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Back Up Your Files!

There’s a saying in computer technology circles. “If it isn’t worth backing up, it isn’t worth much at all!” All it takes is one tiny electric shock or one tiny drop and all the important data saved on a computer can disappear into oblivian.
As a computer-savvy person, it tends to fall to me to maintain and repair the computers of my less technologically-inclinded infamily and friends. It seems like most of them are surprised to learn that the part in acomputer most likely to fail is also the one that holds all of the files and information, the hard drive. It is, after all, one of the only moving parts in a computer, and that makes it inherently more likely to wear out and fail than other components. They’re surprised to learn that if something in their computer is going to break, its most lifely going to take all their important documents and digital family photos with it.

For this reason, it is extremely important to back up all the important information, and even the unimportant stuff, just in case something bad happens.

In concept, backing up is simple. Always make sure to have at least two, preferably more, copies of everything. In practice, however, things get a little more complicated and often times rather expensive.

The first thing to do is to make sure any important files are saved twice. That way if one copy gets corrupted or, much more likely, accidently deleted there is another one to fall back on.

But what about when that hard drive fails, an occurance much more common than many believe. That’s when it becomes important to have important documents, pictures, and other files saved somewhere else. Where? Well, there’s lots of different options, but some are much safer than others.

Floppy Discs are old, they don’t hold much, and they’re unreliable. There are many much better options available to just about everyone, and data should never be backed up on floppies.

Almost every computer in use these days has a CD writer in it. The easiest and cheapest way to back up data is to buy a few blank CDs and burn everything to them. They’re not without their short comings, however. Scratches come easily, and a severe enough one will render data inaccessable. The life of a burned CD is also not very well known. Manufacturers would like you to believe your burned CDs will last upwards of 15 years, but in practice many don’t last longer than five.

Another easy way to back up data is by using a flash drive or thumb drive. I would recommend this method for the average person to back up files and photos. They’re cheap, reliable, and even pretty rugged. My thumb drive has survived two trips through the wash in a pants pocket. They’re not perfect, data can be lost, but it’s unlikely. Their biggest shortcoming is their size. Small and convenient, but easy to lose. Thumb drives are also easy to steal, which is why many manufacturers sell drives with security software to password protect them.

Then there’s an option that many people overlook when backing up data. Off site storage is an industry that businesses pay thousands for, but the home user can get plenty of for free! Free email services offer plenty of storage, Gmail offers almost 3 gigabytes. These accounts can be used to not only store important files and photos, but to access them from anywhere! The only problem is that without an internet connection, data is inaccessable. This, in conjunction with a thumb drive, is the perfect option for the home user. For users with extremely sensative information to back up, it’s a little insecure.

For people with lots and lots of data to back up, upwards of a gigabyte or two, the best option is to use another hard drive. For the home user, the best solution is an external hard drive. Plug it into a USB or Firewire port and copy gigabytes of data onto it. Remember though, hard drives are somewhat more prone to failure than other forms of storage, so the really important stuff should go somewhere else too.

Another large scale option is RAID, or Redundant Array of Inexpensive Discs. In this case, inexpensive is relative. What might not be inexpensive for a business tends to be pricy for the home user. However, many high-end motherboards with built in Serial-ATA controllers feature built in RAID-1 capability, and are capable of maintaining two identical hard drives of data. It has the advantage of being always-on, and it will do everything by itself, but for many its an expensive option.

For extremely important documents, a hard-copy is the safest means of back up. Print off a copy and put it in a fire-proof safe or safe deposit box. It’s the most inconvenient option, and if data is lost is will have to be completely retyped, but for ultra important documents it’s the safest option.

And remember, any back up is better than no back up, and the more places data is saved, the safer it is.

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