Category Archives: Backups

How To Backup your Data

Last Updated: June 2017

People often don’t backup their computer, usually because they “don’t know how”. So now and then I’ve taken to sharing some advice with my social networks (Anyone on my Facebook who’s not backed probably doesn’t sign in!).

If you want to keep your photos, documents, invoices, scans, videos and all the other stuff you accumulate safe (on either Windows, Mac or Linux), consider yourself informed:

Why Backup?

Sooner or later, your computer will stop working. Often it’s something like the screen or some other part and your data is recoverable, but the Hard Drive is also likely to die. When it does, chances of you getting your photos, documents etc back are slim. Hard Drives usually last anywhere between 1 and 10 years, and will often die without warning.

What is a backup?

A backup is a physically separate second copy of your files, if you only have one copy of a photo it is not backed up – likewise if you have two copies on the same device it’s also not backed up. I recommend you have three copies, because then when one storage device stops working you still have a backup until you can replace it (otherwise you’re left without a backup in the mean time).

Types of Backup

On Site Backups

There are two kinds of backup, On Site and Off Site. Sounds businessy but it’s just as relevant at home. On Site backups are great because they’re fast to backup to and restore from, but if you’ve lost your data to theft or a house fire chances are you’ve lost the on-site backup also.

  • USB Stick – Small and portable, great if you’re travelling.
  • External Hard Drive – You get more space for less money.
  • FreeFileSync is useful for automating these backups.

Off Site Backups

Offsite Backups are somewhere else, probably on the Internet/The Cloud (The Cloud is a marketing term for The Internet, don’t get confused between the two)! Chances are you’ll use one of the many services available for this very purpose, both of those listed below are fully automatic and fast.

Some of these are referral links. My opinion of any service is unaffected by the results of any referral options. – but where available I’ve included them because usually we both get a bonus for using one.

Dropbox.com

Pros:
  • Free for up to 2GB (although you can earn more by inviting friends and other things)
  • Install it on more than one machine and you get an on-site backup too (since it syncs your files)
Cons:
  • Gets quite pricey if you want more than 2GB
  • You have to store your files in your Dropbox folder, which means a slight change to the way you work

SquirrelSave.co.uk

Pros:
  • Fixed price however much data you want (Currently £5.05/m)
  • You tell it which files to backup (rather than needing to move your files)
  • Keeps every copy of everything
  • Encrypted before being uploaded
Cons:
  • You need one account per machine
  • Does not support network drives

Mozy.co.uk

Pros:
  • Very easy to use
  • Also backs up to an external drive
  • Seems to be very reliable
  • Lots of restore options
  • Keeps backups for 60 days
  • Has a business package, so you can use the same at home and work
Cons:
  • Gets quite expensive after 125GB
  • The interface is quite sluggish

OneDrive (and Microsoft Office 365)

Pros:
  • If you’re buying Office 365, you get 1TB of OneDrive storage included
  • Online editing
  • Integrates well with Windows and Office
Cons:
  • If you edit the same file on multiple devices it’s not always 100% clear whether you’re editing the latest version of a file.
  • Microsoft may monitor your files for (potentially) illegal files and may take action (source). Other services might do this too – and just haven’t been caught.

Offsite backups always carry the risk of people snooping on your data, if you’re concerned do some research before uploading anything (but get your On Site backup sorted in the mean time!). Wuala.com prides themselves on being very secure, another popular method is to use Boxcryptor.

What I Do

Here’s what I do:

  • I have everything in Dropbox
  • I adjust my Windows Libraries to include my Dropbox folders, and exclude the default ones.
  • I use Boxcryptor for encrypting sensative details.

Other General Tips

  • I wrote a more complete comparison of Cloud Storage a few years ago. It’s probably getting out of date.
  • When you download photos from your camera, don’t remove them from the camera before they’ve reached one of your backups. I move them to a “downloaded” folder on the camera storage which I remove periodically.
  • If you have a memory card slot in your laptop, that can work as a fast on-site backup.
  • Your initial off-site backup might take while, several days even. Leave your computer on and connected as much as possible since your files won’t be backed up until it’s complete.
  • You should test your backups to check they work as you think they will, restore your files onto a spare computer or borrow a friends. You can always delete them once you know you’ll be able to do it when you need to!

If you have any other advice or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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Comparison of Cloud Storage Options

Over the past few months I’ve switched between several cloud-storage options. Here’s an overview of my thoughts on each. These are in the order which I tried them in with the newest (and so my current favourite) at the top.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these features are available in the free version also.

Cubby

Pros

  • Cheap (may go up after Beta period).
  • DirectSync means you can use the Cubby software to sync files between computers on your LAN without those files counting towards your quota (unless you are also syncing them to the cloud) Only for paid accounts
  • Very simple interface.
  • Easily lets you merge a Cloud folder with a Local folder.

Cons

  • You get told how many files and how many bytes still need to be synced, but you don’t get any indication as to the speed it’s transferring at.
  • You can share a Cubby with other users, but you can’t share only a subfolder.
  • Support are not very helpful. Syncing got stuck with files left for me on two machines, on one occasion a support guy phoned me to try and diagnose, but basically told me to look through the log file myself and find the problem. Email support then refused to help because I had mentioned I’d used a network drive on one machine, they left me with “we don’t support network drives” regardless of my other machine having the same problem without the network drive.

Wuala

Pros

  • The security concious will enjoy their pre-transfer encryption.
  • Sync files and folders in place, no need to move or symlink them.
  • Backup Option lets you have a single-directional syncing folder.
  • Small, cheap options for sizing.
  • Easy to contact support by email or through the forum.

Cons

  • Very limited view of the status of your files.
  • Requires Java for both

SparkleShare

Self-Hosted option, based on Git.

Pros

  • Self Hosting gives you flexibility and the option of cheap space.

Cons

  • Self-Hosting means you’re responsible for your own redundancy.
  • On large amounts of files (dozens of thousands) SparkleShare appeared to try and handle them in batches of a few hundred, but still froze and never finshed.

Google Drive

Pros

  • Get to your files quickly if you use Gmail.

Cons

  • Hogged resources when tracking many files (I added dozens of thousands, and often had to quit Drive to keep everything else running).
  • You have to keep your files in the Google Drive folder.
  • Doesn’t follow symlinks.
  • You can only sync into an empty folder, you cannot merge your Drive contents with some local files (an issuee after a reinstall) to save downloading files again.

Dropbox

Pros

  • Most of the people I’ve wanted to share files with, already have Dropbox.
  • Easily see the status of your files and you have the information you need to judge how long until everythnig is in sync.
  • Share individual folders with other users.
  • Follows Symlinks (Junctions/Hardlinks).

Cons

  • The smallest package is £10 for 100GB, if you only need 20GB it can feel nasty to pay for all the space you don’t need.
  • Based on Amazon s3 you’re supporting Amazon and their less than friendly business and environmental practices.
  • All your files must be in your Dropbox folder, however following Symlinks eases this trouble.
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