One of the only moments that I remember to backup my data is either when I'm doing something important or (worse) when I've already lost some files. It's frustrating if the second scenario happens but it's all too common. These days data is everything. We have photos, videos, music or documents that we want to somehow always have a copy of. Different people have different strategies for backing up their data. Some people email themselves documents while others try to post every photo to Facebook. These aren't bad solutions but the biggest weaknesses to these ones are that they are mostly only relevant for a specific type of data (photos or just documents) and you have to do it manually. I thought I'd share different backup tips to help you keep your precious data.
Just as a side note, the intended audience is the casual computer user and probably running Windows or a few portable devices (mobile phone, tablets, laptops). More technically inclined people will have probably have some backup strategy already.
Tip 1: Do It Right Now
I thought I would get that out of the way. The easiest thing to do is to procrastinate this. You only really remember the value of something (or someone) when it's gone. So let's avoid that by appreciating the value of what you have and keeping it somewhere safe and let's do it as soon as we can. Don't worry, we'll keep it simple and fast so that we can get this over with.
Tip 2: Automate It!
Check your computer right now. You might have a few gigabytes or terabytes worth of stuff to backup. Can you imagine copy-pasting all that? That'll take forever! We'll find ways to backup our data that is automated. We'll set it and forget it. We'd rather spend hours doing something else more productive...like checking out reddit cats.
*Tip 3: Choose What You Want to Save *
The only major step that you need to do is to decide what you need to save. You don't need to copy your whole computer's hard drive because you don''t need all of it. What we want to do here is save your precious memories and documents. Those folders for Windows and other applications are important but we can find a copy and reinstall applications. If you don't backup your files, you obviously won't find a copy ever again.
Tip 4: Choose How You Want to Save it
The next step is to choose how you want to backup your data. I've listed them down below along with their pros and cons. You can choose one or choose all of them. It's really up to you and how much protection you want.
Types of Backup: Local, Remote and Online
Local: Plug in a Hard Drive
It simply means saving your files on your own machine without the need for anything more than a simple external drive. With the help of a simple application called Crashplan (detailed below), you can backup your current computer's data easily. The advantages of this approach is that it's simple. Buy an external drive or reuse one you have, install the software and set it up once. Done. It can't really be simpler than that. What about disadvantages? One of the disadvantages to this is it's limited to one device. You can remove an external drive from a computer to another but that's too hard. Like we said, we are lazy people. We want to set it and forget it. The other options below are more suited if you want to save all your devices (mobile phone, tablet, laptop, other computers) data and not just one. The next disadvantage and which I think is the most important is that you are at the mercy of a hard drive. Hard drives fail. That is a fact. If you only use one hard drive to backup your data and the hard drive decides it's time to go to gadget heaven then your backup is a waste. Luckily, this is easy to mitigate. The app I recommend using (Crashplan) allows you to store your data to multiple locations so you can plug 2 external drives and they'll be both backed up there.
This application has saved me from headaches and disappointment countless times now. I've been using it for I think a few years now and I'm quite satisfied. It's free, easy, fast and does its job well. The tool allows you to automatically backup folder and files to other devices. There is a free version and a pro version. The great thing about this is that the free version is more than enough if you want a local way of backing up your files. It also has some extra neat features like sending you an email or tweet report of a backup. For example, if you set it to backup once a week, it can email you the report of when it did it and if it was successful or not. Also, there's encryption on the free version. Anyway, since I started using it, they've added a lot of new features as well. Check out the site for more information. Check it out here.
If I've sold you on Crashplan, check out this how-to guide from lifehacker although it's pretty easy to just figure it out as you go.
Alternative: Cobian Backup. There are other more popular backup tools. I just happened to discover this small application a few years ago. It doesn't have the easy of use and features of Crashplan but it can copy your folders from one location to another. You'll have to mess around with it but it can do the job. You'll find more info here.
Remote: Introduction to NAS
Remote simply means that we are saving our data to a remote location. No, not some remote island in the middle of the Pacific but something like a remote computer or device. There are a lot of different ways of doing a remote backup but one of the easiest ways is through a NAS. A Network Attached Storage (NAS), is a computer data storage device that lives on your network. It's like your own personal "cloud".
