Backing Up Your Personal Files

Have you ever searched your Documents folder for hours, looking for that old copy of your CV, only to realise that it was one of the many files you lost when you took your laptop back to the Computer Mega Store to have it fixed? You may remember the embarrassment on the techy’s face when he explained how they managed to destroy the entire contents of your hard drive while they were replacing a missing key on your keyboard. Generally, the techy will devoid himself of any blame by saying something like “Oh, you should always make a back-up before sending in your PC for repairs”. Unfortunately, he is right.

We live in a world where almost any information is now stored digitally. Photo albums no longer gather dust in your bottom drawer, CVs no longer go brown in a lever arch file on your book shelf and your music rarely comes on a CD. Instead, all of these precious items are likely to be stored on your computer where a random virus or a cup of misplaced coffee are just a few of the potential disasters that could erase everything on your hard drive in a second.

In an office environment, it’s likely that anything important is stored on a central server which is backed up to tape on a daily basis (yes, tapes still exist). But at home it’s unlikely that you have access to such an extravagance. It’s also likely that at home you don't have a team of IT staff to restore your data from one of these tapes.

There is good news though. It’s quite easy to back up your data yourself, especially now that we live in the modern world. There are many simple and effective ways to keep your personal data safe. These range from simply burning a CD/DVD with your data on to ‘easy to use’ online file backup services. Here are a few of the easiest ways to back up your data.

Physical Backup Devices

  1. Burn it to disc. Most computers come with a CD or DVD burner installed. Backing up a few random files is a breeze. Simply burn them to your choice of disc, label it and then put it somewhere safe. There are a few downfalls to this method and I wouldn't use it as a long term solution. CDs are easily scratched and just as easily misplaced. It’s a great temporary solution if you are reinstalling your machine or taking it in for repairs, but it’s no good if you want to get in the habit of constantly backing up.
  2. An External Hard Drive or USB Stick. Storage devices are getting cheaper and you may like to consider getting an external hard drive or USB stick to back up your data to. This is a good solution if you have a lot of movies and music that you want to keep safe. A decent external hard drive will cost anywhere between £80 and £160. A large USB stick will be half the price. Backing up your files is as easy as dragging and dropping them from one drive to another. You can, however, still lose your files. If you drop one of these drives you would normally lose everything. I have also had the unfortunate experience of leaving my external hard drive in a taxi that had just dropped me off at the international airport in India.

Online Storage

  1. Email it to yourself. If you are only backing up documents and a few pictures then a good online email service like Gmail is your friend. Gmail gives you around 6 gigs of storage space at the moment. Backing up your documents in this way is as easy as sending yourself an email with the document name in the heading. Gmail accounts never close down, even if you don't use them, so there is no chance of losing your data. If you have a big Inbox you can easily create a label (folder) called ‘Backups’ and store them all there. I wouldn't use this method if I had a lot of media to back up. Music and video files take up a lot of space and you would not want to email your entire music collection to yourself.
  2. Use an online storage service. The latest and greatest way of backing up personal files is with an online storage host. Back in the days if you were backing up to the Internet you would need something called an FTP account and something else called an FTP client to go with it. Gone are the days of three letter acronyms and geek-only solutions. Regular humans can now safely store and back up their data with one of the myriad of companies offering online storage. The best part is that, unless you want advanced features, most of these services are completely free. The services I would recommend trying are Humyo.com and Mediamax.com. Humyo offer an amazing service - you can upload files from your computer or mobile phone. You can easily store your movies and music with them if you are willing to wait for the files to upload. It’s a great all-round solution and means you can access your files from anywhere, anytime, as long as you have an Internet connection. The free version gives 25gb of space, which is more than enough. The paid for version, however, does offer a few perks. For just £2.95 a month you get 100gb of storage and the Humyo software. The Humyo software is great for two reasons. It creates a drive in your ‘My Computer’ folder and it automatically backs up any folders on your computer that you specify. That means as soon as you save something on your computer, it gets saved onto Humyo at the same time. This solution is pretty much flawless and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to keep their data safe. If you are setting up something like Humyo and you want to use it on your office computer it would be wise to speak to your IT department first. In an office environment your data should already be getting backed up. The IT guy may also get cranky if you install something without speaking to him first.
  3. For the terminally paranoid who believe there is an elite squad of hackers intercepting their backed up holiday photos, there is a service called Carbonite. Yes, that’s the same stuff that Han Solo was frozen in during The Empire Strikes Back. Carbonite.com offers a fully automated, paid for back up service. Your data is backed up as it changes and sent to Carbonite via an SSL Encrypted tunnel. When it reaches Carbonite it gets put into a PGP encrypted folder. I know I said that there would be no more three letter acronyms, but the opportunity to throw another couple in seemed too good to miss.

There you go. You never need to lose another file again. The next time Windows gives you the infamous ‘Blue Screen of Death’ you can rest easy knowing that all your important files are safe and sound.

Helpful Links

 

Affordable Storage Devices:

Hard Drives: http://tinyurl.com/3stprg

USB Drives: http://tinyurl.com/4y8m9

 

Online Storage:

Gmail: http://www.gmail.com

Humyo: http://www.humyo.com

Mediamax: http://www.mediamax.com/

Box: http://www.box.net

Carbonite: http://www.carbonite.com

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