Five Ways to Back Up Your Important Data

At one time or another, there’s a good chance that you’ll either accidentally delete a file or experience hardware failure that results in the loss of that information. Unfortunately, this seems to happen most often with the data we least want to lose. Thankfully, there are several great methods for backing up and keeping this data safe, even in the event of a hard drive failure. Here are five ways to back up your important data:

Secondary Hard Drive
Probably one of the easiest and most often used methods for backing up your data is a secondary hard drive installed either internally or externally on your primary system. This allows you to keep two copies of your important file: one on your primary drive where you use it most and the other on the secondary drive. This method of backing up reduces the probability of complete loss of the data from 5% per year (the failure rate of the average spindle hard drive) to 0.25% as both drives would need to suffer a failure. This chance decreases even further if you take into account the probability of them failing simultaneously, before you have a chance to back up the data again.

The downside to this method is the physical presence of both drives in the same location. In addition to the chance that a virus could infect both storage mediums, a physical threat such as a fire or burglary could still threaten every copy of your existing data. Lightning could also cause both drives to fail, if the resulting surge is significant enough.

Dropbox is a software service that allows you to sync your files across multiple machines, at the same time. For example, I have a queue of videos in my Dropbox folder that need to be protected until the time they go live on YouTube. By using Dropbox, I have a copy of that file on all of my local machines and two other people in other states receive copies on their own. Accidental deletion can be reversed easily by using the Dropbox Web site.

The downside to this method of backing up is that the storage space on Dropbox is very limited, and a significant amount of bandwidth is required during synchronization. If you are on an ISP that has a monthly data limit, you can easily exceed it if your Dropbox account receives frequent file changes and updates.

Flash Drive and DVD
The oldest form of backup I remember running involved the use of a dozen floppy disks and a few hours at the computer. Back then, you could back up your entire system to a handful of 1.4 MB floppy disks, which could be stored indefinitely in a closet or safety deposit box at the bank. Today, the same method can be applied to flash drives and writable DVDs. A good quality DVD made for archiving can last many years in storage, and your important data can easily be transferred to this medium.

The downside to this method of backing up is the storage capacity limits presently placed on optical and flash media. In addition, optical drive technology is beginning to be phased out in the computing world, meaning you may have to purchase an external optical drive should you need to access the information years from now on a system that doesn’t come with an optical drive.

Network-Attached Storage (NAS)
A proper NAS device can give you an extraordinary range of options for data storage. In addition to being accessible by any system (or specific systems) in your network a NAS device may contain multiple drives configured in one of several different RAID levels. This means that you can configure this storage option to operate in a way that maximizes the speed and/or protection level of your files. NAS devices are also typically plug-and-play, making them easily removed from the network and stored for later use. Of all the consumer-level options for backing up data from multiple systems, this is one of the most solid and flexible solutions out there.

The downside of a NAS device is that it typically exists within the same space as your primary computers, making them susceptible to fire and theft, much like secondary hard drive options.

Online Dedicated Backup Solutions
Sites like Carbonite and Mozy offer dedicated backup solutions that you can use to sync files to the cloud. Like Dropbox, this solution eliminates the worry of theft or fire taking the files out of your reach. These services keep your files relatively secure on their own networks, and allow you to access them on virtually any system.

The downside to any cloud service is the bandwidth required for its use. Backing up a few GB of data isn’t a big deal, but if you’re considering backing up the majority of your files, the bandwidth requirements can raise dramatically from there.

No matter how you decide to back up your data, there is no 100% safe or guaranteed method to keep it safe or secure. Combining methods for backing up your data is a great way to keep it even safer. In a professional environment, data is typically backed up using RAID options and copies sent to multiple locations, giving redundancy and distance between the copies. With today’s low drive and backup service prices, receiving this level of protection for your personal data is well within reach of even the most frugal of consumers.

2 comments On Five Ways to Back Up Your Important Data

  • You should check out Wuala and JungleDisk. Both for cloud based backups and encrypt to a private encryption key (like Mozy) which means your data is a lot more secure. I use Wuala, JungleDisk, and Dropbox personally. Also have dabbled with AeroFS which is also pretty well done but still in early development and theoretically fairly secure.

  • i was more hoping this column would be around the type of backups… incremental or daily vs weekly etc…

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