Back It Up, Baby

No. I’ve not started writing hip-hop lyrics.

I did, however, spend most of this week dealing with some computer issues.

Thankfully, none of my “real work” was compromised. I did have two external hard drives crash, though, which caused me some logistical headaches, and, some expense of both time and money.

Backing up your data is important, but the best backup plan is one that you don't have to think about on a regular basis.

Backing up your data is important, but the best backup plan is one that you don’t have to think about on a regular basis.

My writing was safe, but what was lost was a significantly sized portion of my digital life. Mostly, thousands of songs, thousands of digital photos, about one hundred videos, and all of my “Time Machine” backups of my entire computer. Again, my main computer hard drive (where I keep my various writing files and all of the class files I use when teaching) was un-touched. And, in addition, because I use the CrashPlan off-line backup system, none of the files were gone for good. I did have to buy a new external, networked drive where I could resume my Time Machine backups and tell CrashPlan to restore the files from their “cloud” server to my new drive.

The restoration process took four days, but everything is back, and I’m again running on all cylinders.

I do, occasionally, field questions though about how I back up and secure my writing files, so I thought maybe this was a good time to not only remind you that you can (and will) lose digital data, and gently encourage you to make sure your most important files are backed up regularly.

Ideally, the best back ups are those we don’t have to think about. They just happen. Also ideally, our backups aren’t ONLY stored on local devices that could be wiped out in the case of a fire, hurricane, or other disaster.

Below, I’ll lay out my triple-redundant backup plan for my most important files, and explain some of my thoughts about securing my data.

Secure Your Data

  1. The baseline, most important backup of my stories and class files is Dropbox. If you aren’t familiar with Dropbox, you should be. Dropbox basic is free, and you get 2GB of storage space, which is great for documents, spreadsheets, and PDF files you just can’t do with out. For me, this includes all of my writing files, my teaching files, and things like PDFs of my tax returns and scans of other important documents that would be great to have if suddenly my apartment were GONE and my computer, etc, gone with it. When you install Dropbox, you will have a new folder called Dropbox on your computer, and everything in that folder (up to the free limit) will be automatically backed up (or synched) to the Dropbox cloud storage on the Dropbox server. I have many sub-folders in the main Dropbox folder, such as Fiction, Non-Fiction, Tax Forms, and so on. I also set the default “save” location for programs like Word/Pages, Scrivener, etc so they are all pointing to sub-folders within the main Dropbox folder. This is great because those “cloud” files are not only backed up, they are available to me from any computer or mobile device with internet access. If my local backups and my computer are destroyed, I can still access those files. You can get a free 2GB of Dropbox storage here, and you can increase the free storage by referring friends, and you can buy more storage if you need it. (I currently have over 5GB of space on Dropbox, and all of my most important documents fit in less than half of that space.) The free storage from Dropbox isn’t the best for backing up your photos and music, especially if you have a LOT of those things, but it is invaluable for those items that are most important to you.
  2. My next level of defense is my Time Machine backup. You can use many other such products, but the idea of this “full computer” back up is to allow me to restore my entire computer set up if my main, internal hard drive fails. Yes, it is possible to restore my most important files from DropBox, and, in a pinch, I could do a full restore from the CrashPlan backup I detail in step three, but having a local backup is still an important step for me. The local, “full system” backup (stored on a networked, standalone hard drive like the 2TB Seagate GoFlex Home I recently purchased to replace my two failed drives from Iomega and Western Digital) is much faster and easier to restore from, should my internal hard drive fail. I also use the external drive to store all of the media files I don’t want hogging storage space on my desktop computer. Video, audio, and photo files can slurp up a ton of hard drive space, so I keep them segregated on the external drive. I have Time Machine set to do hourly, incremental backups of anything that’s changed on my computer. Ideally, if my iMac drive crashes, I can replace the drive and then restore my computer as if nothing had happened. Of course, I hope to never have to find out for sure if this works, but millions of people have to restore their computer every year, so the odds are against us.
  3. CrashPlan is the third tier of protection. CrashPlan is continuous, off-sight, cloud storage. I have the “Unlimited” plan, which runs about $50 a year. This plan allows me to back up all of the files on my internal hard drive as well as all of the files (including media files AND the Time Machine back ups of both my computer and my wife’s laptop) I store on the external hard drive. If something happens (like when my external drives failed) I can choose which files to restore. This week, I told CrashPlan to restore all of the video and audio files I had stored on my failed external hard drive, and CrashPlan began the process of copying each of those files onto the new Seagate hard drive. This morning, I’m listening to the music files, all of which were restored. Now, there is one caution here: Backing up and restoring huge chunks of data over your internet connection can be very slow. The initial back up took weeks, and the restore of all that missing data took, literally, almost a week. But, all of that backing up and restoring took place in the back ground, so I could use my computer normally. Most of it happened over night, while I was asleep. It took a lot of time, but very little effort, and I could go about my life as the program restored the data.

Obviously, there are many ways you can protect your data, but I get asked this question often enough, that I thought it might be worth mentioning how I tackle this beast of making sure I don’t lose my work, and that if a data disaster strikes, I can be back up and running in short order.

If you have specific questions, or if something above isn’t clear, feel free to pick my brain. I’m not a computer expert, but I’ve spent most of my life poking and prodding among the digital devices we’ve all come to depend on, and I’m happy to either offer helpful advice, or point you in a direction where such answers can be found.

I hope you are protecting your work. If you are like me, it would be devastating to lose your writing work. I would start over, from scratch, if I have to, but I do sleep better knowing how unlikely that scenario would be.

Happy writing! And happy backing up, too!

***

photo credit: Marco Crupi Visual Artist via photopin cc

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2 thoughts on “Back It Up, Baby

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