What if you lost everything? This is why you need backup

Have you ever thought about the real value of your data? I’m not talking about what can be measured in money, I’m talking about what it would take to recreate it. This is why you need backup.

This is part one of a two-part series about the importance of backup and synchronization of data. Part two is How to set up the ultimate cloud backup and synchronization.

Most people spend a considerable part of their life creating digital content. We not only send emails and messages, we take pictures and make notes on our phones. We gather food recipes and favorite web pages, thinking that it’s all safely stored in our devices.

You need backup

Why you need backup

Have you ever thought about the real value of your data? I’m not talking about what can be measured in money, I’m talking about what it would take to recreate it – if it is even possible. You may be able to get a new letter of recommendation from a previous employer, but that personal recommendation from your boss at that time is a lot harder. To get those pictures from Bali, you would have to go there again. Those pictures of your best friends wedding will be gone forever.

It’s only a matter of time before you need backup. You will experience a hard disk crash or a corrupt memory card. One of your favorite cloud services will be eaten by a bigger fish or will fade out of existence. I have experienced all of the above.

If I had been reading this five years ago, I would still have all of my pictures and would have been spared all that job of restoring a database because I lost the admin password. In the end, I managed to recover most of my important data, but not all.

you need backup
The Synology DS series is still my preferred physical storage device. (Picture: Synology.)


The hard disk crash

Working in the IT sector, I had seen it all, or so I thought. Back when I bought my first NAS (Network Assisted Storage) box from Synology, I set up a RAID-1 and was super happy. In case of a hard disk failure, I would always have my data safely stored on the other of the two hard drives. In case of a break-in or serious fire, I stored a copy of everything on an old hard drive I kept at the cabin. This would be replaced with a fresh copy every now and then.

One morning my NAS was not responding. I knew enough about hard disks to not poke around after finding that both of the disks appeared empty. The day after, I took the trip to the cabin, only to find that my backup was about three months old.

I then contacted a company that specializes in saving data from damaged hard drives. I knew that it would cost an arm and a leg, but losing three months worth of data, including pictures from important events in my life was not an option.

A few days after sending the hard disks, I contacted the company wanting to know the status. I knew that something was very wrong when the guy on the other end of the phone said: “oh, it’s you.” I wasn’t exactly getting calmer when he proceeded to tell me that my hard disks had been the main topic of discussion at lunch the day before.

What I thought would be a routine job ended up being a type of disk failure they only had read about before my disks arrived. In the end, the company offered me around 40.000 files back with no name or ending, making it a complete guesswork to restore my lost data. Already a couple of hundred dollars closer to broke, I turned down the offer and bought a set of two new hard disks.


The hunt for a good online backup service

I was determined not to lose any more data. The solution would be an online backup service. There is a lot of providers of online backup and synchronization. What it all boils down to are four things; storage space, the number of devices covered, upload speed, and cost.

Many providers will offer something that looks good on paper. In my opinion, what makes the difference is the actual upload speed. Let me elaborate on why upload speed is so crucial.

For instance, if you are traveling, you will find yourself in a situation where you will be online only when staying at a hotel or using a public network. Every time you get online your backup program will start listing files before doing the actual backup. This means that you will have a limited time of file transfer. It does not help to have a backup service if your files will never leave your computer.

After a lot of googling and testing, I ended up with Crashplan as my online backup provider. They offered a reasonably priced plan for all of my computers with a high upload speed. The only downside was that they did not support external disk drives, so a direct backup from my NAS was not possible. I solved this by synchronizing my NAS drive with a folder on my desktop computer. This was not ideal, but it was the best I could do.

you need backup
Cloud synchronization services like Google Drive is a good way to have access to your most important data from multiple devices. Still, you need backup. (Picture: Stockvault.)


Cloud synchronization

In addition to backup up my files, I also wanted to sync data between my computers using a cloud-based service. The reason I wanted to use a cloud service and not only copy data between devices was that this would give me yet another place to find my most important data if something happened.

I was already using the free versions of Google Drive and DropBox. Based on speed and value for money, I ended up paying for a terabyte at Google Drive. I put all of my most valuable data in the Google Drive folder. Now, I had all my important data synced between my NAS, two computers, and the Google Drive. Everything, including my not so important data, was backed-up in real-time using Crashplan.

All was good until about a month ago, then I saw that Crashplan was canceling their Crashplan for Home plan. Existing customers would be migrated to Carbonite – one of the companies that I turned down in my search for a good backup provider.

After having tested two different options, I selected the Norwegian company Jottacloud. They offer unlimited space and an unlimited number of devices. Their backup speed is good, provided that you set it up correctly. On top of this, they support backup from external drives like my NAS. One other good bonus is that they offer backing up text messages and photos from your phone.

Jottacloud also offers disk synchronization. The downside with this is that you cannot make a backup of the same folders that you are synchronizing. To be totally prepared for the zombie apocalypse, I kept my Google Drive for file synchronization.


Why cloud synchronization is not the same as backup

A synchronization between one or more computers and a cloud service is NOT a backup. A service like Google Drive will keep your files in sync, meaning that if you accidentally delete a file, it will be deleted from all places that are synced.

A backup service will store a snapshot of your files as they look at the time of backup. You will have a complete set of files in every backup, making it possible to revert to a previous version of a file in case of a virus or accidental deletion. This is why you need backup in addition to the optional file synchronization.

Don’t miss my next post. This is where you learn How to set up the ultimate cloud backup and synchronization.

Do you know anyone who still doesn’t know that they need backup? Then please share this post. Thank you!


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