Data loss is the digital house fire.
After far too many tragedies, we’ve learned a few things about fire prevention. Every home is now required, by law, to have a working fire alarm on each floor. You wouldn’t leave a candle burning overnight, or flick a cigarette butt between the couch cushions, would you?
But what about your data?
A fire can destroy lives in mere minutes. Minutes? Hard drive failure is instant. Years of personal photos, music and movie collections, and project files can be wiped out in one heart-sickening click.
It’s easy to forget the risk when your data is enclosed in bulletproof metallic enclosures, or tucked away invisibly inside your solid aluminum laptop case to be bumped around on the go. But never forget — Hard disks are a remarkable delicate feat of engineering. Whirring at an average speed of 5,400 revolutions per minute to access over 2,199,023,255,552 bytes of data, it’s actually quite amazing things don’t go wrong more often than they do. Even so, nothing is perfect. Hard drive failure is an inevitable statistical probability. Sure, you can always buy a new drive… But your data is irreplaceable.
Data recovery? It’s complicated, never guaranteed, and really, really, really expensive. External drives and laptops can be lost, stolen or damaged. Recordable media (CDRs, DVDRs) notoriously degrades over time, making it extremely unreliable as an archive format. Prevention is the only strategy that really works against data loss.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:
1. Automate backups.
Online backup services, like mail2web.com for your mobile phone and Dropbox, Mozy and CrashPlan for your computer, can be set up to automatically backup and sync your data online. To find the service that’s right for you, I always recomend checking forums of online backup services. As more and more of your data storage goes online, chances are less you will lose any of it to a single point of failure. For the truly concerned, services like Backupify can even back up your backup data.
2. Use solid state media on the go.
Flash memory cards, external hard drives, USB keys, DVDRWs and other media with no moving parts are generally an easy way to move data. Some smartphones can also be used for mobile data storage, though you may still lose your phone. If you work with very large files, there’s still hope for safe transfer — the world’s largest USB key has now topped an impressive 250GB, making it larger than many common hard drives.
3. Access your files by virtual and remote networking.
Chances are, your employer has a VNC-enabled network to allow you to login remotely and access your files from home or elsewhere. You can set up your own virtual network for remote access without the risk of physically moving (and losing) your files. All you’ll need is a persistent Internet connection at home (by cable or DSL) and the right software.
4. Email yourself.
Emailing files to yourself through your own personal webmail can be a quick and dirty backup solution. A copy of your message will be stored on the server should you need it.
5. Invest in RAID setups.
RAID drive enclosures can be set up to mirror data across multiple drives in case one fails. It doesn’t protect against user error (deleting files by mistake), but it’s a great start. RAID combines several hard disks into one unit, for either speed or data redundancy. RAID 0 mirrors an exact copy of your data instantly to two physical drives. If one fails, your data survives. RAID 0 requires exactly twice the disk space for redundant protection. With more drives, RAID 5 and RAID 10 can increase the ratio of usable disk space. Don’t fret about the extra cost. Disk space is cheap — losing data is not.
6. Backup your full system.
Data is important, but so is your time. Should something happen, you don’t want to lose productivity to reinstalling your OS, resorting your settings, and re-registering all your programs. A full system backup should be done every few days to restore in case of the catastrophe of a complete system failure or loss (this is doubly important for laptops and phone, which can be easily lost, stolen or damaged). There is a ton of backup software that can be scheduled to automatically backup your system at a convenient time (most likely, in the middle of the night when you aren’t using the system).
7. Remember good habits!
There’s no substitute for a well-planned backup routine in your workflow:
- Don’t work on external drives.
- Copy working files as new revisions.
- Backup your work regularly.
- Save your data off-site or online.
- Use a combination of automatic and manual backup strategies.
- Assume the worst and plan for it.
As Benjamin Franklin wisely noted, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Start protecting your data today.
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