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Taking care of your digital data is mission critical

By January 11, 2011Uncategorized

In the past 5 years I've tried to help dozens of people who lost valuable data because their computer hard drive crashed. None had a backup system in place. None seemed to be aware of how common it is for hard drives to fail.

When I advise people on how to become paperless I start with backups. It makes sense, right? If most of your key data is going to be in digital form then you need to be extra careful about protecting that data against catastrophe. Hurricanes, earthquakes and fires are one kind of catastrophe; simple hard drive failure is another kind. 

Your hard drive is about to fail

Hard drives do not last forever, so stop assuming that they will. Backup your data, or you will lose it. No exceptions. And when you do lose your data don't act surprised.

Here are some key factoids:

  • Only 6% of people backup their data daily
  • 43% of PC users have lost files stored on their computers

What kind of information do people lose?

  • Photos and music (restoring your music can be expensive; your photos and videos are unique)
  • Addresses and phone numbers
  • Business documents, records, and projects

I've had several friends who've lost thousands of family pictures because they were on only one computer and were not backed up. I explored the cost of using a data retrieval service to reconstruct the files from the dead hard drive. In most cases it wasn't posssible; but if it were the cost would be well over $1,000. One friend said he got a quote of $3,000 to restore his data.

So what are you going to do about it?

You know you have to backup and you know you already have lots of important data on your computer (or your smartphone). So what now?

Let me give you a tip that will quickly move you in the right direction: sign up for a syncing service like DropBox or SugarSync. Either of those services will get you 2 GBs of free online storage. And the key word there is not “free.” The key word with backup is “online.” And “automatic.”

You want your backup to happen automatically, instantly and to send the backup to the cloud (i.e. online). So sign up for one of those services now! Yes, you'll only be able to use the free level of service to protect 2 GBs of data. But that's 2 GBs more data than you're protecting now.

Once you start actually protecting your data in a way that's easy and reliable you'll probably begin to pay attention to the problem of securing all of your data.

I've been completely paperless since 2005, and I haven't lost any key data since then. My system is based mostly on DropBox, which does an instant backup of any file that I change. If my laptop were to erupt in flames moments after I saved the document I was working on, I'd have that change available online at the DropBox website. And that change would be pushed out to the other computers that I have set up to sync to my DropBox account.

If I delete data accidentally from my DropBox account I can recover it for 30 days. Likewise, I can get 30 days worth of prior versions of files that I've saved over. What do I pay for this service? About $100 a year, which is well worth it.

I'll bet any of my friends who lost their family photos and other key data would pay $1,000 to have DropBox retroactively installed on their computers. Sadly, they can't. But you can and, if you're not doing any kind of regular offsite backup, then you should.


P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.

One Comment

  • Rob Schafer says:

    Amen, amen. I used to recommend that everyone buy an external hard drive and run something like SuperDuper on (at least) a weekly basis. Unfortunately it seems to be difficult for people to commit to a backup schedule (I’d ask when their last backup was, and invariably the answer was “oh… a few months ago, maybe?”) so I’ve decided that unattended backup solutions are the only answer.

    So now I set up everyone I know with DropBox and set their critical programs (Quicken, Quickbooks, Word, etc.) to save backup files to the DropBox folder. Dropbox isn’t a great solution for massive amounts of digital media so I went ahead and purchased a ReadyNAS Duo which is permanently up on my network where Time Machine can get to it. The Duo is UPS-aware so it’s secure in case of a power failure. The Duo does’t have the ease-of-use of a Time Capsule (and it doesn’t serve as a wifi base station) but it’s got good functionality, more capacity and redundant backups (two drives instead of one) and is competitive on price.

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