Last updated on July 30th, 2014 at 02:35 pm
Backing up your data is one of the most important things you can do - and it doesn't have to be difficult or expensive.
If Benjamin Franklin had been alive during the digital age, his famous letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy would have said, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and hard drive failure“.
A recent report released by Backblaze, a cloud backup provider who uses about 30,000 hard drives in their data centers, showed that average failure rates can be as high as 25% depending on how you use your hard drive. That means if you have 4 computers, 1 catastrophic crash per year wouldn’t be out of the norm.
Where I work, we perform lifecycle replacement on the computers every 3-4 years and we still see our fair share of dead hard drives. That’s why we have huge enterprise-level backup systems on top of it all.
Home users typically go much longer than 3-4 years between computer purchases and in 2014 only 33% of them backed up their data more than once a year. It’s no surprise that I get more calls for data recovery than anything else. Unfortunately, small businesses like myself have limited options for data recovery; I don’t have the resources for a dust-free room or the special equipment required to read data from exposed hard drive platters (those setups can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars).
In many cases, people have to send their hard drives to recovery companies with those facilities and pay thousands of dollars with no guarantee of any data being recovered. So with all that being said, truly your best defense against hard drive failure is to perform regular backups of your data. Here are some methods to do it.
Method #1: Dropbox
Price: free for 2 GB of storage, paid versions starting at $9.99/mo.
Dropbox is a free download from dropbox.com and requires just an email address to register. Once you register, you can download the client onto your computers (Windows or Mac) which sets up a Dropbox folder. Anything you save in the Dropbox folder automatically syncs up to the Dropbox folders on your other computers and a copy is also kept in the cloud. You can also access your files from the dropbox.com website on computers that don’t have the client installed. Dropbox also has mobile apps for Android and iOS that allow you to access & modify your files on the go.
In my home, I have a windows computer and an iMac. I use Dropbox to keep files synced between both computers and I’ve been using it for years. One of the really cool things that Dropbox offers is that you can create folders within your Dropbox folder that you can share with other Dropbox users.
Another nice feature is that since all of your Dropbox files are locally stored on your computer, you still can use them even if the internet goes down. Dropbox will upload the changes next time your internet connection comes back up.
Method #2: Windows 7 Backup and Restore
Price: free with your Windows 7 installation (requires external hard drive or network storage location)
I never used the utility that comes standard on Windows 7 until a few months ago when I had a residential customer whose hard drive had failed. He’d recently used Windows 7 Backup to save his data to an external hard drive. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the backup saved his files and how easy it was to restore them once I’d replaced the bad hard drive and installed a new copy of Windows.
There are plenty of videos out there and tutorials on the different types of backups you can do. You can pick which files and folders you want backed up and also set an automatic backup schedule. If you’re a Windows user and you’re looking for a free backup solution, it’s not a bad way to go.
Method #3: External Hard Drives with Built-in Backup
There are a large variety of external hard drives available today. Many of them come with their own pre-installed backup software. Because of the number of different types, I’m not going to go over all of them here. There are however good options offered by Seagate and
Method #4: Time Machine (Mac Users)
Price: free with your Mac (requires external hard drive or network storage location)
Most Mac users already know that Time Machine backup is readily available on their computers. Any time you plug in a new external hard drive to your Mac, it will immediately ask you if you want to use it for Time Machine backups.
I like Time Machine – a lot. It takes automatic hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. Once the external disk becomes full, it overwrites the very oldest backups to make space. Recovering older versions of files is a breeze and, like most Apple features, highly intuitive.
Method #5: RAID Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Price: Varies – typically more expensive than the other in-home options
Network Attached Storage, more commonly referred to as NAS, has been around for quite a while and so has RAID. I’ll skip the details about how RAID works because that would be an entirely different article, but if you like reading that stuff you can find it here. The concept involves a box containing multiple hard drives that connects to your network via wifi or a network cable. The hard drives are configured in a way that if one of them stops working, all of your data is still safe because it’s stored on more than one drive. All of the devices on your network can access it, and depending on the options that come with it, you can connect to it from the internet and access your files on the go wherever you have an internet connection.
I like the idea of NAS because it gives you control over your own data; you’re not trusting your data to the cloud or one single computer. You can typically buy a low-level RAID NAS for a few hundred dollars and high-quality ones can run into the thousands.
What I Use: Time Machine & Dropbox
I’m a Mac user, so I have Time Machine configured to run on an external Seagate 1 TB hard drive. I do have a Windows computer in the house so I also use Dropbox to sync my important files between my Mac and my Windows PC. Dropbox provides a nice place where I can store my files in the cloud. I used to have a RAID NAS and although I enjoyed having all of my data in-house, having it in the cloud mean that if my house burns down, my data is still safe.
Having my files stored offsite is a nice convenience because every time I’ve gotten a new computer, I just need to install the dropbox client, sign in, and all of my files download exactly as they were on my previous computer.
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