Backup Plan: Options for Storing Your Data

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Everybody loses data, even power computer users. And let’s face it, no one can guarantee our data is always safe and incorruptible. That’s why we all need a plan to protect our digital lives.

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Everybody loses data, even power computer users. And let’s face it, no one can guarantee our data is always safe and incorruptible. That’s why we all need a plan to protect our digital lives. Most of us can’t put a price tag on our stored photos, music library, or papers and presentations. Don’t worry, for less than $200 you can do a lot to protect all your saved goodies from the leading causes of data loss, such as hardware failure, human error, software corruption or computer viruses. But what are the options when it comes to backing up data? “Backup” is comprised of three elements: storage, backup programs and a plan for maintaining your backup. Here we’re focusing on storing data, specifically documents, photos, and music files. External hard drives or flash drives are the simplest, most accessible ways to backup data. Additionally, a wide array of backup programs, both free and commercial, is available on the Web. These programs simplify backup by automating the process, saving you the headache of having to remember to do that chore. If you want to go old school you can burn data to CDs or DVDs—but this method limits how much you can store on each disk, where you can store it, and what you can do with the data after you save it. Today, if you lose data, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Using an external hard drive is one of the most common and easy ways of backing up data. The external hard drive comes in a portable shell and connects to your computer via a USB port. Once connected all you need to do is save the files you want to back up to the external drive—an icon will identify it for you. A typical user will rarely exceed 500 Gigs. If you’re worried you’ll need more memory, Go Big—you can buy a terabyte of memory for less than $100. Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba and Samsung are all reputable producers of external hard drives. The main advantages of an external hard drive are you can store a lot of data and you can keep it separate from your computer. So, if your desktop is ever damaged or your laptop stolen, you’ll still have a copy of your files on the external hard drive. However, its portability also makes it susceptible to physical damage and theft. If you can avoid it, don’t keep your backup drive and your computer in the same place. If you only want to back up a limited amount of data a flash drive is perfect. They’re cheap, easy to use and highly portable, with storage capacities that range from 2GB to 32GB—-way less than an external hard drive does. The down side of flash drives: they’re so small you can easily misplace them, and poor quality flash drives are prone to physical damage and data corruption. Of course, pay more for a sturdier flash drive and you can get one that’s water resistant and withstands physical wear and tear. Brands like LaCie, Verbatim and Kingston offer them. Whatever you choose, make sure your flash drive has a cap and you safely eject the drive before disconnecting. Prices range from $10 to $100 for a good flash drive. In many ways, online backup services are a dream come true. Your data is backed up off-site, so that your data will be safe even if your house gets destroyed. Amidst disaster you’ll have the peace of mind that your data lives on professionally managed servers. Another plus: online backups are accessible from anywhere, provided you have an Internet connection. This means the speed you’re able to upload your data depends on the speed of your Internet connection. Slow upload speeds set a practical limit to how much data you can upload. Though almost all online backups are encrypted and password protected, there is always security risks. So weigh the risks and benefits of entrusting your data to a third party. While your Internet provider may offer online backup, other free online backup vendors include Mozy, Dropbox, SugarSync and Windows Live Skydrive etc. Most of these services offer free storage up to 2 GB. Beyond that the fee starts from $5 to $10 per month, depending on the service provider and the amount of storage required. You can also pay for a dedicated backup service like Carbonite or Norton Online Backup that will back up everything on your computer and sync all your updates. No physical backup device can be counted on to survive more than a few years. Fortunately, there is a simple solution: back up your data alternately to different media. For example, use two external hard drives or one external hard drive and an online backup service. That way, you have two copies of your data and if one medium fails, you have the other. Bottom line, if you aren’t already backing up your data, start today.

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