Back-up and Storage Solutions
When you start using a computer, whether that is a PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone, you will start to generate data. That may include documents, photos, text messages, emails or spreadsheets. These documents, photos and other things of value will all be stored on your device. This is perfectly reasonable, because it means that you can access them quickly and easily.
However, it is important that they are not only stored on your device. These pictures and documents may be irreplaceable, so it is essential that you also have them stored somewhere else. After all, you want to be able to retrieve them if your device breaks or is lost or stolen, or your house burns down.
This alternative storage is known as a ‘back-up’. This page describes the alternative back-up options available for various devices, and how you can ensure that you always have a back-up available.
Backing up: some principles
The first issue to consider when deciding what back-up option to use is the location of your data.
There are two main options: ‘on-site’ and ‘off-site’.
On-site storage is any back-up option where the data are located outside your device, but still in your house. These include, for example, backing up your data to an external storage device, such as a hard drive, or backing up your phone to your computer.
Off-site storage is located outside your house. This might include storing data in the cloud, or backing up a particularly important document or series of data to a hard drive that you keep at someone else’s house or in a bank vault.
Some authorities recommend using both on-site and off-site storage. This means that you have an immediately accessible back-up to hand should your computer break down, or crash and lose your data. However, you also have the security of knowing that your data are safe if your house burns down.
If this sounds too much like hard work, and you are only going to use one option, then off-site is advisable.
If you use a cloud storage solution, your files will be backed up automatically to a server in a large data centre somewhere—and realistically, probably more than one, because the big cloud providers cannot afford to get a reputation for losing data if a server goes down! You will therefore be able to retrieve it if necessary. These services have therefore built in the redundancy for you.
Disaster and recovery
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern coast of the United States. It was the largest tropical storm in that hurricane season, and it did a huge amount of damage up and down the eastern seaboard. In New York State alone, more than 250,000 businesses were affected. Buildings were damaged and the storm surge caused widespread flooding.
Hurricane Sandy changed how organisations think about disaster planning and recovery. It exposed huge flaws in thinking—including among disaster recovery experts.
Businesses that had fully ‘virtualised’—created a virtual copy of their whole system in the cloud—were able to start working again almost immediately. They may not have been able to access their building, but their staff could work from home. Other businesses, however, found themselves floundering without physical access to their building.
Hurricane Sandy showed that businesses do not just need a back-up of their data. Instead, they need a way to start working remotely—and their back-up needs to be held at a physical distance. A back-up server across the road, or even in the same city, is likely to be affected by the same disaster. Even a back-up in the same state may not be enough for true protection.
The disaster also showed cloud providers that they need redundancy built in across multiple locations. If one location goes down, others need to be available to step in and provide services. This has now become an important aspect of ‘true’ cloud computing: that there is multiple redundancy, built in.
The second issue to consider is whether to automate your back up.
You may think that you will remember to back it up each week—but there is a reasonable chance that you will forget, or have a lot to do, and just not have time. Automating your back-up means that you don’t need to worry about it. It is not that you can’t do it manually, but it is much easier if it is automatic.
Backing Up Your Phone or Tablet
There are several ways to back up a mobile phone or tablet:
Using the operating system’s sync options
Both Android and Apple phones have back-up options built in. Compared with the options available to laptops, they are relatively unsophisticated, but they do work.
For example, on Android, you can use Google Sync to set your device to sync with a Google account, and it will automatically restore your data if necessary. However, you need to ensure that you are signed into all your services with your Google account.
There are some gaps. For example, Google Sync will not restore apps that you downloaded yourself, although it may save some of the data from them. However, these are relatively small issues: most of your data will be safe.
Plugging your device into a computer
This is relatively simple, although it does require you to plug your phone or tablet into a computer. If you do that, the computer will probably automatically look for data, and ask if you want to back it up. If it doesn’t, you can use the File Explorer to find your device as an ‘external drive’, and then copy the files manually across to your computer.
Apple has the added addition of being able to sync to iTunes via a plug-in to your computer.
Using a manufacturer app
Many manufacturers provide back-up apps, such as Samsung Kies. However, you might need to go looking for an app, and also set it up. You may also need to sync it manually. These apps use cloud storage.
Using a third-party app
There are third-party back-up apps that will back your data up automatically, into the cloud. You can also do it yourself by setting your phone to upload photos automatically to a cloud service such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
Top Tip! Remember to back-up regularly
Mobile phone back-ups are not always very sophisticated. When you set it up, check that data will sync automatically on a regular basis (at least once a week, and preferably whenever you turn on or off). If you choose to sync manually, set yourself a reminder so that you remember to do it.
Backing Up Your Laptop
As with phones, there are several back-up options for PCs and laptops:
An external hard drive (or other portable storage)
You can buy an external hard drive that plugs into your laptop using a USB. This can be done using your computer’s built-in back-up features, such as File History in newer versions of Windows, or Time Machine on Macs. You can set this to back-up automatically if you leave it plugged in.
This is quick and easy—but it does mean that your back-up is in the same place as your device. A fire or a flood could see you lose both. You can, of course, use two hard drives, and keep one somewhere else. If you rotate them every month, you will have a backup that is no more than a month old. However, there are easier ways of managing off-site storage.
A cloud service provider
If you store your files on a cloud service provider like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft One Drive, they will automatically be accessible from any device when you log in to your account with that provider. This isn’t technically a back-up, but it serves the same purpose, and means that you can access all your data from somewhere else.
This is quick and easy, often free, and usually automatic.
However, it does have one major drawback: your storage may be limited, especially if you have opted for the free version of the service. One way round this is to use several different cloud services for different aspects of your data: for example, Dropbox for your work files, Google Drive for photos, and Microsoft One Drive for other files. An alternative is to subscribe to get more storage, because most of the services have cheap options for personal use.
You also have to remember that the cloud is not entirely secure. There have been several data breaches from big cloud providers. You therefore need to take steps to protect your data, such as not putting any sensitive information (like bank account details) in cloud-stored files, or password-protecting them.
A third-party back-up service
There are also third-party back-up service providers, such as BackBlaze. These services are designed to back up large amounts of files, and keep copies of different versions, so that you can go back to a previous version of a file if necessary. You do have to pay for these services—but there is often a single fee for any amount of data.
They may therefore be a better option than cloud storage if you have a lot of data to back up, and you think you might want to go back to previous versions of your files. This is certainly likely to be true for small businesses.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
This eBook is designed to help you through the process of ‘going digital’ and managing other aspects of life during a pandemic.
From how to get yourself online, through how to keep safe, to working, learning and staying in touch with friends and family remotely, the Skills You Need Guide to Living the 'New Normal' in the Age of Covid-19 covers the key skills you need to survive and thrive.
Decide—and Then Do
Once you have made your decision about which back-up system to use, it is important that you actually do it. This sounds obvious, but it is easy to decide that you will buy a hard drive, and even order one—and then never actually connect it. Inertia is a very powerful force: don’t let it stand in the way of protecting your data.