An April Fools’ Day reminder: backup your digital data

World Backup Day was yesterday, and the day’s motto is: “Don’t be an April Fool. Be prepared. Back up your files on March 31.”

This is good advice, but, of course, you should back up your files all year round, not just on March 31. Hard drives fail. Computers (and smartphones and tablets) get stolen. Phones get dropped into water and become unusable.

If I lost everything on my computer, I’d be awfully unhappy about that. My computer has precious photos, lots of contact information, my calendar, a monstrous collection of website bookmarks, lots of documents I’ve scanned and shredded, etc. But I’m not worried about losing these valuable items, because I’m protected.

The following is what I do for backup, just to give you some ideas about how you might want to backup your digital life.

Incidental backups

My contacts and calendar are synched to my smartphone and tablet, so I have a backup of sorts there. I have some photos on Flickr, but these are just a select few I’ve chosen to share publicly. I also have some files in Dropbox, so I can access them from everywhere. While these are all fine duplications, I also wanted some true backup solutions.

Backups to hard drives

I have a MacBook, and I use SuperDuper to create a bootable hard drive with all my files. This is a Mac-only solution, and for Mac users I think it’s terrific. I’ve restored my entire computer from a SuperDuper backup, when Apple needed to replace a bad hard drive, and everything went just fine. There are plenty of other backup programs for both the Mac and the PC, but I don’t know if they provide quite the same functionality. If you’re a PC user, please leave a comment about your favorite SuperDuper equivalent.

I use LaCie rugged hard discs (with a Firewire connection) for my backups, and I’ve been happy with them, but there are certainly many other choices. I like the LaCie products because I often carry a hard drive in my purse, and so I appreciate the external protection built into these hard drives. It’s also one of the drives tested for compatibility with SuperDuper. I rotate through three different drives, so if one of these fails, I’m still protected.

Why carry one in my purse? It’s a form of off-site backup, and it’s easier to put one in my purse than to take one over to my safe deposit box. If my house were robbed, or if there were a fire, I wouldn’t want to lose both my computer and my back-up. (Yes, I know this may be a bit over the top.)

Backup to the cloud

I also wanted automated, all-the-time backups — and I believe in what organizer Margaret Lukens calls the “belt and suspenders” approach of having multiple types of backups, so you know you’re covered.

My choice for cloud backups is CrashPlan, but, again, there are many such services to choose from. I picked CrashPlan because people I knew used it and successfully restored files when they needed to, and they were very happy with the service.

CrashPlan and other cloud backups are great in that they run continually, and they provide off-site storage. But, if I needed to restore a computer drive quickly, my cloud backup wouldn’t be nearly as useful as my SuperDuper backup.

What about you? If you’re not doing backups, I highly recommend you start — you don’t want to be an April Fool and lose your valuable data. If you are backing up your data, I’d be interested in hearing your backup strategy in the comments.

10 Comments for “An April Fools’ Day reminder: backup your digital data”

  1. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    We use hold We back-up our family photos to a LaCie rugged hard drive every quarter and store it at an off-site location (Mom’s house).

    Whenever we move house, we backup using TimeMachine (Mac) and the backup goes on the moving truck (hidden) and our MacBooks go in our suitcases.

  2. posted by Margaret Lukens on

    Thanks for the reminder and update, Jeri! It breaks my heart when I hear stories of people who’ve lost valuable data that wasn’t backed up. Sometimes data loss can be so serious that a small business can’t recover. And because I’ve heard from business owners who THOUGHT they were backed up, but when they needed to restore, found that they hadn’t been backing up, I’m not ashamed to use duplicate backups. That’s why I favor the “belt and suspenders” approach — backup onsite (to a hard drive) and offsite (in the cloud). Maybe two cloud services. (That would be the “belt and suspenders and another belt” approach.) Once it’s set up, it provides cheap insurance against a catastrophic loss.

  3. posted by Alix on

    I back stuff up to a flashdrive, is that considered okay? I can’t imagine having enough data to need a portable hard drive. Or is there another reason why that would be the way to go?

  4. posted by Alice F. on

    I use Carbonite for cloud backup, and it has saved my sanity through two hard-drive crashes. I also have automatic backup to a portable hard drive just for extra peace of mind.

  5. posted by Ginger on

    I wish SuperDuper was available for PC.

    I use Cobian to do a daily backup to an external hard drive and Carbonite to do a daily cloud backup of my data.

    The external drive is good for quickly restoring data but external hard drives can fail and be stolen or lost or perish in a fire. That’s when a cloud-based backup comes in handy.

    Because of my constant nagging about having 2 different types of backups, I’ve saved clients from losing their data and had them up and running in no time.

  6. posted by Marie on

    I can’t imagine carrying a hard drive around in my purse…I would be so paranoid someone would steal it and access all my personal information. That seems like a 21st century version of carrying your Social Security card in your wallet. Of course, being self-employed is different than working retail and having to stash your belongings in a locker and pray someone doesn’t bust it open.

  7. posted by alfora on

    @Alix
    Having a backup on a flash drive (usb stick) is ok because it is much better than not having a backup at all.

    But more important aspects of backups are these:
    * Did you really backup all important data? Depending on your operating system some data is hidden in some obscure directories.

    * Can you use your backup to restore everything? It might not be enough if you only backup YOUR data but not the operating system and applications. Think about what you can do when your main HD crashed and you have nothing else but your computer, a new empty hard drive, and your backup.

    * Is your backup done automatically? Use a dedicated backup program that runs in the background. (Mac users just plug in an external hard drive and let Time Machine do it’s work.)

    * Depending on your data you’ll run out of space very quickly. Modern DSLR produce images that are 20 MB to 70 MB per picture! Come back from a holiday and you’ll have a few GBs worth of new pictures.

    @Marie
    Please don’t forget that you can encrypt your backups quite easily. Create an encrypted volume with TrueCrypt (cross-platform) or Disc Utility on the Mac.
    http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1578

  8. posted by Alix on

    Thanks, @alfora! Maybe I’ll have my computer-geek nephew take a look at my computer set-up and make some suggestions.

  9. posted by khalid bannour on

    I think the real and best solution to not losing your data is cloud backup; your Laptop can be stolen your hard drive die after fixed time so here is my solution:
    http://mypcbackupsite.com/

  10. posted by Todd C Robinson on

    Dropbox works for me. I also use google drive for some items.

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