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Bulletproof Your Backups for the New Year and Beyond

It’s almost mid-January and the New Year’s resolutions you promised yourself are already fading into the background of daily life. But don’t worry, we still have one resolution that’s never too late to accomplish. Backing up your hard drive. Although it’s one of those tasks that rates somewhere between flossing your teeth and checking the air in your tires, it’s a necessity that can cause great regret if not done regularly.

Backing up is the first rule of thumb for protecting all your important data and clearly it has real benefits, yet it’s surprising how many people don’t do it or…do it improperly. A suitable backup means that a duplicate copy of your data resides on a different storage medium than your main hard drive. Copying your data to another folder on the same drive doesn’t count because when (not if) your drive crashes, you may not be able to access any of the data.

A good backup plan starts with deciding what files you want to backup. This can take awhile if you have a large hard drive and thousands of files collected over years of computing. To speed up the backup process and reclaim valuable space on your hard drive, it’s a good idea to do little digital housekeeping and archive old data to semi-permanent storage media such as DVD-R, BD-R or even CD-R. Although these media are “write-once”, the expectation is that they will last about one hundred years before deteriorating.

Once you’ve archived data to your discs it’s recommended that you verify and check the data on them to ensure everything was properly transferred and that none of the files are corrupt. Lastly, you should make more than one set of these archive discs and store them in different locations. You might keep one at your office, another in a safe deposit box and perhaps an additional copy at the home of a family member.

Next, you should think about a reliable backup device that will function properly on a daily basis. An external hard drive that resides on your network or is connected to your computer full time is a good start. Choose a drive that will backup the entire capacity of your hard drive (plus a bit more extra space for future data). Ultimately, you’ll want to include all the files you’ve created, your programs and the system software too. Nothing beats the speed of a hard drive with a full backup to get you back up and running quickly.

The real secret to bulletproof backup is to do it religiously. The best advice here is to use software that automatically backs up your drive at a scheduled time every day. Apple’s Time Machine and third-party software products like Acronis True Image for Windows, handle automated backups seamlessly and there many others available for purchase on the web.

Beyond a single backup device you should also have a backup—for your backup. Think worst case scenario: a sprinkler pipe bursts flooding your studio computer and backup; a fire breaks out and everything becomes a wet, charbroiled mess after the fire department douses it with water; a disgruntled employee erases your main hard drive and destroys the backup. To protect yourself against these situations, you’ll need a secondary backup—one that happens outside your facility.

Cloud-based backup services work by downloading and installing software on your computer with data backed to their servers that can be configured to run at scheduled times on your wired or wireless network. Three popular services are Mozy (currently 50GB for $5.99 a month), Carbonite (unlimited space for $59 annually), and CrashPlan (unlimited space, free and various plans). Any of these providers can do the job adequately and you’ll get added peace of mind when you’re away from your desktop computer working with a portable laptop out in the field. Just remember that no single-method of backup can protect your data sufficiently and even Cloud-based backup providers can lose data when their servers crash.

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