Backup Solutions: Protecting Your Digital DataWe now lead digital lives. Everything from taxes and banking to the music and movies we buy is now often accessed via the computer.

While this can certainly make things more convenient, it can also present a new set of issues. Not so long ago we might have stored our important information in a locked filing cabinet. We now store this information on hard drives that too often fail at the most inconvenient times.

Rather than going back to the days of the VCR and vinyl records (those of you under 20 can ask your parents), it might be more prudent to go over ways to make backup copies of the data you care about most.

Cloud Backup

You may have heard about the cloud. Although it’s tempting to think of this as a place where our files reside in the sky, cloud backup refers to files that are stored on the Internet. The chief advantage of this approach is that it provides off-site storage. This means that if a catastrophic event such as a fire or a flood were to occur, your files could still be retrieved.

What you may not know is that there are different kinds of cloud backup. The appropriate solution for you really depends on whether you want to back up your entire computer or just select files.

Full Computer Backup

If you’re looking for full backup of your computer to the cloud, you might want to take a look at Carbonite or CrashPlan. Both of these services offer a fairly affordable way to back up your entire computer to their service (starting at around $60 per year for a single computer). They’re also easy to use. You can sign up, download the software, start the initial backup and forget it. When you have a crash or switch computers, you just sign in to your account and get your files back. Should this happen, you’ll have to reinstall your programs, but any type of document can be backed up.

Selective File Backup

Not everyone is looking to back up their entire computer. With that in mind, it’s also necessary to look at services where you can back up only the files you choose.

Here are some file storage providers that offer a certain amount of storage free. With paid plans (usually charged by the month) you can get any extra storage you may need.

If you don’t mind spreading your storage across several of these services, you can get quite a bit of storage from the free plans alone.

You should also know that you might not have to back up your music files. If you purchase your music through Apple, Google or Amazon, it can be downloaded again after a crash or device switch.

Physical Backup

“The cloud is great,” you say. “I just don’t have time to spend a day or two re-downloading all my files.”

For this reason, it’s also good to have physical copies on hand. As with cloud storage, there are a few different ways you can do this.

Full Computer Backup

There are various external hard drives you can buy that come with software to back up all the files on your computer (or if you choose, just specific folders). The setup is often just as easy as cloud backup solutions. This will automatically back up your documents and data without backing up your programs.

Keep in mind that keeping physical hard drives hooked up to your computer may not be a good idea. If you have a virus, it can potentially infect any storage connected to your computer – rendering your backup useless.

Alternatively, you can create a system image. This essentially takes a snapshot of your computer. If you have a crash or get a new PC, you can transfer the image to the new computer and your documents, settings and programs will be retained.

The option to do this is built into Windows in the Backup and Restore settings in the Control Panel. You can buy a special version of the AirPort router from Apple with Time Machine to do the same thing on your Mac. There are also programs you can download for Mac that will work with any external hard drive to create a system image. This does need to be updated as you add programs and documents. Personally, I create a new image monthly.

Selective File Backup

For smaller batches of files, you could also consider keeping labeled flash drives in a safe place.

What’s your personal backup strategy? Is there an online backup service I haven’t mentioned that you like? Leave a note in the comments.

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