working on a single project. Dropbox offers a series of hoops to jump through to get extra free storage, which only takes a few minutes if you just sit down and do them. Last but not least Amazon Cloud Drive offers unlimited free backup for your photos with an Amazon Prime account: I have one and literally just dump all of my photos into it.

It may sound like a lot but it isn’t an exhaustive list. Your backup routine might be more extreme if you have more precious documents or run a small private business for example. It might be less if you just use your PC for casual browsing. It’s about finding a routine which suits your usage whilst keeping your sensitive data safe and sound!