Backup Backup Backup!

I have become a little obsessed lately with backing up my stuff. If something were to happen to my computer (in a house with 2 kids and 2 pets and 2 ill-coordinated adults, it is always a possibility) I need to be double and triple sure that I can get all of my stuff back.

How about you? How are you backing up your computer? If you aren’t, let me persuade you to start today. Whether your computer contains work files, family photos, music, or that novel-in-progress, don’t run the risk of losing it all to theft, hard drive fail, or accident. We lost a whole laptop when a few drops of coke spilled on the keyboard – it is that easy to lose it all.

Online Backup

There are several really affordable services which will backup your computer to an offsite server – the first backup can be time consuming, but after that, it will simply backup your computer at scheduled intervals (mine happens every night while I sleep) with no intervention from you. This is great even if all you did was accidentally delete some files – you can usually restore them within an hour- less if you have fewer files on your Backblaze backup. Having the backup offsite means that no matter where you are or what happens, your files are somewhere safe and waiting for you.

I personally use Mozy – for personal use you get unlimited file storage for only $4.95 per month or $55 per year- a STEAL for the peace of mind it provides.They also offer a free version for up to 2GB – great if you don’t have as much data to back up. I have been using Mozy for years now, and several times it has saved my hide.

I have also heard good things about Carbonite – also $55 per year. If you google, there are a lot of these services cropping up now. I personally prefer to stick with one that has been around for a while – I don’t want my files to all disappear when a new company goes out of business.

External Backup

I recently took my backup plan a step further and purchased an external hard drive. Note that I do not recommend an external drive as your only backup method. Why? Because an external can get stolen just as easily as your laptop, and external drives do have a bad habit of going bad. But it can be a great second line of defense if you buy carefully and use them appropriately.

I got a lot of really great advice before my purchase, and I wanted to pass that on to you. I did not know a thing about how to buy an external hard drive, and without the help, I would have spent more money for a less desirable outcome.

Don’t buy a prepackaged external drive and case.
At Best Buy and other electronics stores, most of what you will find are external drives that come already in a case that allows the drive to be hooked up to your computer. The problem is, the drives they use for these prepackaged devices are usually of low quality and have very short warranty periods. You can pretty much expect the drive to die within a year or 2.

Instead, buy the external drive and case separately. For very little difference in price you can get a much more robust hard drive. Buy the best external drive you can afford. The Western Digital Caviar series is what was consistently recommended to me, specifically the Caviar Black. It has 1T (that’s a luxurious TERABYTE people) of space, runs very quietly, and does not seem to get too overheated. It also has a 5-year warranty. The Samsung RAID drives were also highly recommended. Whatever you buy, make sure you get something with a SATA interface and a 5-year warranty. It does not cost much more to go from a moderately crappy drive to a really good one.

Then get an external enclosure for the drive. You need this to allow the hard drive to connect to and communicate with your computer. You need one that supports 3.5″ SATA hard drives, and will support the amount of storage that your hard drive will hold. You can find ones that will connect via USB or Firewire. I read a lot of bad reviews about connecting with Firewire (even though it should technically be faster) so I went with USB 2 and have been really happy. And don’t stress about how hard it will be to put it all together – most external enclosures require nothing more than a screwdriver. Some require no tools at all. I got one that you can’t even really call an enclosure – I just pop the external in when I need it, and push a button to pop it out when I don’t need it – it is sort of like a toaster. 😉

You will definitely get what you pay for, so while you can get an external enclosure for as little as $10, I found that the ones that really met my needs were more in the $40-$60 range. Read reviews for things like noise, overheating, speed, and durability.

I got everything I needed from http://www.newegg.com and found they had a really good selection at great prices, but you might be able to beat them by shopping around.

I use my external as a backup for files that I might need to recover quickly, and as storage – my laptop was getting seriously full and I needed some extra space. But because even with the 5 year warranty, I don’t trust an external drive to last, I have Mozy back up the external drive every night as well.

Eventually I would actually like to add a few more external drives to my arsenal and periodically swap them out so that I have duplicate backups, no one device is getting too much wear and tear, and I am even less likely to lose those files I might need quickly.

Web Site Backup

This is all well and good for your computer, but what about your web site? Unless you have a server in your house that you are using to host your site (you probably don’t), then your web site is on the server of a hosting company like GoDaddy, BlueHost, HostGator, etc. Most of the big hosting companies are pretty reliable, but I have heard enough horror stories of servers going down and sites being completely lost that I highly recommend having your own regular backup plan in place for your web site.

A good hosting company will have a way to back up your entire site. In Bluehost, Hostmonster, and Hostgator, you can just go to your Control Panel, scroll down to Files, and click on Backups. Click one the “Download or Generate a Full Web Site Backup” button and a backup of your entire site and any MySQL databases used by it will be generated. I recommend putting on your calendar to do this kind of backup regularly – monthly, or even weekly if you post to your self-hosted blog often or frequently make changes to your site. Do a backup every time you make a lot of changes to your site, and you won’t be caught in a pickle if the worst happens.

If you are not sure whether or not your particular hosting company allows you to do backups or how to do it – just give them a call and they should walk you through it. If they don’t give you that ability or won’t help you – time to look into making a switch to a new host.

If you know how to connect to your site via ftp, you can download all of the files on the server to your computer. However, this will not backup any databases your site may use, if, for example, your web site is in WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.

If you have a self-hosted WordPress site (i.e., it is at your domain name, not at a wordpress.com domain) you can install a handy plugin called WordPress Database Backup. You can set it to backup your database automatically every hour, day, week, or month and send the backup straight to your email. This will only backup your database however – and databases DO get corrupted so this is always a good idea – but in order to protect the files on your server, you really need to be doing a complete backup regularly.

Do it today!

I hope this helps you make a plan TODAY to backup your computer and your web site. We always tend think “It will never happen to me.” But the reality is, it happens to almost everyone eventually. Computers get stolen, hard drives get damaged, web sites go down. You can make sure the event is merely an annoyance rather than a total disaster by having a backup plan and putting it in action.

One Response to “Backup Backup Backup!”

  1. Suzanne

    I’ve been using Carbonite since I started doing the books for the store. It’s great. I don’t have to do anything since I set it up. It’s all in the background.

    I’ve also heard great things about the Drobo for external backups. It’s not for someone with just a little to back up, but if you have a lot, it saves the data in a redundant way across multiple drives of any size that can be switched out (even while it’s running) if one of the drives breaks or if you want to add larger drives. And you don’t lose data if one drive breaks because of the redundancy.