Got files? Why NOW is a good time to rethink your backup strategy.

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Mondays get their reputations for a ton of reasons. I headed back to my office on a particularly difficult Monday and noticed instead of the normal Windows 7 desktop, my screen was black with some white text. The text, it turned out, announced something bad:

Disk Boot Failure..not good.
When this happens while trying to boot your's NEVER good.

Disk boot failure? When I left my office I had been humming away in Windows 7 doing my thing. Now I had come back to this. I tried rebooting several times but that didn’t make the error message go away. What had happened and what did it mean? It was the worse case scenario realized – my hard drive had crashed and because it had a ton of my important work files on it, I was in big trouble. Luckily for me I had been listening to my own advice and regularly backing up my system right? Right?

What's in a hard drive?
This is a very geeky photograph. Hard drives work like mini record players and cassette decks all in one.

What is a hard drive?

To understand why hard drives “crash” you first need to understand what they are. Hard drives are nothing more than magnetic media, much like cassette tapes, which can be erased and rewritten. Unlike cassette tapes, hard drive data is stored on stacked magnetic spinning “disks” or platters, rather than the ribbon on spools that you used to stuff your pencil through. Hard drives also have some things in common with records and record players. As you can see from the picture, there are some intricate looking parts in one of those things. It’s because of these parts (and bad luck) that hard drives will malfunction. In fact, when you buy a PC or Apple, it’s inevitable that it will break.

Backing up your files is easier than ever before. You just need to do it.

New technologies like the Google Chromebook have really changed my mind about how I use my computer. In the olden pre-2007 days, when I wanted to save a picture, I created a random folder and dumped the picture there. The real problem with that, of course, is you’re saving it to a hard drive. They die remember? Today there are more advanced ways which make backing up your system real easy.

Here are some things that you can do:

  • Run daily or weekly backups.. First you’ll want to backup to something other than your hard drive. Buying an external hard drive will do and there are some software packages that will not only backup to external storage but also upload your backups to the cloud. Here are some great examples of software that will do this: #1 or #2. For those who don’t have the cash to spend, Windows Backup or Time Machine make for passable options.
  • Buy a network device. If you have multiple computers floating around your house that are loaded with random junk that you need to back up, there are tons of options for NAS devices. These are nice because they can be fairly high capacity and with the software can give you a “set it and forget it” approach.
  • Stop saving and start using the cloud. This is the newest approach and the one really gaining traction. I’ve come to realize that there’s little reason to save anything to your computer at all. Let me tell you why. Software can be installed, your important files can be stored in a service like dropbox or Heck, you can create your documents in the cloud by using Google docs or Microsoft live office. Those picture you adore can just be dumped from your camera and right to Flickr or Google picasa. You can listen to your tunes on your iPhone from iTunes in the cloud. The eventual goal is to stop relying on yourself to back up anything. Transitioning yourself to using cloud services makes it easier to do that.

There are reasons why you need might to do 1, 2 or all 3 of these backup strategies. It will depend on your storage needs, habits, and your pocketbook.

Do as I say, don’t do as I do.

My Favorite Error
Why can't I receive error messages like this one? Pretty please?
The dirty little secret is that I don’t always follow my own advice. It took me 2 days but I was able to re-install my operation system and recover my files. Sure it was a pain to restore everything but I did get my data back. To avoid this situation again, I have rethought my backup strategy. I’m making sure my files are getting backed up nightly. It isn’t fun to see that blank screen with the white writing but when it does you’ll be protected now. Right?

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