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Don’t learn the hard way!  Backup!    

It’s 2:17 a.m. and you are just about done putting the finishing touches on an eighteen-page paper, one of the most difficult assignments so far this semester.  It was a struggle over the past week to gather all the citations, but your conclusion is strong and with any luck you may have even pulled off an “A.”  Having worked for more than five consecutive hours with hardly any breaks, exhausted, you prepare for bed.   Printing out your work can wait until the morning.  You click save. Suddenly, like a slap in the face, a message appears on the screen – “DISK ERROR.”  Now fully awake, you franticly close the flashing red error and attempt to select “Save as” from the file menu.   Nothing happens.  The computer is frozen.   You say a little prayer as you turn your well-worn laptop off then back on again, “Please computer, start!  That was my only copy!”   A black screen appears with white characters that your tired eyes cannot begin to read, but you already know what it says.  Your paper is gone.

While the tale above may be overly dramatic it is not uncommon.  According to PC Magazine, 55% of all computer users have no backup strategy whatsoever.  For most of us in this digital age there can be more at risk than just term papers.  Family photos, personal music collections, contact lists, and other irreplaceable files may be just one hardware failure away from oblivion.  The good news is that there are several key actions you can take to reduce your risk at being a victim of data loss.

It is estimated that 3% of all newly purchased hard drives fail sometime within the first year, and the failure rate only increases as the drive gets older.  Just like a car, a computer hard drive has many moving parts and those parts are susceptible to wear and tear.  Unlike a car however, you cannot service your hard drive.  When it dies it’s gone for good and will need to be replaced.  If you did not have proper backups any data that was on the drive is gone as well.  It is true that there are companies that specialize in data recovery, but the cost can be incredibly high while making routine backups is cheap or even free.

Keeping in mind what we know about disk failures, there are two basic choices we have when it comes time to make a backup: make a copy on another disk or make a copy on the Internet.  Which method you chose usually depends on what type of data you are backing up and how much of that data you have.  Typically larger files such as video, music, or photos are best backed up to a large disk such as an external hard drive.  With a large enough external hard drive you can even back up your entire computer using programs such as Microsoft Backup Utility for Windows, Apple Time Machine, or one of several others.  Many external hard drives even come prepackaged with backup software already on them and ready to go.

Backing up via the Internet is another excellent option to protect yourself from data loss.  Ever since email was created people have been emailing documents and files to themselves for safekeeping.  This email method works, but the past several years have seen many companies begin to offer increasingly elegant products.  Dropbox is a cross platform, always on, backup solution offering 2GB of space for free, more if you want to pay a subscription.  You can access your Dropbox files from any computer (or smart phone!) with an Internet connection.

The new Skidmore email system has an online storage component attached to it that can also be used for backing up your documents.  If your email is on our new server then you already have access to this option entitled SkyDrive.  SkyDrive will not only let you save your Microsoft Office documents online, but you can also edit your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files directly in your web browser using a stripped-down web version of these programs.  It’s also possible to share a document in SkyDrive with any other Skidmore person also on the same system.

Your data should be protected in a way that reflects how important it is to you.  Consider making more than one backup of truly irreplaceable files, such as family photos or that term paper you’ve been working on for months.  One alternative is to make both an online and a disk backup of your data.  To take it a step farther, you could create an additional backup of your files on a second external hard drive and then give it to a friend as an offsite backup.  The more copies of your files you have, the better your data is protected.
With all of the options available there is little reason to put your important data at risk.  Automated tools make backing up easier than it ever has been, and innovation is still ongoing.   Think about the files on your computer.  Now, think about what that might mean to you if those files were gone without a trace.  When was the last time you backed up?

Christian Tenczar - Help Desk Support Specialist