With more and more of our life being composed of digital files the question comes up how do your back them up. These files can have significant sentimental value and are irreplaceable. Such things as pictures or videos you have taken cannot be replaced. Content that you have bought can usually be purchased again if you really had to, but pictures of your child’s first day of school, your daughter’s wedding or a family vacation cannot be bought. With a little effort these can be backed up in different ways to protect them. The advantage to digital files you can easily duplicate them without a loss of quality like you would experience in the analog world. This post starts a series on backing up your digital life and other digital skills for our modern-day.
Reasons for Loss
There are two basic reason you can lose your digital files, hardware and software. Hardware is the simplest to understand and protect against. This is a physical failure of the device that holds the files. This could be anything from a component on the circuit board going bad to the bearings of the hard drive going out. If the failure is anyplace in the system other than the drive holding the files, that drive can generally be just plugged into another system and the files accessed assuming you are not running some kind of weird custom system, and if you know enough to do that this article is not for you. Further the “hardware” failure could also be a result of the environment the system is in, if your house burns down the digital pictures are just as gone as any old school film and prints.
Software problems can be either accidental (oops I deleted the wrong file), a glitch (something stops working in the operating system or data corruption) or malicious activity (some kind of virus). Frequently you can recover from these types of problems, but the expense can be considerable. There are data recovery tools you can use for a file that is accidentally deleted if you do it right away. Further how your system is configured can make it easy or not so easy to rebuild your operating system and often times your data files remain more or less intact. However data corruption usually results in lost data and that corruption can be the result of a system problem or some kind of virus.
What to Do
In simple terms you need to have two or more copies of your important digital files and at least one of the copies should be geographically separated from where your main system is. Ideally this would be a system that automatically copies the files to remote storage and then locks the files so they cannot be modified or overwritten. That was one advantage of the CD-R and DVD-R writable discs, the data could not be changed once written. However they are not really a good solution anymore as they do not hold enough data for most users needs. Further there was always the question as to how long they would last before they deteriorated. Manufacturers claimed long shelf lives, but they did not have the track record to back that up. Therefore most users are going to find storing their files on another private hard drive someplace or on an internet/cloud based backup. The question to be answered is what level of privacy/security do you personally feel comfortable with and what level of administration do you want to do.
In future installments I will cover details of different options