Hardware is like a disobedient slave: 10 reasons to back-up your files

Despite how nice and shiny your computer is, no matter how much money you have spent on it, it will fail on you at some point. It will work very hard for you and follow up all commands you give it, but at the first occasion it can escape your dictatorship, it will do so.

In an increasingly paperless world, and with all the effort you put into creating your own digital archive, this fact concerns you.

The ideal situation is one where, if one device fails you, you just shrug your shoulders, throw it in the bin, buy a new one, and keep on working like nothing happened. Do not become attached to your hardware. Computers of 5+ years old are ticking time bombs. Do not become dependent on your hardware. Storing data uniquely on one device is like not storing data at all.

Creating a plan for automatically backing up your data is not hard at all. Just do it. Some vocabulary:

Original file(s): the file(s) that you are working on on your computer.

Back-up: a folder with some files (copies) that you do not edit. They simply exist in order to be retrieved in case the original file, the one that you (constantly) edit, goes corrupt or is lost.

Automatic back-up: a back-up that occasionally checks with the original files whether any changes have been made and updates the back-up to the latest version of the original files.

Manual back-up: a back-up that has to be initiated intentionally by the user.

Online back-up: a back-up that exists on the Internet. For example, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Skydrive, etc., offer online automatic back-up solutions.

Offline back-up: a back-up not connected to the Internet for most of the time. Any device connected to the web does not count. The idea behind offline back-up is that it cannot be broken into over the Web. For example, external hard drives, Network Attached Storage devices (NAS), USB sticks.

Onsite back-up: a back-up that is physically present close to the original files. E.g. an external hard drive lying next to your computer won’t save your files when your house burns down.

Offsite back-up: you guessed it; a back-up that is physically not close to the original files. Online back-ups are usually of this kind.

Making combinations out of these options you can create a dynamic and robust back-up plan.

How do you know your plan is good enough? One should strive to get to the point where your plan is following the 3-2-1 rule:

You havedifferent back-ups.

On at least 2 different kind of media types.

With at least 1 offsite back-up.

Ideally, this is not only offsite, but also offline. We’ll get to that later.

A good start:

A relatively straightforward set-up is to get Dropbox. You will have to download an application, which from then on is always running in the background. The application will come with a special folder, the Dropbox folder. The idea is that the Dropbox folder on your computer is identical to a Dropbox folder on the server of Dropbox (located in the US, so the NSA is definitely spying on you). The application is constantly checking the Dropbox folder on your computer to see if anything has changed. If so, it will update the Dropbox folder on the server to keep it synchronized.

The good:

Your files will be on Dropbox’ server, which counts as offsite. Since it is a server, you may go ahead and also count as a different media type than your computer hard drive. Additionally, you can access your files on Dropbox’ server over the Internet, which can be handy if you are away from your computer or if you want to share a file.

The bad:

Storage is limited to several gigabytes. Similar services, like Google Drive, offer more disk space. It also means you will have to save all your important files in the Dropbox folder. Lastly, synchronization works two ways, so a change on the server will be implemented on your computer. Thus, if your Dropbox account is compromised, you run the risk that if all files get erased on Dropbox’ server, they will also be erased on your computer. This can be remedied, but it is still a weak spot because it also means that truly sensitive data is perhaps not safe for Dropbox.

A problem:

Simply using Dropbox checks off two points of the 3-2-1 rule, but we still need to find a solution for triplicating our files, instead of mere duplication. Additionally, Dropbox (or any other cloud storage service) is not ideal to use for large quantities of data. For example, my archive is about 500GB. I would have to pay in order to get that running ‘in the cloud’ but I don’t even see the point of getting that on a server, it would take such a long time to upload and what if I wanted to change the folder structure, I would have to upload it all over again.

In short, there comes a time when you need to take care for yourself. We shall go over more sophisticated back up strategies in a later post.


Oh and about the 10 reasons to back up:

  1. otherwise you will lose all your files
  2. otherwise you will lose all your work
  3. otherwise you will lose all the effort you put into your archive
  4. otherwise you will lose all your downloads
  5. otherwise you will lose everything
  6. otherwise you will lose it all
  7. otherwise you will lose all your data
  8. otherwise you will lose all your notes
  9. otherwise you will lose all your projects
  10. otherwise you will lose

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