Backup Your Data!

There is no excuse not to backup your data.  Whether you have a collection of old family photos, writing your thesis, or holding onto client data, backups are crucial to ensure you don’t lose your precious data.

In one of my previous IT jobs we used to run a RAID-5 array that was set-up to nightly backup to a tape which would then be stored in a fire resistant safe on the other side of the building. Weekly these tapes would be moved offsite. This set-up may sound like a bit much for the everyday user. The truth is, it is not hard nor expensive to implement several of these concepts at home.


What is RAID? A redundant array of inexpensive/independent disks. I won’t delve too much into this topic as it may add a layer of unnecessary complexity for most users. In short, RAID allows multiple hard disks in a system to act as one. This can improve performance and reliability.

For example, in a RAID 1 set up you can have two hard disks in your system, one mirrors the other. If one drive fails, your system continues to operate on the working drive. If you want to look further into RAID and its different levels and set ups I would encourage you to search online.

A RAID solution should never be considered a backup solution in and of itself. It is more like the spare tire in the back of your car; it’ll keep you running.

On-site backup

For most users this will be at your home. An onsite backup is a backup of your data that you have physically available to you right away. This is likely one of the easiest and most useful backups you can set up right now.

Most operating systems have easy to use backup tools built-in.  Windows has “File History”, and OS X has “Time Machine”. Just find an external drive, plug it in, and run the tool. What’s great about these tools is that as long as you have your external drive connected, it will take care of periodic backups. For the most part this is something you can set and forget.

I use “forget” loosely, as it’s recommended that you periodically check not only that your data is being backed up, but that your backup actually works.

Off-site backup

You never know when disaster strikes. You may get robbed, your home may catch fire, or you may be the victim of a natural disaster. You hope it will never happen, but when it happens you will be glad you had an off-site backup.

This does not need to be expensive or difficult to implement. Services like Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Drive, or dropbox make this easy and free (to a certain size limit). By placing files in one of these services you have effectively created an off-site backup. If nothing else, this should be the minimum you do to keep your data safe.

The downside to using such services is that once you hand your data off to one of these companies you agree to their terms and conditions. This can dictate what they can and can’t do with this data. Additionally, as many of these companies and their servers reside overseas, you are subject to another countries policies and laws. For instance, it has already been established that data moving into and out of the US may be subject to collection and inspection.

Apart from privacy concerns, you just never know when a company will shut down a service or go out of business. Nevertheless, if you do not own your own offsite backup location, these services are well worth considering.

As an additional step you can learn how to encrypt your data, or find someone you trust to keep your data with.

Backup your data!

If not, you will wish you had. As much as you wish your laptop or desktop would run flawlessly forever, the unfortunate truth is that it is made of several components that are prone to failure.

Traditional hard disk drives have high precision moving components that are susceptible to shock and wear. Although SSD drives greatly reduce the chance of damage due to shock, they are still prone to wear. Due to the nature of flash memory they have a limited lifespan that can range from 2-10 years depending on the quality of the manufacturer (do your research).

Simply having a single backup may reduce your chance of data loss by a factor of 20. This of course depends on a multiple of variables. But you get the idea. If you don’t already have a backup plan, start now!

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