You will lose your data. Back it up before it’s too late.
Does anybody remember when you base-jumped in the Grand Canyon? No? Well, if you still had the pictures, you could prove it was you…I am a systems administrator dealing with backups on a daily basis, but this article is meant to let you (totally regular fellow) know that backing up is important, fairly easy and cheap. Do it. Seriously.
You will lose everything. Or at least you will lose something.
Winning the lottery only happens to others. Losing data will happen to you someday. Maybe not all of it if you are lucky, but many things threaten your data every single day: you can spill your coffee on your laptop, a power surge, your grand mother thinking your MacBook Air is a frisbee for the dog, etc. Or more malicious things can happen: Hackers, burglars… You might have been lucky for now, but someday it will strike. And you won’t be smiling.
Think like a company: Your things are valuable
Since you are reading these words, you have some time to spare: take a few minutes to think about what would be the cost of losing your current computer. Losing your external drive? Having your house flooded and losing all your printed pictures, video tapes…? Losing your GMail account (it happens)?
It is not that easy to put an actual cost on data. In a job like mine, it is pretty straightforward: We call it disaster recovery and we basically count the number of days of data that we would lose if a meteor hit our datacenters/offices (it does not only happen in Russia) , how much time we would need to put this data online and we multiply by how much we would make a day. And boom, you have your minimal cost (usually tremendous). But if we don’t have data to restore, the company is no more. Dead.
For you, the cost will likely not be high at all, because you will not lose any money if you can’t access your family pictures for a few days. But you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. And losing the first steps of your new-born, the pictures of your wedding, or even your paychecks (you might need them someday when the IRS rings your doorbell). So why not take a few minutes (it’s really everything it takes) to make sure that you can store them securely?
Backup is easy. Cheap. Often free for normal people. DO IT. But know your needs.
Depending on what exactly you need to back up, you can get away with paying nothing or almost nothing for your personal peace of mind. Pictures, videos and anything big will cost a bit more (all the options below are < $10/month), or stay cheap and sacrifice flexbility . You know this “cloud” you keep hearing about ? Now is your time to use it. All the links below are recognized actors in the cloud storage space and you can make some research on their ToS if you are a bit paranoid about security and privacy. But they all encrypt your data in some fashion.
The rest of this post is not supposed tobe a step by step example of how to back up your files or make a choice between the providers, but help you determine the type of service you need. I have no share or referral link to any of these services. For an exact how-to, ask Google.
I want to do things myself - Cost: Free or cost of hardware
External hard drive and manual synchronization: You need one or more external hard drives. These are getting cheaper and are a one time only cost. But you will have to think about synchronizing your data from time to time yourself. On Windows, you can use SyncBack – Feed it the source and the destination of the backup, and it will do the rest. You just need to choose if you want to synchronize (mirror the source in the destination) or add everything that once was in the source to be in the destination. It’s easy and free. On other platforms: Time Machine for Mac, fwbackups or Bacula for Linux (a bit more complicated, but we use this for terabytes of data and it works like a charm). Bigger list here.
- Synchronize your data on several of your own computers: If you own computers in several locations (work, personal, friends, etc.) you can simply replicate your precious data all over the place. This is how Crashplan works. They call this Social backup because you backup your friends’ data. Smart, but you need to trust somebody enough for this.
- Securely store your files online – 50Gb for free on Mega.co.nz: This service raised from the ashes of MegaUpload and now offers a very secure (well, they claim that. You never know) 50Gb storage space online for free. I must say that it is pretty amazing, but you have to go yourself on the site and upload your schiznit, there is no little chipmunk running in your computer to do all the work for you.
I want to back up certain folders without thinking about it - Cost: Free or cheap
|This is the part I would recommend to “average” computer users.
A lot of services are starving for your data. And because they are starving, they drive the prices down. Here are some of the top competitors in the market that will backup everything you put in a specific folder for free or cheap (they all have more pricing plans if you need more space).
This type of service might be your best option if you don’t have more than 50G of data to store online and you just want it to work.
It is also usually a convenient way to share or duplicate files between computers. I use Dropbox heavily (I have the 18GB) to synchronize my personal, work computer and to share anything with my family back in France.
I want to back up everything currently on my computer without thinking about it - Cost: $4/month and up
The free services have a limited amount of data that you can store. Eh, storage still needs to happen somewhere, somebody needs to pay for the hardware! So if you want storage capacity and want to be sure to have EVERYTHING backed-up, go play with some unlimited solutions. Which are still cheap for what they offer you (one less beer in that dive bar tomorrow will make up for it).
- BackBlaze: $4/mo for a 2 years subscription: One of the big names of unlimited online backup. When it comes to storing shitloads (October 5, 2011 “Urban Word of the Day“) of data, they know their deal. Even when storage was hard to find because of the tsunami, they took the risk to get banned from all Best Buys on the globe.
- CrashPlan: $2/mo for 10Gb, $4/mo for unlimited: I already talked about their free plan which allows you to replicate your data securely on your own machines. For a little extra, you can also push all that online.
- Check a bigger an (hopefully) up to date list here
I want long term reliable storage of everything I ever owned, even if it is not on my computer anymore - Cost: $0.01/GB/month and up
Yes, you heard me. One cent per gigabyte per month. This means that if you have 100Gb to store, you’d pay $12/year. Unbeatable! But less automated and flexible.
All the services presented above allow you to backup only the data currently in your computer. As soon as you delete something, it disappears from all the places where it’s been replicated. If you need a lot of storage because you want to keep everything ever (you might be even more paranoid than I thought, or just have a lot of HD videos), there are options out there but know that they usually charge on data retrieval. They are meant to be disaster recovery solutions and used only in case of emergency (so never in the best case). This is called cold-storage. As always, there are a few competitors out there and I will describe some of them, but I must say that in this field, Amazon Glacier wins the pot.
Amazon Glacier: Dirt cheap, and by one of the most renown cloud service provider out there. Definitely worth a shot if you know a bit about computers. Again, it’s not a one-click thing, even if it’s not that hard either. Here is a nice post about the cost of Glacier depending on your data. If you have more that 50GB to store, it is definitely unbeatable. It is also unbeatable for less data, but I would recommend using one of the more flexible services described above. But if you want to store more than your hard drive can currently contain, go for it blindfolded. I will let you do your own research on how to upload your files on there, but you are not alone: there are a few GUI clients out there that let you upload your stuff painlessly (Clients for Windows, Mac (well, anything with Java), or a more “hands off” one like BackBlaze but not free: CloudBerry)
- If you want more technical solutions (you are not just a regular fellow anymore, but a real backup guy) you can peek around Rsync, IronMountain, etc. But this is out of the scope of this post (there might be another post about professional backups if this post gets some attention)
I want an engineer to work on my backups – Cost: Huh
Well, if this post raises some eyebrows on people that realize that nothing in their growing company is backed up correctly, I might go for another post about professional backups. For building an automatized backup infrastructure with your own hardware or using a third party like Glacier, all these solutions will still work for business scale and multi-terabytes of data, but the approach to these services and costs implied will really depend on the type of data that you are backing up and your backup strategy.
Your turn to speak. Do you backup your stuff? If not, did this post make you think about backing up your stuff?