One of the cool things about a NAS is that you are not limited to one device. Since it lives on your network, all your devices under the network should be able to see it. This means that it doesn't matter if you want to save a picture you took on your smartphone or a document your working on your laptop, you'll be able save it to this NAS. There are some other features that are specific to what kind of NAS you choose to get. One very important feature I would consider is something called 'RAID'. RAID is storage technology intended to make multiple hard drives be faster or more redundant. The most common to find any NAS is 'RAID 0'. It simply means that you only get to use (for example) 1 out of 2 hard drives. The second hard drive is a mirror of the first. If one of them fails (which is inevitable) then you'll be able to salvage your data (hooray!). Of course, this only feature would only be available if your NAS has 2 or more hard drives. You can choose a NAS setup with 1, 2, 4, 8 or more hard drives. Some other neat features are mobile apps for iOS/Android to view and save files on your phones, web browser based access and print server (attach any printer and any device can now print to that printer). Some NAS also come with tools that automatically download torrents (tv shows, movies) for you. Nifty stuff. Also, most NAS are also power efficient.
There must be a catch, right? The biggest disadvantage of doing a remote backup via a NAS is that it is expensive upfront. A NAS device which has 2 hard drive slots can come in from $150-300. That's not too bad until you consider that you'll be adding hard drives which would be $80-$110 each. The total cost for a simple NAS with 2 hard drive slot would be somewhere around $400-500. If you decide to get 4 or 8 slot NAS then it gets pretty expensive. It's not that expensive if you factor in total cost of ownership over a span of let's say 5 years (kind of like how a a TV or oven is expensive upfront). It can get more expensive with more bells and whistles but a simple 2 slot NAS is mostly good enough for a home with a few devices.Another disadvantage is natural disasters. In the event of theft or a fire, most NAS devices can't really save your data in that situation. Some companies offer features like backing up to a device in another house but if your concern is natural disasters I'd rather do a combination of remote and cloud (discussed shortly).
NAS to Consider: Synology DS214SE, 213J and Netgear ReadyNAS 102
After doing much research on consumer NAS devices, I came away with 3 devices that I want to purchase if I ever go this route. There are other NAS devices out there that are cheaper or more affordable but these 3 come in the sweet spot of features. They offer 2 slots for hard drives and allow mirroring so I know my data is easier to recover in case of a hard drive failure. They all offer a suite of software that is easy to setup and use. Synology has one of the most robust and feature rich software (called DSM). Besides having a ton of features, they built their software to look and feel like an operating system ala Windows or Mac that is accessible from a browser. DSM also contains "apps" that extend the functionality of your NAS like a download station for torrents. The Netgear NAS 102 comes in at a second for me. It's not quite as feature rich as the Synology solution but it does have more than enough. Their solution is a more traditional looking website that has all the controls and functionality.
Prices and Links:
Synology DS214SE ($180)
The only difference between this one and the other Synology products below is that this is slightly less powerful hardware.
Canada (NCIX): Synology DS214SE
Synology DS212J ($210)
This is a bit older and just a little less powerful that the newer DS213J but it's a bit cheaper and could be good enough.
Canada (Amazon): Synology DS212J Diskstation 2-Bay Diskless Network Attached Storage (White)
Synology DS213J ($240-260)
Canada (Amazon): Synology DiskStation DS213J Network Storage Server
Canada (NCIX): Synology DS213J
Hard Drive to Consider: WD Red, Seagate NAS
As mentioned, you need to put a hard drive inside a NAS for it to function. There are a bunch of different hard drives. How do you choose which one to use? To make it easy, just choose a Seagate NAS branded hard drive or a Western Digital Red. Why these? They are optimized for NAS use which means they are low power. They are fast enough for most use cases. The only thing left to think about is what capacity do you want it in. They come in 1, 2, 3 or even 4 TB.
