Backing up your data is the single most important task you should do when it comes to your personal and business computing. While computers are highly reliable, as your computer ages, the chance of hard drive failure increases with each passing year. If the failure is catastrophic, your data may be unretrievable or may be only rescued via expensive data recovery services. These services can run from the hundreds to thousands of dollars and may only be able to retrieve some, but not all, your data.
Backing up your data is made simple by Apple’s inclusion of the Time Machine software which is installed on any new Mac and is a part of the operating system. Here’s what Apple says:
“Time Machine is the built-in backup that works with your Mac and an external drive (sold separately) or AirPort Time Capsule. Connect the drive, tell Time Machine to use it, and relax. Time Machine automatically backs up your entire Mac, including system files, applications, accounts, preferences, email messages, music, photos, movies, and documents. But what makes Time Machine different from other backup applications is that it not only keeps a spare copy of every file, it remembers how your system looked on any given day—so you can revisit your Mac as it appeared in the past. Time Machine keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups until your backup drive is full.”
The most obvious benefit of this strategy is that it is a “set it once and forget it” approach to backing up your data. As long as there is an available drive for the Mac to back up to, you will always have a full copy of your applications, settings, and home folder data available to you, Should your computer suffer a hard drive failure, the Time Machine software will restore all of your data to you newly repaired drive.
In addition, migrating to a new machine is just as easy. When you start your new computer for the first time, the set up assistant will prompt you to connect your Time Machine enabled external drive, and after a few hours, your new computer will have all your existing data, settings, and applications. We recommend a Seagate which you can purchase at Best Buy.
There is an important caveat to this back up strategy. What if both your computer and back up drive are compromised? What files are absolutely irreplaceable? Maybe it’s the those digital photos of your children, or maybe it’s the tax returns and financial records that you have. How can you ensure that you can recover that data barring some incident like a flood, fire, or theft which could eliminate both your computer and back up drive?
There are two strategies you can pursue for a second—or third—backup. The first is to utilize an online back up service such as Backblaze, Opendrive, Zipcloud, and iDrive among others. These are all web-based, have a variety of storage and pricing options, and like Time Machine, can be set up to run automatically.
There are several downsides that you should note. The first is backing up and restoring your data will be limited by your internet connection speed, which if you have a large amount of data could be hours of uptime. Worse, if you lose internet connectivity you will be unable run your back ups or access your data that is in the cloud.
The second downside is you are relying on a third party to keep your data secure. While most well-known companies are highly reputable and have security measures in place, some users may not be comfortable knowing their all of their data is in “the cloud.”
The third downside is cost. Most of these services charge a recurring monthly fee that can easily total a hundred dollars or more annually. Considering that an external hard drive can be had for less than a hundred dollars and should have a service life of at least 2 or 3 years, it can be hard to justify the additional cost for those on a budget.
The second strategy is cheaper, more secure, and can allow for you to have your back up data in a secure location such as fire safe or safe deposit box. The key is to prioritize which data of yours is absolutely irreplaceable and which does not change. An example would be annual financial records or your digital photos.
Once you have chosen your most important files, copy them to a flash drive or burn them to optical media. Some Macs still have a SuperDrive which allow you to quickly burn data to a CD or DVD. The average CD-ROM can hold 600 MBs of data, which would equal hundreds of pages of text, around 150 songs, or several hundred digital photos. A DVD will hold 4.6 GBs of data, equalling around 1000+ songs or digital photos. This is a very economical solution.
In addition, solid state thumb drives are available in various capacities up to 128 GBs, easily handling huge MP3 or digital photo collections. The read/write speed of these portable drives is quick and they are easy to transport and store on a keychain. Prices are roughly $10-$100 depending on the capacity.
Backing up to a thumb drive is as simple as plugging in the device and then dragging and dropping the files you wish to copy. After a few moments your files will be copied to the thumb drive and you can safely dismount the drive from the computer. As these thumb drives are easily transportable and usually cross platform compatible, they can be ideal redundancy for your back up plans.
This strategy requires some work and attention but it can give you the piece of mind knowing your data is in a separate and secure location. While this is not useful for a daily back up routine, it can serve as the ultimate redundancy and should be part of any back up strategy. This method allows for your most precious digital assets to be stored off site and not reliant on internet connectivity or a third party for data storage.
Ultimately, whichever method you choose, backing up your data is an important habit to get into. It will give you peace of mind, make transitioning to new technology purchases easier, and may even save you a great deal of money in the event of a catastrophic event. So back up today!
Watch our friend Randy in this funny music video about backing up! (contains some explicit lyrics)