I hate losing stuff.

Recently, we addressed the issue of people not backing up.  I had a humbling moment when assumptions took over (oh no!) and I learned how it is still an issue.  So here’s what I do to ensure no digital content I care about is ever lost.  And, to speak to its effectiveness, since that fateful paper on China, I have not lost a single file.

Here’s my backup strategy, in glorious detail:

Dropbox.  If you don’t use Dropbox, you should.  It’s the closest thing to a magic lantern I’ve found.  Think of it this way: Any files/folders you put inside the Dropbox folder on your computer become magic-ified.  Every change is instantly saved to the Dropbox server, as well as made accessible on every other device you have Dropbox installed.  It will mirror the content on another computer while transforming your tablet and phone into remote extensions of your computer (every file is there too!).  Downsides: You are limited to only a few gigabytes for free (can pay for more) and it’s not “backup”, as anything you delete on your computer (or phone, tablet, etc.) is also deleted online, but, if your computer crashes, your data is restored with only a few clicks on the new machine.  So, for permanent storage…

Time Machine.  No, not H.G. Wells.  And not the TARDIS either.  This is the next best thing.  As a Mac user, I embrace an automated backup solution built into the operating system.  It’s about the easiest backup system ever devised.  Connect a large external drive to your computer, select “Use as Time Machine backup” when prompted, and you’re done.  Every time you plug in this drive, your computer backs up any changes without you needing to remember anything.  You can even restore previous versions of files in a geek-tastic space interface.  Say you were creating a report, and realized the next day you accidentally deleted an essential paragraph.  No problem.  Open the file in Time Machine, copy the paragraph back to the current version.  Of course, I’m paranoid, so while I trust Time Machine, I want control of my backups as well.  Which means I also use…

External drives.  Everything in my Dropbox folders as well as other files of personal value (75 years of family photo albums, 30 years of home videos, a 10,000 song music library, 12 years of e-mail databases etc.) is backed up to external drives.  Being a geek, I take old laptop hard drives that outlived their computer (more common than you would think) and place them in external enclosures.  Every few days, I update these backups manually.  To ensure if even a backup dies I cannot be caught in a catastrophic loss situation, I back up to 5 external drives (yes, I’m crazy).  That’s not enough security for paranoid me, meaning…

Other computers/offsite.  Another computer is as good a backup as any drive.  So, I use my family’s computers to back up my photo albums and other content we share.  The information is updated on those through my external drive backups.  Additionally, I keep one external drive in a separate geographic location from me, so in case something horrible happened, I’d still have access to the data somewhere (hopefully) safe.  But this is all a pain for everyday work, therefore…

Automatic saving.  These blogs are composed in Evernote, an automatic-sync app that works on all my devices.  It saves content to their server every few minutes, so if I have a crash, I lose almost nothing.  Once the entry is complete, I copy it into my blog, which, of course, saves text as you type also.  For other work, I use Pages (Apple’s Word-like program) and other software, which saves every second.  Other systems which behave in this fashion include the new Office, Google Docs, and many apps on mobile.  But what about content which isn’t on your own computer?

Server backups.  A website is hosted on a computer with drives that can crash, just like your own.  We hope our hosting provider has a good backup strategy, but I’m sure you can guess what I think about relying on others for safekeeping.  All of our websites are backed up daily on our server, with the databases backed up to a secondary server weekly.  Additionally, the content and databases are stored securely on a Dropbox-synced volume (and backed up to multiple external drives).  My iPhone and iPad back themselves up each night to iCloud, and I also perform local backups with iTunes (which are saved by Time Machine).

Whew!  It sure seems like a lot when it’s all written down.  But just like cleaning your toilet, it only takes a few minutes each week, and the results speak for themselves.  I feel terrible for people when they talk about losing important data, and I’d like them to know it isn’t a foregone conclusion anymore.  The power of preservation is yours.  Embrace it, and sleep soundly knowing your data is safe.

And the clean toilet.  That’s really nice also.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss creating your own backup strategy for personal or business use, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I’d be happy to help however I can.

Disclosure: Signing up for Dropbox through the link above gives both you and me additional free storage space.