For most people these days our computers are our lifelines, our stories, our history. It used to be that people would record their photos in albums bound and put on a shelf. We would maintain our check registers, in the actual register. We kept track of our accounts and our friends in little black books. Each of these tangible physical things was subject to threats like fire, and water damage. But the likelihood of you waking up one day and opening your photo album only to find half of the photos were missing or corrupted was slim to none. You have a 100% chance of the data on your hard drive becoming corrupted, degrading, or disappearing. Hard drives contain moving parts and complex electronics, anytime there are moving parts involved you can be guaranteed that they will, at some point fail. Have you properly prepared for this inevitable catastrophe?
What to Keep
Now that you have made the decision to backup your data, what do you need to backup? You need to determine what is irreplaceable or critical. Your sweet twitter icon collection is replaceable, your pictures of your 1 year olds birthday are not. I personally backup my photo collection, financial documents, website data, and other important documents. You shouldn’t, nor do you need to, backup your entire hard drive. It is time consuming and can get very expensive if you choose to just back up everything. You need to sit down and go through your computer(s) and identify what you should backup.
Then next big question is how often should you backup your data? There are several strategies you can implement depending on your specific needs and the method/software you are using to do your backups. If you are only dealing with pictures and documents which don’t change on a daily basis you are probably ok with just a once a week, or even a once a month backup. If you are dealing with a wildly successful online business I may do a weekly full and daily incremental backups.
Where to Store it
The downside to personal backup strategies is you are much less likely to be able to afford to maintain multiple copies of the same data on separate media. This means you are going to have to rely on the backup media being good when you need the data. In a business they will create multiple backups, say keep several monthly backups so if one tape fails not everything is lost, you are going to probably have to rely on one source.
The easiest place to store your backup(s) is on an external hard drive. Prices are getting ridiculously low for increasingly massive amounts of storage. I bought a 1.5 TB drive for $120 and they are less than that now. The downside is you aren’t really diversifying your data storage, you are just putting your money in two like things. Storage locally on a separate drive is the cheapest long term option but you still have to worry about the backup drive eventually failing.
To increase the likelihood of your data always being around you could look into some of the online services that are out there which allow you to backup your data to their servers. This is nice in that you don’t have to buy any new hardware and they are going to deal with the storage of your backup data. In addition these companies are going to backup their servers in the event they have a failure. This way your backup is backed up. A big downside though is the speed of transfer. You can only send data at your maximum upload speed from your ISP, this is most likely less than 1 Mb. For me to backup my entire photo collection (27 Gb) could take a long time. You are also restricted on how quickly you can download to get your data back. I don’t have a lot of experience with the online backup services but here are two I have heard of being reputable and useful.
Mozy – Mozy provides online backups of an unlimited amount of data for $4.95 a month. I have a friend who uses them and recently had to restore a machine and had been talking about how great they were. So for $60 you get to backup you data and protect it from equipment failure and natural disasters.
Dropbox – Dropbox is more and less than a backup option. You get ree storage, including the DropBox software to sync you data across multiple PC’s. The advantage here is you can have access to your information on multiple PC’s all the time and each PC has a copy of the data (Backup). In addition to your computers maintaining the data DropBox has a copy on their servers as well. You only get 2GB of storage for free, if you want more you can pay $9.99 a month for 50GB of storage.
I personally backup my photos to an external harddrive. In addition to that drive I use dropbox to sync/backup my financial data from GNUCash and all of my website data. If you have never tried DropBox you need to check it out because it is probably my favorite application I found in the last 2+ years.