2TB: Seagate NAS HDD 2TB SATA 6GB NCQ 64 MB Cache Bare Drive ST2000VN000
3TB: Seagate NAS HDD 3TB SATA 6GB NCQ 64 MB Cache Bare Drive ST3000VN000
4TB: Seagate NAS HDD 4TB SATA 6GB NCQ 64 MB Cache Bare Drive ST4000VN000
Western Digital (WD) Red:
1TB: Western Digital 1 TB NAS Hard Drive: 3.5-Inch, SATA III, 64 MB Cache, WD10EFRX (Red)
2TB: Western Digital 2 TB NAS Hard Drive 3.5 Inch SATA III 64 MB Cache WD20EFRX (Red)
3TB: Western Digital NAS Red 3TB
Online: To the Cloud!
You probably already know the term "cloud" by now. Its a buzzword which essentially mean that you are storing your sending and retrieving your data through a company. It's the same concept as GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail in that you can access it anywhere but you never really store it locally on your computer. Instead of just email though you can store almost any file. That is pretty much the biggest advantage right there. It allows you to access all your files anywhere and anytime with almost any internet connected device. You also get don't need to prepare for anything like a computer failure because your data is stored non-locally.
Although it looks like one of the best solution, if you dig deeper there are a lot of disadvantages. Besides the possible creepiness of three letter organizations possibly looking at your data, you are at the mercy of whichever company you use. In the unlikely event that the company shuts down, you may never get your data back. It is highly unlikely that a company such as Google would ever see this fate suddenly but it is still possible. There is the case of a company/site called "MegaUpload" which was a site where you could upload any file and share it. Without going into too much detail, the company was shut down and it was so sudden that a lot of people were never able to recover their data. Another disadvantage is the need for internet connectivity. I would like to live in a world where we are have a stable and always-on internet connection but most of us are not living in that world. Some countries and a lot of internet providers have a lovely thing called "data caps" which limits your usage especially on mobile devices. Finally, the last and easiest to overlook is the price. Different companies provide different prices but almost all of them require some sort of subscription. It maybe $10 a month but that becomes $120 a year then in 3 years becomes $360. That's not too bad until you compare it to a $400 NAS setup with 2TB of storage. 2TB for $400 versus $460 maybe 100GB for a cloud provider.
Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive or Dropbox or any other?
I won't go into this in detail because the Verge has a great comparison of it already. You should check it out here. Looking at the chart at the end of the article we can see that the average "free" storage is about 5GB. That's okay for documents but if you really want to save most of your data you'll probably need a lot more. The price varies per company and you can check out some of the prices in this comparison from the site HongKiat. They get pretty expensive pretty fast. If you decide to choose this route, be sure to factor in price, customer support and features like mobile access, media streaming, etc.
On a personal side note, I've been using Dropbox for about 5 years now. I've started using it before "cloud" was mainstream (insert hipster meme). My friends and I started using it as a way to collaborate for school projects but since then I've never stopped using it. It felt like at that time it was the only service of it's kind. It syncs a folder on your computer and uploads all that into the cloud. You can select which folder to share with other Dropbox users. They'll be able to add, modify and delete as you would any folder. The best part is that it never feels like it's a service. It's just like any other folder in your device. It works all so seamlessly. Another major feature is versioning. It essentially saves certain number of versions of your files. So if you edited a document and needed to go back 2 versions, it's there. If you've accidentally deleted it, it's easy to recover to a certain version. Although the standard "free" storage was 2GB at the time, you can send invite to other users which expands the storage. The company was also pretty fast in developing mobile clients for iOS and Android. The last innovative feature I'd like to note (that was introduced a few years back) is the "Automatic Photo Backup" available on mobile clients. Basically, once you take a photo on your phone, it's there on your Dropbox account. No more plugging in a USB cord or attaching it in an email or whatever you were doing before. If only they had that for my DSLR.
Backing up nowadays is easy, companies have realized that a lot of us are too lazy to do it so they've crafted products to do it for us. There is almost no excuse to not backup your data. There are a lot of different ways to do it and it's up to you which way you'd want to go. I hope with this you can make an educated decision. As I mentioned before, each way has it's own pros and cons and the most effective way of backing up your data is to have a mixed strategy. Goodluck!