The Need to Backup


TL:DR Make sure you have important files and photos backed up. There are some great free and paid options. Your files are often worth more to you than the cost of a good backup service

I’m sure we’ve all heard it before and deep down, we all know we should be doing it, but do we? Unfortunately, 100% of mechanical hard drives WILL fail at some point. Some may last 1 month, others might last 10 years, but they will die, and they will take everything on them down with them.

Recently, I had my laptop die on me, so did my Dad. As bad as losing your laptop is, losing the data on it is far far worse. I had years of photos and documents on there, which to me were worth far more than any laptop would cost. However, I was pretty calm about the whole thing. I’ve got a pretty good phone and an average tablet that I can do almost all web browsing and socialising on. The only thing missing was the data. Thankfully, I had it all backed up. In multiple places. My Dad however, didn’t quite have such a structured backup system.

Remember, taking all your photos off your laptop, and onto a USB hard drive is NOT backing them up. Have the files on both devices is, but it is often hard to make sure that they are both always up to date, and that little USB hard drive WILL die, sooner rather than later.

The technical details are mostly irrelevant (I have an HP Proliant file server at home), but backing up can sometimes be pretty pricey, but it doesnt have to be. There is a whole wealth of services that can help you back up your most important files for very little cost, and I’ll try and detail some of my favourites and the ones I use, ranging from the really easy to use, through to ones that require a bit more technical knowledge or time.

Free Services

Documents: The average person isnt going to have gigabytes and gigabytes of documents. Typical Word docs are only a couple of hundred Kb each, so a service like Dropbox is great for backing up your files. It comes with 2GB of free space and is really easy to get more free space, in fact, just by signing up from here will give you an extra 500MB of space! The web client is really easy to use, but Dropbox really excels when it comes to the clients for you laptop/pc and phone/tablet. I have all my important documents (things like CV’s etc) on Dropbox and they are instantly accessible on any of my devices anywhere. Dropbox even gives you version revisions for free, so it is super easy to see an old version of a document. As far as usability goes, Dropbox is probably my favourite backup client, but its free service only really covers enough space for Word/Excel files. Google Drive, and Microsoft Sky Drive both get honourable mentions here. I’ll cover Drive below, but Sky Drive offers 7GB for free and is simple to use. Well worth a look.

Photos: Photos can be a pretty wide topic. I’m probably not the normal when it comes to the number/size of images I have, but there are lots of free services that offer pretty good image back ups.

Dropbox: I’ve already covered how good Dropbox is, but unless you start to pay for it’s service (it is worth it, but not the cheapest in its class) you will run out of room really fast if you use it for images.

Google: I’m going to cover a couple of Google services that are great for backing up. A Google account is free to get, and lots of people already have one for Gmail and/or Android. Google Drive works in a similar way to Dropbox, although I don’t think it is quite as slick. It does however offer you 5GB of storage for free, and its paid tiers are better value than Dropbox’s. Another of Google’s services is Google+. Their recently launched social network is great solely as a photo backup system. It gives you 10GB of full size, high res images, and unlimited storage of 2megapixel images. 2MP is high enough resolution for the standard 9*6 image printing, and for free, you won’t get much better than that!

Friends Reunited: Friends Reunited recently relaunched their service, with a new focus; to be the Home of the World’s Memories. That includes your memories! Their privacy settings are amongst the easiest to use in the industry; Public, Shared (only with those you chose to share it with) and Private (exactly that, only you). They store your ‘memories’ (your photos) as ‘memory boxes’ and you can have as many of these as you want for free. So you can have a different memory box for every holiday or special occasion you ever took a photo at and have them all private, stored online forever. Or you can share some of them with friends and family if you wish. They even offer a service to have your old printed photos scanned and stored in a memory box!

Music: I think in this category there really only is 1 option here. Google Music. Google Music allows you to store up to 20,000 of your own songs for free on their servers, and you can access it at any time and listen to it back. There is no size limit here, just number of tracks. The service is easy to use and works really well for listening back to your songs on a tablet, phone or laptop/pc. I use it daily. In fact, it is so good, I would even consider deleting my music off my computer and just relying on Google Music. If you have more than 20k of tracks you probably already know this anyway.

Videos: Video is a bit of a tricky one. The the size of videos always growing, there are not many services that let you add your own videos to them, and keep them there as a back up. Facebook and Google+ are both really good at letting you keep new videos you take, but are not so good at adding old ones you already have. If anyone knows of a really great service for this I’d love to hear about them!

Paid services

I’m not going to break this part down. Paid services usually give you enough space for photos and documents in the same place (I still can’t recommend Google Music enough for music, so music won’t be covered).

Dropbox is $99/year for 100GB, and $500/year for 500GB. It does start to get a bit pricey there, you are really paying for simplicity and ease of use. All your files, everywhere, always.

Google Drive is $5/month for 100GB ($60/year). You start to see savings over Dropbox when you start getting to bigger numbers. 500GB is $300/year, which should be more than enough for the average user. Of course you can get something in the middle.

Sky Drive is $50/year for 100GB, but doesnt offer saving like Google Drive does as you need more storage, so pick the best price for your needs.

Crash Plan and BackBlaze both also offer complete online backup solutions. These differ from the above services in that you cant ‘dip into’ them whenever you like and see files. The are a backup only. If your laptop/PC dies, you can restore all the files, simply and easily. Both of these services comes highly recommended, and are cheaper than the above services.

Own Services

Doing it yourself is often cheaper, but requires a bit more time/know how. I have a file server at home set up as (2*2)*(2*2), so I have 4TB of data, but all of it is cloned twice on another disk, so if one fails, I still have all my data and I just replace the broken disk. This cost ~£450 to set up, but it gives me piece of mind that I have control over it, and I can quickly add to it and recover from it if I need to. It is also easily scalable. I plan on mirroring this set up in another off site location to give me extra piece of mind that my files are safe.
You could also buy some online web space, and use a system like Own Cloud to back up all your space, or rent a VM somewhere and supply your own disks to remote manage it all.

What ever route you go down, you can never have too many back ups. I have all my docs on Google Drive and Dropbox (I have them as a clone of eachother, so if I change one, the other is updated), all my music on Google Music, all my photos on my web hosting and online web shop. All of this is then on my own file server. This is still not 100% reliable, which is why I plan on getting it backed up in another location as well. My photos and files are valuable, and irreplaceable. Could you afford to lose yours?