Imagine the scene; you’ve worked for months on your book, it’s been edited, refined and honed to perfection. You are pleased with it and feel it’s ready to be launched into the world. You click save and sit back with a satisfied smile and your computer goes phut!, a puff of blue smoke rises from it and then nothing. It’s as dead as a Norwegian Blue parrot. No problem, you’ve got a backup. Oh wait…
Like everything else, computers are prone to the entropy of the universe and will fail eventually. The question is are you ready to cope with that failure? Are your documents, photos and music files safe? In this blog we’re going to offer some suggestions on how you can make sure that months of work don’t end in tears of frustration.
By far the easiest way to perform a backup is to plug in an external hard drive or to use a USB data stick. There is a utility that allows scheduled backups on Windows PCs, and as long as you leave both the computer and the external drive powered up, the backup will progress according to whatever schedule you have set. If you have a Mac, you can set up a Time Machine backup to run constantly in the background and you will be able to retrieve deleted files quickly. A USB stick will require you to remember to save a copy of the file to it on a regular basis but it is a simple way to ensure you have a copy of your book.
Although a local backup is very convenient, external hard drives and USB sticks are vulnerable to many of the problems that plague computers. Hard disks can fail and over time flash memory degrades. Due to their size, it’s easy to misplace a data stick. The biggest risk is from a fire, flood or theft that takes out both the computer and your backup.
If you wish to use an external drive, it would be better if you had two. Keep one in your office or at a friend’s house and swap the drives weekly. Although you wouldn’t have the most recent copy of a file, storing a copy remotely would prevent data loss from something going catastrophically wrong in your house.
The cloud has the advantage of allowing you to store the files at a very remote location. Services such as Dropbox, iCloud, Skydrive and Google Drive offer a convenient way of keeping your files somewhere other than on your computer. With these services a folder on your machine is mirrored on a remote server and you simply save the file to that folder which will then be copied to the server. It’s a reliable and safe way to maintain a backup.
One problem with cloud storage is if you accidentally delete a file on your computer while you are connected to the service, the file will also be deleted on the server. It’s easy to do and it’s something you should be aware of.
Dedicated backup services
There are a number of dedicated backup services popping up on the Internet. They offer a remote backup to data centres of all the files on your computer and provide tools that allow you to restore them simply. Backblaze, Carbonite, SOS Online Backup and Crashplan are just a few of the services you can find online. We are using Crashplan as it allows us to backup all the computers we have, at a very reasonable price. You sign up for the service, download a piece of software, tell it what you want backed up and let it do its stuff. The great thing is that you can set it to backup your whole machine, including settings and applications, not just your data. Crashplan may not be ideal for you, so check out the other services to find the one that suits your needs,
There are a few services that are available for free but you should avoid those. There is a risk that a paid service will go out of business, but I think the risk becomes greater for businesses that don’t rely on subscriptions.
Check your backup
There is no point in backing up your files if you can’t retrieve them when you need to. No matter what system or service you use, it is vital that you test the backup by doing a restore on a regular basis. You can do this simply by deleting an unimportant file from the disk, and then restore it using the software or copying it from your local disk.
So how do we do our backups? There is a copy of our books on the computer hard drive, on an external hard disk, on iCloud and backed up through Crashplan. As you can see it’s a two belts and three braces kind of strategy.
You might not want to go to those extremes but you definitely need to have a backup strategy. Friends of ours recently had their laptop stolen. The machine itself wasn’t as important as the hundreds of photographs of their daughters that went with it as there was no backup. Don’t let a computer crash destroy your work or precious memories.