Three Location Backup and the Cloud

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More than normal I am getting the frantic phone calls from friends and family… “my hard drive crashed,” or “I can’t start-up my computer,” or “I am getting some funny message on my screen.”

Not good news, especially if you don’t have a copy of your precious data/media.

In most cases I am able to help folks and restore their computer back to normal… a few high-fives and all is well. However, in some cases a hard drive fails or a piece of malware has done some bad things to the data – and then I am forced into having a challenging conversation about data recovery and associated costs/risks of losing the data. Not a good conversation for either person, especially when the data is so valuable.

In these situations I’ve learned the hard way – it’s best to wait until the situation is not so tenuous before lecturing friends and family about backup strategies. So now I can point everyone to this Blog post and avoid the funny faces, the “I know, I knows” and my own hot air explaining the importance of back-up.

The simple answer to securing your VERY precious data (papers, financials, music, pictures, etc.) is to automatically back it up so that data exists in three locations. This will take some initial setup work, then you should never have to worry about backup until you actually need the data (or a piece of equipment fails.)

Why three locations?

1) Original location (local hard drive, network drive, etc.)

This is self-explanatory – you create the data and click “save.”

2) Local/portable backup solution (Ex. NAS drive (Network Area Storage,) external USB hard drive, thumb drive, CD/DVD, etc.)

This is the typical back-up solution. For the most part – it’s a good solution and solves the problem of backup. Drives and media are rather inexpensive and easy to use. Most people use a manual process to backup their data this way. They wait until the end of the week, month, or when their computer is acting funny. It the reminder… Ooops I better backup my stuff. More sophisticated folks use a NAS drive and software to automatically backup their data nightly. Others even more sophisticated, setup RAID solutions to automatically mirror their data to other local hard drives.

Local backup works and in most cases it works perfectly. What is DOES NOT do is provide protection against theft, fire/flood/other physical disaster, does not support remote access (in most cases,) and in some cases it does not provide protection from multiple equipment failure. That is where online backup services play a helpful role.

3) An online/cloud/remote backup storage solution (Ex. MobileMe, Mozy)

Online backup is storage of your data in a remote location (cloud) somewhere out there on the Internet – usually in a location with many computers and where real estate is extremely inexpensive. Companies position these services as a “SAAS Model” (software as a service) and they continue to become very popular. Over time you will begin to see most software distributed this way (Ex. Microsoft Office Live,) especially as high-speed Internet access becomes ubiquitous. This model makes perfect sense as consumers replace their devices often, want immediate access to their data from multiple locations (home, office, iPhone, car, etc.) and don’t want to fuss with upgrades and CDs, etc.

The online backup software runs in the background on your computer (or network) on a predefined schedule, typically once a day. This program collects, compresses, encrypts, and transfers the data to a remote backup service provider.

Benefits include:

– No user intervention, automatic
– No tapes, cds or other manual steps
– Maintains data in a remote location
– No equipment storage limitations
– Secure (encrypted)
– Some vendors provide remote access to the data

Downsides include:

– VERY slow to download and upload large amounts of data as you are typically limited by your local Internet connection speed and available network bandwidth. This is usually not an issue on a daily basis as you only backup incremental data, which typically happens in the background when you are sleeping.
– VERY frustrating trying to restore 80 gigs of digital music if your hard drive crashes – that will likely take weeks to restore online. This can be a big issue for some and most vendors will sell you the option to restore from a DVD they will create and send you for extra $$$.

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