Backup or Else

Backup or Else

Today’s word is backup. Do you have your data backed up? Are you sure? Until you go through the unthinkable of losing months’ or years’ worth of data (photos, videos, documents) it doesn’t get much thought. Even when you think you are doing it the “right way” with redundancy built in (don’t worry if that sounds like geek, I mean Greek, I will explain), you may not be safe from a loss.

A few weeks ago my sister called me asking some strange questions about how many photos of theirs I had copied. After some more questions she told me that their diskstation (external network storage) had failed and in order to get the data back it was going to cost them thousands of dollars. Unfortunately I only have some of them and none from their honeymoon or second wedding ceremony in Poland.

And this happened to individuals who were prepared and had solutions in place. My brother-in-law is a computer engineer and they had a multi-drive external backup system set up with redundancy. Redundancy in a multi-drive backup system means that the data is saved across multiple drives, so if one of your drives fails you will not lose data. Unfortunately for them more than one drive failed.

Since we have a very similar set-up, I started to panic a bit. I have looked into off-site cloud storage before, in case of a fire, but for the amount of data we have it is cost prohibitive (hundreds of dollars). I decided to at least do a quick and dirty backup and purchased an external single drive backup and a fire proof safe (drive goes in the safe after the most recent backup). Even though this system doesn’t have redundancy it is at least another place where things are stored. Total cost for the safe and additional storage device was approximately $200.

Hopefully others can learn from this unfortunate situation. Here are some backup possibilities, depending upon you budget, amount of data and technical prowess. None of these solutions are foolproof.

Single Drive External Hard Drive – These are surprisingly cheap for a large amount of space (I bought a one terabyte drive for about $100). The drawback of these is if the drive fails you don’t have a backup built in. Some come with backup software that will help somewhat if something fails, but if the drive itself breaks (and they can) data will likely be lost.

Multiple Drive External Network Storage – Back when we bought our terastation seven years ago there weren’t many options, but now there are. Now the drives are web accessible, up to several terabytes, and can be configured with many different redundant set-ups. The drawback on these devices is that they are more expensive and require a certain amount of technical prowess to purchase the correct one and get it all set up. Even with this option you aren’t completely safe — if more than one drive fails you can still lose your data, but it is better than just a single drive.

Cloud Storage – There are many companies that offer storage over the web that will sync your data. Hotmail, Amazon, Google and Dropbox (I am sure there are others, but these are the ones I use) offer a certain amount of free storage for their users, some of which sync. There are others that offer more space depending upon your needs, but you will pay for the amount of space you use. If you don’t have much data or don’t mind storing it in multiple locations this may be a good option. However for me, it is cost prohibitive due to the amount of data I have (300+GB).

If you have other questions about data storage I am happy to try and answer them. Backup, backup, backup, today!

This is not an endorsement of any of these solutions or a guarantee that any of these will not result in a loss of data. You should consult with an IT expert to find the best solution for you.

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  1. Paul says:

    Being the victim in this story I’d like to share a view extra notes. First, although Sarah has already mentioned it I’m going to emphasize because of its important; having a single storage device (even if it has internal redundancy) is not foolproof and puts you at risk. The risk may be small, but over the span of a lifetime very possible. An option for assuring your data is safe is using your family. If another family member has a large storage device, offer to backup their device and ask them if they’re willing to backup yours. During the time when I was trying to retrieve our data, one of the drives on my in-laws network attached storage device failed. Their data was still accessible but they no longer had redundancy and because of my situation they weren’t comfortable waiting a week until the new drive arrived. So I offered to save all of their data onto our new network attached storage device. Having offsite storage is always the best case.
    Also, if you end up in my situation and need professional data recovery, do your research. In my experience, there are A LOT of shady companies out there. Because of the nature of drive failures, companies can charge a lot of money. I went through many quotes and had the drives analyzed by three difference companies before deciding on who would do the work. First company that analyzed the drives wanted to recover the data at a cost of over $10k. The work is very specialized and it’s hard for them to prove exactly what they fixed and easy for them to just throw a high price tag quote to cover everything. The final recovery for me cost less than a third of that, and although a lot of money, an easy decision to recover our family pictures.

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