I can’t tell you how many times an acquaintance or friend has come to me with a broken hard drive asking “Can you get my data back?” as if their lives depended on it. The experience can be quite dramatic. I feel like a doctor telling family members that their loved-one has passed away. Losing all your data can be very stressful. Think about photos you can never get back, hours, weeks, months of work erased, just like that. You get the picture. Hard drives have moving parts, they spin at around 5000rpm. Soon or later, they will break, you can’t avoid it. Is your data backed-up? If you say yes, go do something else. Otherwise, keep on reading, you will thank me profusely some day.
It used to be that a couple CDs, or more recently, DVDs was enough to back-up all of one’s data. Today, with videos, movies, high resolution cameras, data fills-up hard drives like shoppers at Walmart on black Friday. Not to mention that if your drive bites the dust, you will have to reinstall your operating system. If you’re using Ubuntu like I am, not big deal, it’s free. If however you can’t find your Windows registration, guess what, $200 for Micro$oft. Hopefully you also have all your software somewhere safe, ready to be reinstalled.. Think about the amount of work though.. Who has the time to sit in front of a computer looking at a progress bar all day, or pay some geek a fortune to do it for them? I don’t.
These days, you are looking at two options. 1, a full drive backup on separate hard drives. 2, an online backup service. Let’s look at both solutions..
A full drive backup is great because you can make a mirror image of your drive, which can then be restored to a similar drive. You don’t have to reinstall anything, your entire drive is copied bit by bit independently of your operating system. It takes a few hours, but the recovery is painless and very easy. You will need two USB external hard drives of the same capacity as your main hard drive. Why two? Because your hard drive can fail during a backup operation, rendering your backup useless! So, you alternate the drives and backup every other week. At the most, you’ll lose one month of data updates. The downside of this scheme is that you can’t use your computer while it is backed-up. I do it at night, usually it is finished when I get up. You can also lose quite a bit of data if you are not diligent enough. You will need a drive cloning tool. Get G4L, it’s free and works great. You burn it onto a CD and use it to boot your computer. Be careful when you choose your source and target drive, you don’t want to backup an empty or old image to your current drive! An remember, it only works if you actually do it regularly!
The online backup solution is very convenient. You pay a small monthly fee, usually $10, to have your data automatically uploaded to a storage facility via the Internet. You can choose what folders to save, or exclude certain types of files by extension or size. What I like most about it is that it is transparent. You can still use your computer as usual while the program works in the background. I don’t notice any performance difference with the service I use. You need to make sure that the transmission of your data is encrypted, and that it also be encrypted wherever it is saved. Nobody should be able to read your files. The best service I have found is SpiderOak. They give you 2Gb for free, and charge only $10 per 100Gb. Their client program is great, and all data is encrypted. You can even synchronize your laptop with your desktop, or other computers. The process is pretty slow the first time you use it. I just uploaded about 84Gb in the span of a week. After your initial upload however, it is much faster. The good part was that I didn’t have to care about it at all. It works on Windows, Linux and Mac.
Which solution is best? Well, I highly suggest doing both! Make a mirror copy of your hard drive (you can use only one drive then), and have your data backed-up online with SpiderOak. This way, after a crash, you load the drive image with G4L, then update your data from your online backup. Everything is up-to-date, and you don’t have to reinstall anything.
Can you afford to spend $80 on an external hard drive, or/and pay $10 per month? Can you afford not to? Can you lose all your data? Remember, it’s not “if,” it’s “when.” Back-it-up!