Everyone should back up their data. It is obvious. Everyone says it. But when your computer or hard drive dies, do you have backups immediately available?
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My laptop has just died and I am writing this article because instead of the gnawing dread that comes from losing data, I feel content and secure thanks to cloud storage: my data is immediately available, arranged as it was on my laptop, and all I need to resume working is access to the internet.
There are various companies out there offering online backup of information. I use Apple Mac computers (my laptop was a PowerBook G4) and this integrates very well with Apple’s own system, recently rebranded as mobileme.com.
My working method was to set up an iDisk, a virtual disc existing on Apple’s servers. This can be mounted on your desktop (if you have a Mac) or a local mirror can be created. I began using a local mirror and synchronised this at regular intervals with the online version so my data was secure. Later I learned a better way to do this is to use a standalone backup programme that provides greater flexibility in selecting which folders you wish to synchronise. I used a programme called Transmit, a cheap but effective shareware programme.
So each day I would backup my documents and images folders. Now that my laptop has died I have instant access to these by logging into mobileme.com through a web browser. I can navigate through the folders just as they were arranged on my hard drive and download any that I need. When I buy a new Mac, I will be able to mount the iDisk on the desktop or recreate my local mirror (my preferred option).
When my laptop died I was writing and laying out a publication with an imminent deadline. It is not only there in my online backup, but I have been able to use the ‘sharing’ function to provide a link to it to a colleague who has been able to download it to put the finishing touches. The sharing and download functions also enable whole folders to be zipped so they can be downloaded in one operation, which is great for the image folder in this case.
There are various companies offering storage on the internet. This is coming to be known as ‘cloud storage’ because the data floats around cyberspace. If the company is good then it will keep backups of your backups.
But beware. I once used a cloud storage company that lost data. I was not badly affected as I still had my own local copies, but some people were using this company for archiving and had no local copies. I set up a blog about this to track our efforts to gain access to the data and to warn others as the company re-launched under another name, only to close down. That company, no longer in existence, was called Mediamax. See http://mediamaxusers.blogspot.com/
So my advice is to check companies carefully and if you are going to delete local files, consider making a hard copy in addition to those in cloud storage. Even the mighty Apple states in its Terms and Conditions:
“Backup Your Content
“You are responsible for backing up, to your own computer or other device, any important documents, images or other Content that you store or access via the Service. Apple does not guarantee or warrant that any Content you may store or access through the Service will not be subject to inadvertent damage, corruption or loss.”
So your local copy is a backup of the cloud storage! Think of it like that and you will backup to disc or external hard drive should you ever need to delete important documents from your computer.
Where I have fallen down is with my emails. I download emails but leave a copy on the email server. So my more recent emails can be accessed through webmail. In theory I was backing up my local email database to disc (and later to cloud storage) whenever my webmail capacity was reached and I had to delete the copies from the server. In practice, I was behind on this so have lost some important messages, unless I can recover them from my dead laptop.
One approach would be to have webmail with expandable capacity. I have now set up a boot and braces approach by having my several webmail accounts automatically forward emails to my mobileme.com account. This is infinitely expandable as you can buy more space (in fact, your space in cloud storage is split between your iDisk and emails in the Apple system; the basic package has 20 GBytes of capacity and costs me £59 per year). This means that even if my local downloads of emails dies, I will have instant access via the internet to old emails even if they no longer exist on the webmail server, without ever having to think about running backups.
When I arrange my new computer I will need to reinstall software, set up logins to various website I master and so on. To help with this I have recorded product keys and logins in a document called 'usefulstuff'. This is backed up in cloud storage, obviating the need to hunt through old emails and files to find this information.
If hearing about computers dying prompts you to run your infrequent backup routine, then consider cloud storage. Your stored data never has to be more than a few hours out of date and is instantly available.
Today I am very pleased I took this action.
Note: I have no connection with Apple, other than as a satisfied customer. Other systems may be better, particularly if you are using a PC rather than a Mac. Whoever you decide to use, it is well worth considering the benefits of cloud storage.