Yesterday I wrote a bit about how people will likely continue to store a great deal of irreplaceable data on a single computer without ever once performing a backup of that important information. At the end of that post I said that today I'd talk a bit about how to perform backups. Here's how we can do it, and there are really only two options.
Option 1: Live a Life of Simplicity
Learn not to care about your data. Don't save any files. Use a film-based camera. Watch DVDs or Blu-Ray movies only, and listen to music only from the source CD, cassette tape, 8-track, or LP. Don't keep your old receipts. Don't keep copies of contracts you signed. If something is important enough, like a mortgage contract, you can be sure that somebody else will have a copy of it should you ever need to look at it again.
People who have nothing of value have nothing to lose.
Option 2: Be an Adult and Plan for Eventual Failure
Hard drives fail. Computers break down. Notebooks are stolen. Shit happens. So take precautions and be ready for when this happens. As with any machine designed and used by humans, the darn thing WILL break one day. There is no disputing this fact.
That out of the way, there are various ways we can perform backups. For people who don't want to splurge and set up a home server, follow these steps:
- buy two more hard drives of the same capacity or greater than the one in your computer (or computers)
- put these drives into an external enclosure (USB, FireWire, LightPeak/Thunderbolt … it really doesn't matter so long as your computer can use the external hard drives)
- if you run Windows 7, tell Windows that's a backup hard drive and it will take care of the rest. If you run and older version of Windows, upgrade your system. Seriously. You don't need to buy a new computer. Don't believe what the 20-something dork at the computer shop tells you. Just buy the Windows 7 upgrade DVD and be done with it.
- if you run OS X, tell Time Machine to use this as a backup location
- if you run Linux, you should already know how to deal with backups and data loss prevention
Why two drives? Simple. Just as our desktop and notebook hard drives can fail, so can our backup hard drives. More importantly than that, though, is the offsite backup routine. Every weekend take the hard drive you've been using that week to somebody else's house1, or your office. Leave the drive there. Your other drive should be at that location. Bring that other one home and use it as the backup location for the next week. If your house does burn down, you will most likely not lose more than a week's worth of data. That can still be painful, but it's a lot less painful than losing 100% of everything.
Should you go the route of RAID on a desktop system? No2.
Should you go the route of storing everything "in the Cloud" and trusting companies you've probably never given a dime to with the long-term security of your data? No3.
Should you simply invest $600 in a new computer every 3 years rather than spend $200 for two hard drives plus enclosures? No. Don't tempt fate; she's a cruel mistress.
For 99% of the people reading this article, the steps I outlined above will be more than enough to protect the majority of your precious information. This is also a really good excuse for visiting the mother-in-law every weekend to pig out on free cookies and coffee. Trust me. When something really, really bad happens to your computer, you'll be glad that you followed the advice here.