If you suddenly discovered that your house was on fire and you had just a few minutes to get you and your family out, what are some things you might grab on the way out? Common answers are things like family photos, heirlooms, jewelry, important documents, computers, and other electronics. More often than not, it’s family photos that I hear about. Probably every household has an overflowing box of photos and negatives hidden away from the days of film cameras. But of course, everything is digital now! All those family memories are now stored on hard drives, external drives, CDs & DVDs, flash drives, and the like.
At first thought, it’s easy to think how vulnerable our digital memories are nowadays. We don’t have something to hold in our hands, something tangible we can call the “photo box”. On top of it, hard drives are magnetic, mechanical devices and are vulnerable to erasure and failure. Often when I am working on someone’s computer, I say to them that it’s not a question of “if” a hard drive will fail, but “when.” The average life of most hard drives is about 5-10 years, depending on how heavily they are used. Newer solid-state hard drives will last longer; however, they too are prone to failure from power surges, magnetism, or viruses erasing data.
What can be done to preserve our precious data? No need to worry! You just have to be backing up your data. This can range from being a total headache to a set-it-and-forget-it process. A decade ago, I would backup my photos to CDs, and eventually DVDs, but this can be a painful process and requires some initiative to pick and choose files, having special software, and worrying if you have enough space on each disc.
Then I got an external hard drive that plugged into my computer via a USB port, and that made things somewhat easier. Many external drive manufacturers will include backup software you install on your computer which will handle the backups for you automatically. But there is one major flaw with this method of backing up: it’s right next to your computer, or at least in the same house. So when you leave your house, thieves (and fire) can just as easily get to your external hard drive as they do your computer. This is where you need an “off-site backup.”
Enter the “Cloud.” The cloud has been a buzz word on the internet in the last few years, even though the concept of the cloud has existed since the early days of computer networking. The cloud simply refers to the internet itself, or more specifically, the servers and other devices throughout the internet that store and serve the data you. If you open your email using a web browser, you are accessing your email stored in some company’s cloud (their datacenter of servers). On Facebook, all the text and photos you exchange among friends is kept “in the cloud.”
With the rise of cloud computing has come the rise of cloud backup solutions, also referred to as online backup services. Many reputable companies nowadays offer online backup of your computer for about fifty bucks a year. If you have tens of thousands of photos, music, and documents that you’d be devastated to lose, online backup is worth every penny for three major reasons: it’s simple to use, it’s automatic, and most importantly, it’s off-site.
Three very popular online backup companies are Carbonite, Backblaze, and CrashPlan. All of them allow you to backup your files to their clouds. They all have downloadable easy-to-use software that installs on any computer. They all work automatically – in the background – so you don’t have to worry about making backups manually ever again. They also offer websites and mobile apps to restore your files wherever in the world you might be. And don’t worry about security and privacy either. Your files are encrypted along the way, and as long as you keep your password private, only you will have access to your files.
My personal favorite is CrashPlan. Unique to their software is the ability to backup to another family or friend’s computer, also known as peer-to-peer backup, for free! Unless your friend lives in the same building as you, it’s also an off-site backup! It’s only if you want to backup to CrashPlan’s cloud that you must subscribe at a price, but you get a few added features with that as well.
In our home, we have a central computer with a big hard drive that stores all our digital memories and music. The computer has a CrashPlan subscription to backup to their cloud. But we have another desktop computer and a couple laptops where we just use the free peer-to-peer backup option. New computers nowadays come with very large hard drives, some with 1 and 2 terabytes of storage. You may have a friend who has such a computer and only needs one-tenth of that amount of space. With CrashPlan installed on their end, you can setup a backup to your friend’s computer, and again, it’s completely secure. Even though the backed-up data is on their computer, it’s stored in an encrypted format that’s accessible by only you and your password.
So the next time I head out on vacation, I’m not scrambling to make a backup of all our files to discs, flash drives, and other drives. And I’m not worrying about having an off-site backup copy. With online backup, it’s always done and always up-to-date. Set it and forget it! Then go and enjoy your vacation with the added peace of mind that your digital memories are safe.This post is written by Paul (my husband) who works as a systems engineer at a dot com company.