In The Era Of Digital Files, These Invisible Magical Files, How Do We Keep Them Safe?

Wow what a headache.
Not a bad headache, a good one, because it’s something I’m genuinely interested in, but still…

It’s data backup and storage that’s causing my head to pound.

Backup and storage has been important to me since I began a life married with computers 5 years ago (Before then, I could barely work email, the internet, and word processing, so I occasionally wrote to floppies, that’s it).

Now that I am on my computer all the time, and have begun seriously pursuing photography, as well as having a decent collection of personal snapshot photos, tons of music, graphic design files, text documents, and more, I want to efficiently store all this stuff.

Initially, during school (around 2005-2006) and for a few years afterward, I would burn a DVD of all important files every couple months. But then techie friends said that the longevity of discs is only 5 years, and that hard drives are a better way to go.

So about a year ago, I received an external Western Digital 1TB drive as an Xmas gift. It failed once (luckily before I had much on it), and WD replaced it without question. That was awesome.
And that’s all I’ve been using since.

I have Time Machine set up on my one and only computer, a MacBook Pro laptop. So whenever I plug the WD into my laptop (which is usually once a day, sometimes less often), Time Machine makes a copy of my files to the external drive.

That sounds great, right? It is, but apparently only to an extent.

There are 2 main problems with this backup method:

  1. It is on-site, local. If my apartment burned down, or a thief broke in, I could lose my laptop and my external drive all in one go. EVERYTHING WOULD BE GONE.
  2. Hard drives fail, so eventually this single WD external drive will fail, and if everything is on it, including stuff I’ve removed from my laptop, then that stuff is gone forever.
  3. Time Machine may create a version of everything on my computer, but I can’t boot from Time Machine. If my laptop died, I couldn’t boot from the Time Machine backups. I’d have to use a boot disc to install the OS, then load everything from Time Machine onto the new computer.

So, how do you solve these 3 problems?

To solve #3, I’ve read a ton of reviews in which people say that SuperDuper is amazing.
Apparently, a one-time charge of $29.85 gives you this application, which does something similar to Time Machine, but it is a bootable version of my machine, so if my hard drive failed, I could just boot off of the SuperDuper backup and be working within minutes. That’s pretty damn appealing.
A lot of people also claim that SuperDuper and Time Machine make great pals – use Time Machine to recover lost files, since it is so easy to go back in time and see everything in Finder windows as you saved them, while SuperDuper is your go-to system restore method.

To solve #2, I think I’m going to continue to burn discs for the time being.

There’s also the option of a mirrored RAID system, in which 2 (or more) external drives talk with one another; the content backed up is exactly the same in both external drives. So when one dies, everything is still on the other drive. You then buy a new drive, mirror it to the working drive, and start again.
Sounds pretty painless, but then it is still all local (and subject to problem #1).

To solve #1, I guess I need an off-site backup. And since I don’t own a mansion in the south of France that I can fly to every weekend, I’m not going to bother with a physical off-site backup. It seems to make more sense to backup to another server, or the cloud, if you will.

The options seem to be something like Apple’s MobileMe, but it’s expensive for what they offer ($99/year for only 20GB of storage), a third-party (such as Arq) that uses Amazon’s S3, which seems to be the bee’s knees in online storage. A plus: the storage seems unlimited. What I’m not sure of is how much I’d end up paying. Arq is $29, but then I guess I’d still need to pay per MB.

There’s also the option (for photos only) of uploading all my best pics to my Flickr at full resolution. I pay for a Pro account anyway (only $24.95/year), so why not? Come to think of it, using Flickr as an online storage for my best pics, whether they’re Arcade Fire or my mom holding my nephew, is a no-brainer.

Overall with these off-site storage methods, one of my fears is “what if Amazon S3 gets hacked or dies? What if Arq folds?” But I guess this is why that expression “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket exists.”

So for today, I’m going to burn important stuff to disc until I figure out my next stage. And I’ll probably buy SuperDuper, not only cuz it’s name is so awesome, and not only because it’s so affordable, but because the day it restores my dead computer, it’ll be priceless.
Oh yeah, and I’ll start uploading my favourite pics at full res to Flickr.

I’d absolutely love to hear your feedback on my thoughts, and to know what you do (or what you’d like to do) to backup and store your files.


2 thoughts on “In The Era Of Digital Files, These Invisible Magical Files, How Do We Keep Them Safe?

  1. Hubert in oz says:

    To solve #1 and #2, every month I bring my WD to work and copy the entire content onto my computer I use at work 🙂
    I find Dvd to be a bit of a drag… I think that in the future, most of our data will be in the cloud and we won’t have to bother backing up at all. It’ll be accessible everywhere, and automaticaly backep up by whatever service host you’re using. I suspect google or apple to play a big part in all this…


    • Hubert, thanks for your comment. It’s a pretty good idea of yours, to use a work computer as a personal backup. As long as your boss doesn’t mind (or doesn’t find out)!
      I agree with you about the cloud. Things are definitely being pushed in that direction. Which makes me wonder if I should jump on board the Amazon S3 storage… I’m still figuring out my best plan of action for backup and archiving…
      Thanks again for your feedback! Great to hear from you,


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