That title really catches you, doesn’t it? The most important thing you can do today. Well, it’s not in the same league as love your family or hug your kids, but it’s still important.
If you love someone chances are you have irreplaceable photos or movies stored on a camera or on a hard drive somewhere. If you have children you may have video of them taking their first steps or speaking their first word. Maybe riding their two-wheeler bike for the first time without you help. Growing up, would be a shame to lose that…but poof there it went. You dropped the camera in the lake, or your computer hard drive seized up, never to run again. A shame.
These are the things that can happen through no fault of our own, or maybe it was your fault but you can triumph in spite of yourself.
BACK IT UP and do it often.
We’ve gone over the why, to save your stuff, now what about the how. What choices do I have and how do I use them? Well lucky thing you have me here as your guide.
There are really two kinds of backup, manual and automatic.
A manual backup would be you thinking, “Gee I haven’t made a backup of my stuff lately, maybe I should”, and then you do.
An automatic backup takes place whether or not you remember, or even when you are away from your computer as long as it’s on (we still haven’t perfected the magic backup while your computer is off but give it time).
In most cases unless you are away from your main system and backup solution, you will want to opt for an automatic backup. Take it out of your hands and just let it be done. Let me briefly describe solutions for both below.
Manual Backup Solutions -
A manual backup solution can be as simple as copying your files (notice I said copy not move, more on that later) to either another folder on the same drive or memory card, to copying your files to an externally connected USB drive or thumbdrive, or even out to the one of the myriad of storage sites on the Internet. Dropbox, SkyDrive and iDrive being some of my favorites.
side note: I said copy not move previously because when you move a file and it’s deleted from the previous location, you still have only a single copy of that file not a backup. A backed-up file should exist in at least 2 and preferably 3 locations with one of them being off-site. You will be able to read more about this in my article on backup workflows which is coming soon.
Some of the ways to do this are:
- Manually copy your data to another folder - Copy the files/folders to another folder or drive yourself, when you think of it.
- Manually copy your data to an outside service - Copy the files/folders into another folder on your computer that is synced to an outside service, like Dropbox or SkyDrive, or copy them to the site yourself. Some people like the control and flexibility this gives them and it can help reduce bandwidth costs as only what you copy in will be synced out to the Internet.
- Manually copy your data to an archive medium (like a DVD or CD) - If you’re used to handling DVD’s and CD’s this may be a good way to go as all modern operating systems have burning functionality built right in, but it does have some drawbacks Such as that writable discs degrade over time. They are somewhat small in storage capacity (relatively speaking). Also not all computers contain DVD drives any longer to help reduce size and weight.
The fact that you’re backing up your data is much more important than the way you do it, and if you’re reading this you’re thinking about it which means you’re a smart cookie.
Automatic Backup Solutions -
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the automatic solution was my preferred backup method. I figure that if “Fire & Forget” works for missiles, it should work for us conscientious backuppers (is that even a word? ).
Scripting, scheduling, operating system run, program after program after program…they can run the gamut and can even contain elements of the manual methods. Some automatic methods are:
- Scheduled Scripting - Write a script using a scripting language like DOS shell (good reference DosTips.com) that copies a file, or a group of files or folders, to a predetermined destination and then schedule this to run at a specific date or time using Windows Tasks (Windows) or Automator (OS X). Microsoft SyncToy is a good, free way to accomplish this.
- Sync Folders to Web Service - This would be scheduled (or continuous) synchronization to one of the aforementioned web services like Dropbox, SkyDrive or iDrive. Essentially you would point the synchronized web folder at your Documents or Pictures folder on your computer and it would keep them in sync by copying from one to the other. These will delete from each other though if the files are removed so be sure you know what you’re removing.
- Built-In OS Backup Functions - All modern OS’s have built in backup functionality that on a schedule can automatically copy your data to another medium and allow you to restore it as needed. The latest ones even use image based backup which in the case of catastrophic failure makes restoration on another computer possible and easy. Windows Backup and OS X Time Machine are examples of this.
- Whole Computer Offsite Backup - You know the ones I’m taking about. It’s hard to go ten minutes listening to the radio or watching TV without hearing a commercial for Carbonite or Mozy. These are programs that run in the background on your computer and watch for changes to any files and if one is detected, the new copy is uploaded to their site. They differ from the web services above in that they allow you to download previous versions of files for a period of time. They also usually charge a flat rate per month or per year for consumer backup of a single computer’s local hard drives (i.e. no USB or thumbdrives). I use a program called Jungle Disk that uploads to Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service) but charges by the gigabyte of data. While reasonable in price, it can go up quickly if you have a lot of data. For the average person I’d recommend Mozy for the simple setup and ease of use.
Not Quite the Final Word
As you can see there are a lot of solutions to choose from and not one is perfect for everyone and every situation. A few things to keep in mind are:
- Automatic backups are generally better than manual ones (especially if you have a memory like mine).
- Paying for a backup service / program can give you peace of mind and make it easy to recover from an issue.
- There’s nothing wrong with a free solution.
- Any Backup Is Better Than None At All!
Watch for the next article in the series where we talk about hardware and software solutions and go into more detail on how each can work for you.
Don’t forget to backup today.
Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links for products that will earn me a commission if you purchase through them. If you do I am extremely grateful and please contact me if you have any questions about any of the products or services.