Data Backup on a Budget

One of the most common things we hear in the computer repair shop that I work part-time in is that the computer has crashed, and could we please make sure to get the data off of the hard drive before we re-install windows.  And, the first question we always ask is, “do you have your data backed up?”  I probably don’t have to tell you what the common answer is to that question.

Many computer users assume that backing up their data is expensive.  We see advertisements for services that cost $40-$50 a month, and for external hard drive solutions that are several hundred dollars.  But, keeping your data safe, doesn’t have to be expensive.  In fact, I’ve got all my important data backed up, and I spend less than $50 a year.  It’s not because I have some inside information, or get favors from tech companies.  You can do it too.  And, if you value your data at all, you should.

This is the set-up I currently use.

Data Backup Budget Picture Backup

Pictures are one of the top two things that people are concerned about losing when they bring their computers in.  Unfortunately, pictures are also the largest files that you’ll likely have to backup and store.  If you take a lot, you can have Gigabytes of pictures that will need to be backed up. In my set-up, I pay for a full membership to photo sharing site, Flickr.  It’s about $26 a year, and allows for unlimited uploading to the site.  The pictures are then stored on Flickr’s server, and I can get to them whenever I want.  I should note that this isn’t the most elegant solution, as I would have to download the images one-by-one if I wanted to restore them to my local PC.  I’ll go over some more efficient services at the end, but you’ll likely have to spend more money to use them. (See note below: 4/15/13)

Data Backup

For any files that are important, besides pictures, I use a service called Dropbox.  Their basic plan is free, but limits you to 2GB of data storage.  Because I backup my photos elsewhere, I’m able to store everything else that is important with them, and keep the free account.  After several years of using it, I am getting close to the 2GB max, so I may have to upgrade to the next plan up soon.  The first paid plan allows for 50GB, and is only $9.99 a month, so I don’t think I’d ever have to go above that plan.  I should also note, here, that if you have a very large music collection on your computer that you’d like to backup, you’ll likely have to look at a paid plan. (See note below: 4/15/13)

Other options for data backup

There are several other options that you could use for data backup.  The aforementioned external hard drives can be super easy to use.  One drawback to using one, however, is that the data is still physically located in the same place as the PC you’re backing up.  That’s fine if you only need to restore because of PC failure, but can be a disaster if you have to restore due to something like a fire or flood.  Ideally, external hard drives that are used for PC backup should be placed in an off-site location, but since that’s a bit cumbersome and likely to keep you from actually backing up your data, they should be at least placed in a fire-proof safe when not in use.

Another, more ideal way to back your data up, is through a service like Dropbox.  There are a few others that are specifically designed and marketed as data backup services.  Carbonite is probably the most well-known of them, but there is also CrashPlan, and Mozy that do the same job.  Carbonite and CrashPlan come in at $59 a year (about $4 a month), while Mozy comes in at $5.99 a month. Crashplan has a free plan, but it requires you to have your own server to back up to.  This can work out if you have a second computer at another location or have a friend that you trust with your data.  They’ve also got a plan that’s $33 a year, but it limits you to 10GB total storage.

Not backing up your data can be an expensive mistake to make.  Not only can it cost you a lot of money ($100 or more) to get your computer fixed, but you could lose all of your valuable data.  Save yourself the money of having it recovered, and save yourself from losing years of photos and information; get a data backup plan.

Update 4/15/13:

One of the nice things about a disaster recovery backup plan is that you usually don’t have to use it.  More often than not, our computers run on and on until we replace them and we transfer the data to the next machine.  Earlier this week, I had to put my set up to the test.  My main storage hard drive crashed.  While I tried to recover the data from it, it was lost.  With a newly formatted hard drive, I was able to reinstall Dropbox and as soon as it was done syncing, I had all the data that was in Dropbox back on my PC.  The Flickr photo backup was a little bit more cumbersome.  There are several apps out there that you can run that will allow you to download all of your pictures one after the other.  I ended up using one called Flump.  It worked, but the pictures are in one heck of a mess.  None of them have any names, and the structure I had before is lost.  So, I’ve got 7000+ pictures to sort through.  Moving forward, I’ll be adding one of the above back up services (Crashplan or Carbonite) to my PC to back up my file structure and other assorted things.  For the $59 a year it costs, it’s worth the added convenience of not having to deal with the sorting of files and individual applications.

Do you backup your data?  What do you use for your data backup plan?

Original Image Credit:Hard Disc Crash by barnoid, on Flickr

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