Nov 22, 2012

Keeping data safe - Part One

My girlfriend's laptop wouldn't boot the other day. No startup options, just the good old "inaccessible boot device" message. After the initial shock, and a hundred reboot attempts, she started realizing perhaps her laptop was not going to boot anytime soon. Panic time.

I'm going to share my thoughts on keeping your data safe, and even if they're just my thoughts, but I've put them to the test over the last years - and so far, I'm quite happy with this "strategy".

Baby photos, videos and diaries

If you're anything like my girlfriend and me, you keep a lot of your personal memories on your computer. Nearly everyone has a smart phone, digital camera and perhaps a digital camcorder. The things you capture and create on these devices, cannot be found anywhere else. And you probably want to keep them safe, for that exact reason.

Until recently, people have been storing their memories in a physical format. That's actually much harder to keep safe, than the digital memories today. But for some reason, a lot of people think otherwise. Earlier, you had to make copies - physical copies - of your photos or videotapes, and store them somewhere. Today, you can mirror your data instantly, and have two or more copies available at all times. You can spread them over the world, if you think it's necessary, in fact; you probably will without knowing. And the big difference from the old physical world: It doesn't have to cost much at all.

The Cloud to the rescue

You've probably heard about the cloud, a popular buzz-word the last years. It's not just for big companies or programmers, it can also provide great service for consumers. Backup is just one of them (or rather - storage as a service, STaaS).

Dropbox, Microsoft Skydrive, Amazon Glacier, Google drive and Jottacloud are just the top-of-my-head examples of cloud storage services. Some of them just offer storage space, some offer a complete backup solution - I use jottacloud. With these kinds of applications, you just register for a username, install the application and you are on your way to keeping your data safe.

At the time of writing, Dropbox, Skydrive, Jotta and Google drive all give you a free quota of space, when you go beyond that, they start charging you. So if you don't need any more than the free quota, this is actually completely free.

However, many of us will need more, actually my camera's memory card is capable of storing more than the free quotas. Before you think that these are expensive solutions, think about the initial cost of getting an external drive. Then, there's power consumption, monitoring, and staying alert to replace the drive if it should fail. I think you'll find that the cost is worth it, for the extra peace of mind.

Mobile too

Yep, more and more people are storing a lot of data on their mobile devices. Of course the cloud people have  though of this, and provide services for IOS, Android and Windows Phone 8. There are other ways too, apps that let you sync directly to your computer.

I think it's a great idea to install something like SugarSync that keeps your mobile data backed up. Just remember to include that folder in the folders that you back up.

In fact, your mobile phone should be on top of your list of items to back up, because for most people, it's where you keep all your contacts, snapshots and calendar dates. And mobile phones are so much more at risk of being stolen or broken, than your desktop computer at home.

Hedge your bets

Of course, Cloud backup is not a silver bullet. It is a great worst-case solution for me, as I have purchased "unlimited" space and can upload all that I want to keep safe, but I would prefer never to use it. I want to hedge my bets, so that my data are safe no matter what, but I want to keep my options open - restoring a backup from the cloud can be like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer, if all you're doing is reinstalling Windows.

Let's say that my computer is stolen, or my house burns to the ground (knock on wood). In that case, I would be really happy to download all my stuff right onto my new computer! But in most other cases, this would not be the preferred way. It takes time, and there is a chance that you have lost something. There's always a time window between your last backup and your crash, though it may be very short, you will lose data.

I've made a little table of how this hierarchy may look:

What Saves you when Won't save you when
Partitioning Operating System reinstall Hard drive has failed
Mirroring Hard drive failure Operating System reinstall
External drive External drive failureDrive is gone (fire, theft)
External drive off-site External drive failureNetwork is down
Cloud storageAll of the above Network is down

I hope that's some food for thought for you, perhaps you've already though this through by yourself. Please share if you have any input! Part two of this article will be going into detail of the different solutions, so stay tuned.

Part two: Partitioning

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