The Importance of Backups

Congratulations! By reading this post, you have demonstrated that you are among one of the better-informed people on earth. Not only do you have a computer and access to the internet, but you are aware of blogs and evidently subscribe to or read at least one. Good job.
Granted, my humble scratchings are certainly not the most best around — if you want timely, witty, and funny writings, you’d best find those elsewhere.
That said, you — like myself — clearly use a computer for various purposes. Perhaps you have a blog of your own? Almost certainly some music, digital photographs, and important documents? Do you keep your financial and tax records on your computer? What about an inventory of your guns? Health information and medical records?
What would you do if your computer was damaged or destroyed and that data was lost? Whether it’s something “ordinary” like a computer virus, dropping the computer, theft, a house fire, storm, or flood, or something less common like the ATF raiding CavArms and confiscating every computer, disk, CD, and piece of paper in their offices, the risk of data loss is very real. Hard disks are delicate pieces of precision machinery and can fail for any number of trivial reasons — I’ve had one work just fine, and five minutes later be dead as a doornail with no warning.
What if your email provider suddenly locked you out of your mail, or mistakenly deleted your mail or account? It’s rare, but Google Mail (among others) have done this on occasion.
What, then, can one do? Easy: backup your stuff.
It doesn’t need to be fancy, but you should seriously consider the frequency and type of backups based on the importance of each item. Since your tax documents aren’t updated frequency, it might be prudent to just copy them once a year to an external drive and put the drive in your bank safe deposit box. It might be also be a good idea to print out the documents and include them with the drive, in case the drive fails somehow. You might want to back up your business records, scientific research, or Ph.D. dissertation once (or more) a day to somewhere off-site. At the worst, you’d only have to re-do one day of work. Burning a DVD or CD with your family photos and mailing them to your sister in Omaha might be good, so long as your sister doesn’t lose or break the disk. Making a copy of a WordPress MySQL database isn’t that hard, and one could keep it at home, ready to restore if things go wrong.
Of course, having to manually do backups is a pain and external hard disks can be expensive. After the first month or two, you might just say “to hell with it” and just not bother anymore, defeating the purpose of keeping backups.
Fortunately, some smart people have come up with a good solution: online backup services. You simply sign up for an account, install a small program, and for a nominal monthly fee they’ll store all your files off-site. Everything is done automatically over the internet, with your data being transmitted and stored securely using strong encryption. I use Mozy and pay $4.95/month for unlimited storage. If you need to backup 2GB or less, there’s no charge. Other services include Carbonite and JungleDisk, the latter being a client for Amazon’s S3 enterprise-grade storage service.
The first backup with Mozy can take several hours or days depending on how much stuff you have and how fast your internet connection is. After the first large backup, only new or updated files are copied, making future backups very fast. My first backup took about 12 hours, and subsequent ones only take a minute or two. The backups take place in the background, so you likely won’t notice any slowdown of your computer or internet connection.
Restorations are easy: you can restore a file or folder by right-clicking on it and choosing the suitable menu option. You can access your files securely on their website using a different computer if your main one was damage or lost. If downloading the files from Mozy would take too long due to their great size or a slow internet connection, you can even pay them a nominal fee and they’ll FedEx you DVDs of your data.
I have Mozy set to backup files on my laptop twice a day when my computer is idle, and will often execute a manual backup immediately after saving an important document, just to make sure that it’s securely stored offsite. Sometimes I’ll email a copy to myself as well.
All this talk about backups may seem silly and very Chicken Little-esque, but after losing critical, irreplaceable data for the first time (several years ago), I developed a “never again” mindset. Since then, regular backups have saved my hide (and two years of digital photos, in one case) on several occasions. Very well worth it indeed.