Keeping your digital world safe

When your pc or file server eventually dies, and they always do in the end, are you protected? We look at the various options and costs in backing up.
© Gina Sanders -

Think about how much you actually store online these days. It’s not just your email anymore but chances are you store photos, music and documents.

While storing this information digitally saves on physical storage space it also opens up the potential of losing your digitised information.

So what options do you have to keep your digital world safe?

Physical back-ups

Usually you will have some physical device where this information is primarily stored, be it a desktop or laptop computer. In some instances, both at home or at work, there may be a server available to back up your files.

If you are without a server there is the option of using other physical devices such as USB drives, DVD/CDs and external hard drives to back up your information.

The volume of information that you have will determine the best option. USB drives usually have a significantly lower storage capacity than an external hard drive.

External hard drives are inexpensive and are connected to your desktop or laptop via a USB connection. They are often called ‘pocket drives’ as they are often about the size of a pocket on the back of your jeans.

How do physical back-ups work?

Essentially you simply copy all of the information on the internal hard drive of your computer onto the external hard drive. The benefit of using an external hard drive or USB device is that you can re-write the information easily to the drive. USB storage devices and external hard drives are available from most computer retailers, some supermarkets, post offices and business supply retailers.

Software is sometimes included on external hard drives to make backing up new information easier. These software solutions identity new files since the last back-up and copy only those rather than re-copying every file. Plus alerts are usually automatically set to remind you to back-up after a certain period of time.

The key thing to remember with physical back-ups is to not store them in the same place as your computer. There is no point having a physical back-up of your information on an external drive that is exposed to the same event, for example a house fire, as your computer.

Some people choose to have several back-ups on external drives and deposit them with family and friends for safe keeping.

This may sound like a lot of work – buying drives, regularly backing up your data and then distributing the devices amongst family and friends. Then you also have to collect the drives, back-up again and redistribute the drives again for safe keeping. You will need to repeat this process at least every month to the back-up current. So is there an easier way?

The Cloud

You have probably heard of ‘the cloud’; everyone seems to be referring to it these days. Basically ‘the cloud’ is so named because in technical drawings of how the internet works, the internet is represented as a cloud.

How it actually works is that somewhere on the internet there is a hub of servers. These servers are usually backed up in multiple places across the internet. This hub of servers, accessible by the internet, is the cloud.

Inbuilt cloud back-up options

Most device suppliers such as Apple, Dell and the rest now offer their own back-up services. Inbuilt software on the computer, or indeed phone or tablet, copies the information to servers on the cloud.

As the software comes standard with most devices, all you have to do is follow the step by step instructions when the alert pops up telling you it’s time to back-up your data.

Apple iTunes allows you to back-up the files on your devices and re-install them if there is a problem or you upgrade your device. This works well for music files, digital photographs, your contact list and other media files.

SugarSync and Mozy are other software options that watch files and folders on your computer and back-up changes made onto the cloud.

The Dropbox revolution

It has been said that there is ‘life before Dropbox and life after Dropbox” because it has changed the way many people store, access and share files.

Dropbox works like having your own personal server, but it’s on the cloud. Not only does it allow you to back-up your data but it also allows you to share specific folders with specific people or companies.

It’s an expensive solution for individuals but affordable for most small to medium sized businesses.

Another advantage of Dropbox is that your files are available from any device that you have – you can access your files by your internet browser or by an app on your phone or tablet. No matter where you are you can access, update and save files from whichever device you are using.

Not only is it a work efficiency tool, it negates the need to continuously back-up files – the working files that you have are on Dropbox, which is on the cloud and not linked to a physical device.

What are the cost differences?

An external 500GB hard drive will cost around $80, and if you have an enormous amount of data a 2TB (terabyte) costs around $130.

If you are a personal Dropbox user you can store 2GB of data on Dropbox for free. For $10/month you can store up to 50GB, while $20/month provides space for 100GB. Enterprise solutions for business are also available.

Dropbox is expensive if you are using it as a back-up service alone. However, the additional features of file sharing and documents being synced across all of your devices means you are getting more for your money than just a back-up service.

What else should I consider?

Ultimately it comes down to what you are more comfortable having as your digital data back-up system.

Some people prefer the physical and cheaper back-up solutions of external hard drives, DVDs and USB drives.

Others prefer the cloud based options. There are many companies out there offering this type of back-up solution, so make sure you choose a reputable one by seeking out reviews from customers and researching the company before signing up.

Protecting and safe-keeping your treasured, valuable and in many cases irreplaceable digital data is an important decision. Choose what works best for your situation, the type and volume of data you have and your budget.

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