A Comprehensive Digital Backup Strategy
Imagine you are at your favorite coffee shop. You’re enjoying a productive morning, cranking out revisions to your latest research. You get up to grab a couple napkins, and upon returning to your table, you realize, to your horror, your laptop is gone. Your back was turned only a minute, yet someone has stolen your laptop. Panic sets in as you think of all the research, all the unfinished manuscripts, photos, files, and documents not to mention the expense in replacing your laptop.
With some relief, you remember that you had taken an hour out of your busy schedule to set up a comprehensive digital backup strategy just last week. You’re still mad about the expense in replacing your gear, but at least you have your files.
There are 1,001 things that can go wrong and make you wish you had a backup of your data. This article is designed to give you the framework to implement a comprehensive digital backup strategy. Following this guide will minimize the disruption and panic from losing your data, regardless of the reason.
The Four Rules:
Despite your best intentions, you will forget to back up your data. Reminders to backup always pop up at the worst time, and you will be tempted to just dismiss the reminder without taking the time to plug in your device and go through the trouble of manually syncing your data. Your backups (yes, backups. See point #2) need to be automated. They need to occur in the background without your input.
One backup is no backup. Consider someone with an external hard drive that is synced every night. What if there is a fire, flood, or theft where both the computer and hard drive are stolen? I recommend an absolute minimum of 2 backups.
3. Off Site
One of your backups needs to be offsite. With advances in internet speeds and improvements to online backup services, this has become a preferred alternative to physically locating a hard drive in a different geographical location. Personally, I use and recommend Backblaze. (This is an affiliate link. If you click it and make a purchase, you and I will each receive a 1 month extension to the Backblaze subscription.) It will run you around $50 a year for unlimited storage for one computer. The peace of mind is well worth the expense. Backblaze has saved my bacon more than enough times to justify the annual cost.
I do not consider services like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive to be valid offsite backups, for a couple reasons. These cloud services are best suited for syncing data, not storage and redundancy. They specifically do not backup your computer, but sync the files you have specifically selected.
Backups are prone to failure as well. Be sure you are able to access, download, and restore your backups. I recommend doing this twice a year at the same time I change the batteries in my smoke detectors.
I use Dropbox (Or Google Drive, or iCloud)
Cloud sync services are fantastic, and I am a big fan. However, these services are not designed to back up your entire computer. They only “back up” the files and folders that you manually select. If your computer is stolen or damaged beyond repair, you will lose data. All of the data that you did not sync with your service of choice.
I back up my files with a thumb drive or external hard drive
This violates rules 1 and 2. If you work from a laptop, you need to remember to plug in your external hard drive or thumb drive. That means your backup is not continuous. You also likely store your backup in very close proximity to your computer, so any natural disaster or theft could result in a single point of failure.
I email important files to myself
Oh, wow. Please don’t do that. You are cluttering up your email service with huge files. You will forget to email yourself an important file at some point. This is just not an efficient, reliable method of backing up your computer.
If you do nothing else
If this all seems to complicated or you just refuse to take the time to put it all together, at least do one thing. Sign up for an automated cloud backup service. I use and recommend Backblaze, but there are several options to choose from. Some alternatives include Drive and Carbonite. These services will automatically and continuously back up your computer to the cloud. While this violates rule number 1, it is a backup, and it is offsite. It is also the cheapest upfront cost since you need only sign up for a service, rather than shell out the expense of an external hard drive or NAS.
My Backup Strategy
I work primarily from a 13” MacBook Pro laptop. This is synced via Apple’s Time Machine to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, (similar to an external hard drive). I run Backblaze, so as long as my computer is connected to the internet, it is automatically and continuously backed up.