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If you have never known the pain of losing all of your files when your computer hard drive fails or a device is stolen, then you are lucky. This situation can go from merely annoying to devastating if you don’t have backup of your important files. Most people know that they should backup their files, but establishing a good system is easy to put off until tomorrow, next week, or next semester because you generally don’t need your backup files until something bad happens, but such events are rarely predictable. Speaking from my personal experience, computer malfunctions or issues seem to occur most frequently right before an important deadline when you don’t have time to try to recover the files.

The key to successful backups is redundancy, redundancy, redundancy. You should aim to maintain at least three copies of your files, including one off-site or in the cloud (more about the cloud next week). The best backup systems are also automatic and frequent, removing the most unreliable part- the human- from the equation. The good news is that it is both easy and cheap to set up a good backup system that meets these requirements, so stop making excuses!

In addition to the copy of your files that you have on your computer or mobile device, you have two main options for how to store your backups.

  1. Back up to local external hard drive– You can get very inexpensive external hard drives (costing less than $100 for 2TB of storage). If you have a Mac, you can use OS X’s Time Machine to schedule regular backups. Windows 7 also includes a built-in option to schedule regular backups. Both of these options are easy to setup and require minimal effort beyond ensuring that your external drive is connected.
  2. Back up to the internet– There are numerous services, like Crashplan and Backblaze that will back up your entire computer hard drive to the internet for around $5/month. These services are easy to set up and, since your data is stored offsite, it is safe in the event of a local catastrophe (think fire or earthquake) and can be accessed from the browser of another computer. Alternatively, you can choose to back up only your most important files using Google Drive (which uses your Oxyconnect or another Google account) or Dropbox (separate account required). Both Google Drive and Dropbox can be installed on your computer; once installed, syncing files with these services requires only that you save them in the correct folder on your computer. Google Drive and Dropbox both are based in the cloud and have mobile applications, which makes accessing your files from another computer or device extremely easy.

Hopefully I have convinced you that it is worth an hour of your time to set up a good backup system now, rather than continuing to put it off into the distant future. If you already have a system for data backups in place, then spread the word- let your friends and family know just how important and easy it is.