I have a slight obsession when it comes to backing up my data, especially my photos and videos. I find it hard to understand when someone is not concerned with making sure his data is safe. Yet, I will get asked a few times a year about the best software to recover data from a broken hard drive. Unfortunately, there really isn’t any, and when your hard drive breaks, you want to have an up to date backup.
Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I’ll tell anyone who will listen that even though backing up computer files may seem like a chore, it’s relatively simple. There are a few strategies that can be used to make sure you have a good backup solution. The first one is obvious – get an external hard drive and turn on Time Machine. This is by far the easiest and quickest way to get up and running with a backup that will save you if the hard drive in your Mac dies. Newer hard drives, especially the solid state drives (SSD) that come with most Macs, are much more reliable, but they can still fail. Having a backup of all your data sitting on your desk, ready to go, is a good thing.
However, it isn’t a sure thing. Your hard drive can die because of a power surge, or something worse, like fire damage. If anything happens to the room that your computer is in, and the backup is near it, you can be certain that you’ll lose your backup along with everything else. This is why I recommend having an offsite backup solution. It can be as simple as leaving a second copy of your external backup drive somewhere else, like at a family member’s home, or at the office. Or you can use an online backup service like CrashPlan or Backblaze. These services have a fee, but are worth it.
I keep a lot of my documents in my Dropbox folder; this way, anytime I need to access something I’ve worked on, or am working on, I can easily retrive it. The only documents I don’t keep in there are those that have any kind of private information. However, any templates I use for work, or anything I’ve written (some things going back a decade), I keep in in my Dropbox folder. Anything in Dropbox is automatically backed up.
My photo and video backup strategy is a little more involved. These types of files carry a lot more sentimental value. Anytime I find out that someone I know is not backing up her photos, I cringe, because they will get lost, and there will be sadness. Currently, I have 4 external hard drives that are essentially identical and have all my photos, videos, music, and a whole bunch of other things on them. Three of them are in my house, and one I keep somewhere else. You don’t need ot have that many, but remember that two is one, and one is none. That’s a military saying, but in the context of nerdy computer stuff, I heard it from CGP Grey on the amazing Cortext podcast.
Along those lines, I don’t just have the external hard drive strategy. I also use two online services for my photos and videos – iCloud and Google Photos. Both are great, and I highly recommend using at least one. If you use an iPhone and a Mac, iCloud is the most convenient, but will cost you at least $1.29 CAD per month for the 50GB. Apple gives everyone 5GB for free, but if you do more than backup your iPhone or iPad, you’ll run out of space real quick. I have a huge photo library, so I pay the $3.99 CAD for 200GB.
Google Photos provides you unlimited space for free, but any photos over 16 megapixels, and video over 1080p, will be compressed. However, since my iPhone has a 12 megapixel camera, and I don’t shoot video at 4K, that doesn’t really bother me, and it shouldn’t bother you – even compressed, the photos look great. The best thing about Google Photos is that it’s really easy to search, almost to the point that it’s a little creepy. You can search for an object or location, and it will find it, without tags or GPS data. It’s really impressive.
I can blather on quite a bit about backing up data, and I could probably keep typing. For now, please make sure you at least have one external drive that has all your important files on it. Having a second backup is an even better idea. Keep in mind, it’s never a matter of if your hard drive will fail, it’s when.