I come from the IT profession. Twenty-some odd years of it, to be exact. And the one mistake I see people repeatedly make is not backing up their data. The number one excuse? Time. Second? They don’t know how, so ignorance is bliss.
Listen up. It’s not a matter of when your hard drive fails. It’s a matter of when. I don’t care if you use a Mac or Windows machine. Sooner or later, that drive is going to die. Even SSD drives. I don’t care if the drive manufacturer or your best friend tells you your drive is good for another 1-3 years. Stuff happens. Data corrupts. Files get accidentally deleted or overwritten. There’s theft, fire, and natural disasters, too.
Don’t think you have anything to lose? Really? No family photos? No scanned documents? Emails stored locally? Reports, home work? Apps, songs, movies or other media that you’ve purchased? Writers – how about that manuscript that you put in several hundred to over a thousand hours into?
And if you think backing up your data means mailing it all to yourself via a cloud-based email app, think again. How long will it take you to find and restore all that? Will you even remember where you put it? Think your cousin the tech guru can get that data back for you from the failed drive? Good luck. Depends on how far gone the drive is. My experience will tell you, it’s a 50-50 shot and will take hours of work. Even then, you may not get all the data back. So sorry about your irreplaceable photos, the term paper, or that report due to your boss in the morning. Think you can take it somewhere and they’ll be able to get the data back like they do on TV? Sure! Your odds are slightly better here and it’ll cost you anywhere from $500 to $2,000.
Backups people. Backups. It’s easier than ever.
Buy an external drive equal to the size of your internal drive. They don’t cost much at all these days.
For Mac users, it can’t get any easier that plugging in the external drive. The Mac will acknowledge it, ask if you’d like to make that drive the Time Machine backup. You’ll click yes, and away you go. From here on, as long as that drive is plugged in, the Mac will make hourly backups. If you don’t like hourly backups, there’s freeware called Time Machine Editor that will change how frequently your data is backed up. Is that all there is to it? Yep. Pretty much.
For PC users. You have a little more setup to do. There are some external drives with backup software built in. Check out the link above. You’ll have to do a little more setup than Mac users: install the software, tell it what to backup, and when. You can also find various scripts and other solutions if you search around a little.
How often should you back up?
How much data can you afford to lose? A month’s worth? A week? A day? A few hours? I have my Mac set up to backup every 4 hours.
Backups make my computer run slow!
Schedule backups on off hours then. Like when you’re sleeping. Just remember to leave the computer and the external drive on.
Test your backups
You don’t want to find out you set something up wrong, or that your backup software failed you when you finally go to use it. How? Create a few test files. Wait for your backup to complete. Delete the files and restore it from your backup. Do this twice a year – right along with setting your clocks forward and back.
Taking it to the next level (and you should)
Aha! Some of you are saying. An external drive doesn’t help me if there’s a fire or my stuff is stolen. And you’d be correct. I compensate for that with a Disaster Recovery Plan. You have a few choices: a cloned copy of your computer safely tucked away in a fire-proof safe, safety deposit box, secure location at someone else’s house whom you trust, and the cloud.
The choice you make comes down to trust and accessibility. Do you trust that your drive is safe at someone’s house? Is it in a location safe from pets, children, sun/water, fire, theft? Do you trust a third-party with ALL of your data? Do you know where in the world those servers are, and what policy they have for protecting your data? Music, video, photos, and non-sensitive data are probably fine there. But what about everything else? Enter cloning. A cloned copy is beneficial in a few ways:
- Your regular backup fails, is damaged, or stolen.
- Your computer’s internal drive fails and you use the cloned copy as the new internal drive or boot from the clone until you can replace your primary drive and restore your data.
What would I recommend? Well, each situation is different. I have Time Machine/Time Machine editor backup my Macs every 4 hours. I have two clones: 1 that automatically mounts the external drive (a 3.5 inch drive in a Voyager ‘toaster’ drive) does a backup every night on off-hours, then unmounts the drive when it’s finished (Carbon Copy Cloner). If you have a PC, you’ll need to find cloning for Windows. Sorry, guys. Since I’m no longer in the IT biz and I no longer own a PC, I can’t make suggestions when it comes to Windows. Spend about a half hour on Google and I’m sure you’ll find a few solutions.
I make a physical clone once a week and store that elsewhere, in a safe location. And, I have cloud backup for data I don’t deem sensitive. I ensure that my clones are bootable. If my drive fails, my downtime is roughly under five minutes. Because I’m human and likely to forget, everything except the 2nd clone is automated.
The minimum I’d recommend: at least ONE backup solution, somewhere: cloud or that external drive. It’s not optimal, in my opinion, but it’s better than nothing.
My personal method may sound like overkill, but I liken it to a will, a trust, and a health care directive. If you don’t have them, you (or your family) will have a mess right at the time they need it the least. Have precautions in place and it makes the unthinkable go a little smoother. Consider how likely it is that something happens to your digital media and you’ll see that a few hours spent up front can save a lot of time, grief, and money later on.