I often see people after disaster strikes and most knew they should have been backing up their data. I have been successful in most data recovery attempts, but there has been data I have been unable to recover. Many years of memories have been lost forever.

***Warning About “Cloud” Backup Services***

Many of these services are not intended to be cloud storage, which differs from backup. Online storage means permanent storage of your data and it does not need to be located on your local computer. Some of these services include Google DriveDropboxSkyDrive, etc. Online backup often differs because it monitors what is on a hard drive and keeps the backup synchronized. If you lose data on the source hard drive, you will have a limited amount of time to download a copy from the online backup service. If you do not download the data it will usually be deleted after a specific amount of time. Read the terms of service carefully!

All Hard Drives Will Eventually Fail

Most hard drives will last many years, but some fail after only a few months or even days – it has happened to me more than once. There may be little or no warning before it is too late. Some companies can disassemble your drive and put the platters containing your data into a new drive, but this will cost a lot of money so be prepared to spend well over $1,000 if you want your data recovered.

I Recommend the 3-Step System

  1. You have your original data on your computer(s). This will remain as-is.
  2. You have a local backup copy on a separate hard drive or computer. This type of backup would be sufficient alone if you could guarantee the backup would be safe. This cannot be guaranteed in the case of fire, theft, or other disaster.
  3. And most important, you must have an off-site backup. If your home or office burns down, both 1 and 2 above are lost. This is why it is essential that you maintain an up-to-date backup separate and off-site from the original.

Suggestions to Accomplish Steps 1, 2 & 3

  1. You already have your original source on your computer – nothing to do here.
  2. Use a backup program for local, on-site backup. I recommend Acronis True Image. I have used it for many years and it has been very reliable. True Image can be scheduled to run the backup process on a regular basis. This is the best option since most people forget to backup their data. Here are some backup suggestions for True Image or similar backup programs:
    • Backup your data to a separate hard drive or another computer (or better yet, a NAS).
    • If you are using a desktop computer, get a large internal hard drive and mount it in your computer so it is always available.
    • If you are using a laptop, you may purchase an external hard drive for your backups or backup to a computer on your network. Even better is to use a NAS, as mentioned above in parenthesis.
    • Again, look at using a NAS. A laptop can backup to it over your home network and not require having an external hard drive plugged in.
    • CrashPlan, which can be offsite and/or local backup, works well for backing up to other computers in your home, to the cloud, or to a computer at a friend’s house. I use CrashPlan and have a lot of data backed up to their servers. If you are worried about privacy, you may encrypt your data as it goes to CrashPlan so they cannot see it. Just be warned, they cannot help you if you forget your password.
    • I no longer recommend using optical discs (CD/DVD). This method is inconvenient methods and people forget to manually backup.
  3. Offsite backup – the most vital of all three options.
    • As mentioned above, I prefer CrashPlan. Carbonite is also a good option. I prefer CrashPlan because it has more options than Carbonite, but it can be more difficult than Carbonite. CrashPlan allows you to do local backup to another computer running CrashPlan or to a friend’s computer over the internet. I recommend to keep it simple and pay for unlimited cloud backup with either CrashPlan or Carbonite. These services are about $60 per year for a set it and forget it solution. Not much is simpler.
    • An unconventional form of offsite backup would be to use something like Microsoft OneDrive. You get unlimited 1 terabyte (TB) storage if using Office 365 Home and the only limitation is that it will not upload files over 10GB. You can also have the same OneDrive account running on multiple computers. CrashPlan and Carbonite accounts are on a per computer basis. Your data will be [relatively] safe as long as it is in the OneDrive folder on your computer. Any changes to data in this folder will be synchronized to your OneDrive online storage. I used relatively in brackets because I cannot guarantee Microsoft will not lose your data, but I cannot make that guarantee about CrashPlan and Carbonite either. Office 365 Home is $100 per year, and you get full Office installs on five computers and five tablets or phones.

More about NAS Devices

I have already mentioned using a NAS a few times, but here is a bit more information. A NAS, or network attached storage, is a small device for storing data and performing some additional functions like VPN, access from the internet, etc. The great thing about a NAS is that it is not a PC and [generally] not susceptible to problems caused by users. You do not browse the internet on it, read email on it, or other things that will infect it with a virus. It just runs reliably and stores your data. NAS devices can vary from a couple hard drives to many hard drives.

I use and recommend Synology, which at first may seem expensive, but they are actually a good deal for the features they offer. Though you may be tempted to get a smaller, less expensive unit, I recommend starting with at least a four bay unit. These are more powerful than most of the two bay units and will give you more room to grow. You can start out with only two hard drives and add more as you go.

If going with a NAS, it is important to use the correct type of hard drive. There are hard drives made for use with NAS devices because NAS devices use RAID. Regular hard drives can have problems with RAID because of the way these drives handle error correction. NAS hard drives leave the error correction to the RAID controller. I recommend Western Digital Red drives for average use or HGST for higher performance scenarios (HGST is no longer owned by Hitachi and is now a Western Digital company). I would not use Seagate if they gave me their drives. I base this recommendation off personal experience and published tests.

I hope this helps because I see a lot of people when it is already too late.