Laptops get stolen, memory sticks seldom survive an accidental boil wash (I’m on my third), and Word can be relied upon to corrupt your magnum opus at the most inopportune moment. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realise the importance of backing up until it’s too late. If you’ve spent many years working on a book or a thesis, then your data is probably your most valuable asset, so it’s vital that you look after it! Fortunately, there are lots of tools out there to help you.
Choosing a backup tool
A good backup solution should be:
- automatic – it should run at scheduled times so you don’t have to remember to do it
- systematic – it needs to reliably back up your most important files
- global – you don’t want a system that’s tied to your desktop if you’re actually working on a laptop remotely
- accessible – in the event of data loss, you must be able to easily access your files
Consider your current backup solution, if you have one – does it meet these criteria? For example, copying files to an external drive is better than nothing, but in the event of fire/theft/other calamity, you’ll lose both your computer and your backup. While recent versions of both Windows and Mac have built-in backup tools, they work only on external drives. Dropbox certainly has some advantages, but to avoid data loss you’ll need to either work permanently in the cloud, or remember to upload your important files. For ultimate protection, you need a dedicated online backup solution.
My favourite solution is Crashplan, which gives you unlimited remote storage for $59pa. The client works on both Windows and Mac and runs unobtrusively in the background. In the event of data loss, you can simply visit their website and download your files (you can also access them from a smartphone). I’ve used this tool for a couple of years now and it came to the rescue when Word messed up a big chunk of my hard work. There’s also a free version that allows you to back up to friends’ computers. If, like me, you have a motley collection of Macs, PCs, and laptops, you can back them all up to one account with a family plan ($149.99 pa).
Whatever you decide to use, a strong backup plan will mitigate against a variety of disasters. It takes a little while to get everything set up, but it’s much easier than having to redo your work.