Back it up! I’ll take it. Why You Need to be Backing Up Your Personal Data.

Several times each year we see a news story or read about a family who has lost their home due to a fire.  These stories are tragic, especially so for the large number that happen near the holidays.  Watching interviews with the families devastated by disaster over the years, I’ve noticed a trend.  When the residents are interviewed, some will talk about the expensive items they’ve lost.  They’ll lament over their big screen television, furniture, or maybe a car parked in the garage.  Most of the time however, those suddenly left homeless are more upset about the things that can’t be replaced such as old photographs, documents, and family heirlooms.  These are losses that insurance policies just can’t compensate for.

Having said that, it strikes me as odd that people are willing pay money every year to have their home and possessions (that can be replaced) replaced should a disaster strike, but do nothing about protecting those things which cannot be replaced.  Fortunately however, technology is allowing us to protect some of those cherished and irreplaceable items.  We all know that film cameras have gone the way of the horse drawn carriage for the average American.  Film is out, digital is in.  This means that for the average family, more and more of their sentimental photographs are located on a hard drive (or drives) somewhere in their home.  Also, digital video recorders mean tapes are quickly disappearing and  home movies are coming soon to a hard drive near you.  Add to that the growing use of software for things like taxes and legal documents, and it becomes clear that just like businesses, a home owners data is priceless.

I hope that after reading the two paragraphs above, I have convinced you to do what most people that I talk to never do.  To insure your valuable data can be replaced if your computer fails you or the unthinkable happens and disaster strikes your home.  How do we do this?  We do this by backing up our data, which means making a copy of all you find priceless (or at least anything that would be a pain to have to recreate) and keeping that copy somewhere else.  When I say backup your data, I don’t mean every two years when you get around to it, I mean regularly and automatically.   We must face the fact that we are mere mortals and as such, we forget to do things.  This makes automatic backups a must.

So, we’ve established our need for backing up.  Now, how do we do it?  There are a number of ways we can achieve the goal.  You can manually copy your data to an external hard drive, burn CDs or DVDs at regular intervals and store them, or use some of other form of portable media.  That certainly will achieve safeguarding the data in the event of a hard drive loss, but it’s not automatic and therefore subject to our whim, which makes it unacceptable.  There are some elegant solutions such as Time Machine for Apple users, and a multitude of backup applications that will automatically backup your data to local or networked hard drives.  Some software such as Cobian Backup is even free.  These solutions are fine and they will protect you against a hard drive failure, but they rely (without a sufficient amount of equipment and expertise) on hardware that resides in your home.  So, what if you are in that dreaded minority that loses your home to [insert type of disaster here]?  If that happens, we’ve really accomplished nothing, because after the disaster, you still wind up losing all of your data.  To ward off an ugly disaster, we need to move a copy of your data outside of your home.  For the average home user, online backups are probably the simplest, most effective solution.  You can setup your own custom online backup system, but if you have the capability to do that then 1) you don’t need to be convinced to do it, 2) you probably already have done it, and 3) you don’t need to be reading this post.  The more palatable alternative for most is to use one of the many online backup services available now.  A quick search for ‘online backup’ will yield plenty of results.

How does it work?  Once you’ve signed up for a service, you download and install an agent.  The agent is a small application that watches your specified backup folder for changes.  If you add, modify, or delete anything in that folder, the agent notes the changes and communicates with the servers at the company you’ve signed up with and copies the changes you just made to their server.  You wind up with a complete copy of your data on their servers.

Why is this good?  Because your data now resides on your computer and their computers, which are most likely nowhere near your neighborhood.  Additionally, most of the companies offering online backups replicate your data on servers spread across the country, which means there is a very, very, very small chance you will permanently lose anything because of disaster.

Is it safe?  You will need to read the terms of service and privacy policies before you sign up.  You should ALWAYS read the terms of service and privacy policy for any software or services you are purchasing.  Some of the things you’ll want to look for are encrypted backups, specifically you’ll want to see that your data is encrypted before it’s uploaded to their servers AND it’s stored on their servers as encrypted files.  You’ll also want to look at their policies regarding who has access to your data and what reasons they require to allow them to view your data, or if they even can.

So, which one do I pick?  There are several criteria I recommend, but one of the first things you need to know is how much data you have to backup.  If you have less than 2GB worth of data, you are in luck.  There are some services that will give you that much for free.  Higher than that and you’ll be looking at a modest monthly charge.  Another consideration is the agreements, notably the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies.  Make sure these policies are something that you can live with, because this is YOUR data you are pushing up to their servers.  Also, you’ll need to make sure that the service has a client for your computer.  Some services now offer clients for smartphones allowing you to retrieve files from anywhere you have a decent data connection.

Now what?  It’s time for you to take action.  Insuring your property is a wise move.  Insuring your data is just as wise.  Do it today!

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