How often do you backup your hard drive? Every day? Once a month? Never?
Unfortunately that last answer — never — is all too common. Everyone knows they are supposed to back up their computer, but everyone thinks:
- My data isn’t all that important. It isn’t worth the expense and hassle.
- It’s never going to happen to me.
These are both wrong.
You Need to Backup Your Computer Hard Drive
Let’s deal with each of the two common misconceptions that lead people to never back up their computers data.
“My Data Isn’t That Important”
If you use your computer for work, you know for a fact that your data is valuable. Losing it might cost you your job, or at least set back your efforts. It can take weeks or months to recreate or redo work that you lose.
Students, also, can ill-afford to lose their data. In progress papers, class notes, homework, and other assignments — along with downloaded readings and other material. Losing all of this can be a serious, serious setback in your studies, and may cost you grades.
Even if you don’t use your computer for school or work, you probably have documents and media that you do not want to lose, material that is too important to you and very difficult, time consuming, or impossible to replace.
- Pictures you’ve taken
- Contacts / Address Book
- Email Messages (if you use a desktop client like Outlook)
- Personal documents like résumés and cover letters from previous job searches
- Downloaded videos and music
“It’s Never Going to Happen to Me”
Everyone thinks they are never going to be the victim of a tragedy. Data loss isn’t the worse tragedy that someone can suffer, but people still avoid thinking about how it could possibly happen to them.
The fact is, data loss is remarkably common. It can happen to anyone, at any time, for a number of different reasons. And while you should be very careful and responsible, avoiding the sorts of things that lead to data loss — sometimes it still happens, no matter how vigilant you are.
Some of the causes of data loss include:
- Your computer is infected with a virus that deletes your data
- Your computer is attacked by an encryption blackmailing scheme
- Your hard drive fails
- You accidentally delete something, or everything
- You accidentally reformat your harddrive
- Your computer is stolen — this happens to laptops all the time
- Your computer is lost — again, a common occurrence with laptops
- Your computer is destroyed in a disaster such as a fire or flood
- Your computer is damaged by an electrical surge
Any of these things can happen to anyone, at any time. No one is immune from bad luck.
What to Backup
You could simply copy your entire hard drive, but there’s usually no need to. You don’t usually need to back up the operating system, utility files, or applications. What you mostly want to backup are your personal files — the stuff you cannot replace, or cannot easily replace.
This usually includes:
How to Backup
There are two broad categories of backups, physical and online. Physical backups used to be the standard backup method, but online backups have recently surpassed them as the most common type.
You can back up your files on physical media, such as CDs or DVDs — if your computer supports the appropriate drives, or if you use outboard USB drives. You can also get an external hard drive. This can be plugged directly to your computer via USB cable, or connected via a local network. This is the most expensive solution, but it can be every convenient, and the price on high-volume disk drives is getting lower and lower every year.
One thing to consider with physical backups is that if they are stored at the same physical location as your computer, then your data isn’t protected from some form of physical harm: fire, flood, and possibly theft.
Therefore, it is a good idea to keep your physical copies in another location. This is usually referred to as offsite backup.
Cloud-Based Backup Services
Every day, there are more and more options for online backup — commonly called cloud backup. These are online subscription services — some free, some paid — in which your data is stored on the servers of another company.
This is a very convenient solution. In addition to data backup, most of these services include additional features, such as:
- file sharing
- file syncing across multiple computers
- online document editing
- online collaboration
- integration with other apps, especially project management and productivity apps
Popular Online Backup Services
- Apple iCloud — only available for Mac users, integrates easily into the OSX experience, allowing you to easily backup and sync your files, apps, photos, and iTunes collection.
- Google Drive — This is part of an entire suite or personal and business productivity applications called Google Apps. Drive combines file backup and syncing with online document creation and collaboration. Drive, along with Apps, is free up to certain usage limits.
- Dropbox — One of the most popular online backup services. Dropbox also has excellent file-sharing facilities. Free up to certain usage limits.
- Carbonite — This is one of the leading backup and data management services for business and industry, and it is very popular for personal use as well. They have a particular focus on security, and their servers are compliant with federal privacy regulations such as HIPAA and FERPA.
Privacy Concerns With Online Backup Services
Some people — privacy advocates — do not prefer these types of services, for one of a couple different reasons:
- They claim that if your data is managed by another company, it isn’t really your data. The company may, for example, be forced to relinquish your data to law enforcement or national security agents.
- They also point out, in reference to free and “freemium” services, that if you are not paying the service, then you are not the customer. The question then is — who is the customer? Privacy advocates suggest that the customer may be advertisers and others interested in buying access to your data.
An Alternative Online Backup System
If you like the convenience of online backups but have concerns about privacy issues, or cost — or if you just like managing your own stuff — you can try OwnCloud.
OwnCloud is a Free and Open Source cloud storage tool for data backup and syncing. It provides most of the features of services like DropBox and Google Drive, but you install, manage, and control it yourself.
You have to be a little tech savvy to use this, though, and you have to have a remote server (which means there is some cost, no matter what).
There are a lot of options for how you backup your data. Some are free, and most are easy.
You really have no excuse to go another day without backing up your files. And you never know what will happen tomorrow. Go — do it now.