Do You Have a Backup Plan?

by Steve Laube

The question is not if your hard drive will fail, it is a question of when. At least twice a year I have a client who has lost their hard drive to equipment failure. There was a recent story of an editor at Wired magazine who got hacked via a security hole in his Amazon and Apple accounts. He not only lost data, he lost all the digital pictures of his baby girl. He wrote the article as a cautionary tale. As the editor admits, he knew better, but did not follow his own advice. So my question to you is, “Do you have a backup plan?”

Hit the Save Button Regularly

Many think that just hitting the “save” button is enough. Sorry. That only saves the file to your local computer. And if that computer fails, you are toast. While hitting the save button helps with immediate things it isn’t a long term solution. What if someone steals your laptop while you turned your back to refresh your drink at the coffee shop?

Save to an External or Portable Backup Device or E-mail Service

Keeping your files on an external drive or a USB thumb drive is okay. But what if you lose the thumb drive (they are so small!)? Or what if you forget to take the external drive with you…and your computer is stolen from your office, along with the external drive?

PC users can use Windows Backup and Restore and Mac users can use their “Time Machine” program to backup to an external hard drive.

Remember, if your program allows, to not to back up the programs, just the data. That way if a program is corrupted and stops working you are not backing up the problem program.

E-mailing it to yourself or to a separate email account can work. Hard to manage if you have dozens of files to mess with, but it is a solution I’ve seen used. For example, create a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail account just for back up purposes. But make sure it is separate from your regular email service. Keeps things in different places in case of something going down.

Use Your Agent, Family member, or a Friend

Believe it or not I have a few authors who send me their manuscript as a backup (via email). At least a dozen times I’ve been able to find an old proposal or manuscript in my archives because the author’s computer failed. It does mean trusting a third party with your material. Thus only do this with selected material and only with those you trust.

Save the File to the Cloud

This is becoming an ever more popular option. And has many benefits. The cloud is a “computer in the sky” which is easily accessed by you at any time.

One option is Dropbox – acts like a briefcase that you can access from any computer anywhere. You drop your file in the box and it is “safe.” But you have to remember to manually drop new versions of the file into Dropbox. Or you must keep the original in the Dropbox and access it that way every time. But what if you can’t get Internet access? or what if Dropbox is unavailable for some reason?

I prefer one of two alternatives. SugarSync or Cubby. Each of these are Cloud services and both give you up to 5GB of free storage to start with. The difference from Dropbox is that your original file sits on your computer and a copy is synced to the Cloud. I use the Cubby program. I like the idea that I can simply have it sync an entire folder and all its contents. Anytime a file is changed it is synced within minutes. Anytime a file is added to that folder it is synced. Thus I can have access to any of the critical files on my office computer from any device (phone, iPad, etc.) or Internet browser.

Backup Everything to the Cloud

I highly recommend you use this fail-safe backup plan. This is where you back up all the data on your computer off-site…all the time, automatically, while you are connected to the Internet. The two most popular programs are Mozy and Carbonite. I use Carbonite at the office. There is a cost for these services (Mozy costs $60 a year for 50GB of storage or $120 for 150GB. Carbonite is only $60 a year for  unlimited storage).

With Carbonite I have backed up all my music files and all my digital pictures in addition to all the office documents and data. The advantage with this method is that you are being backed up every time you are not working on your computer, automatically. You don’t have to think about backing up, it is done for you. If you have a complete hard drive failure or buy a new computer you can reload all your data from your back up. Or, as happened to me, a particular file got corrupted for some reason. I went to Carbonite and downloaded the saved version of that file and within minutes was up and running again.

I like a combination of Cubby and Carbonite. The one syncs my key folders to the cloud but keeps the originals under my control in the office. Carbonite is a fail-safe of everything. I know that my family photos are safe as well as other important things. (Just make sure you use a really good password! You don’t want someone stealing everything because you used an  easily guessed password, like “password.”)

Your Turn

There are many other options available. What do you use as your back up plan?


26 Responses to Do You Have a Backup Plan?

  1. tcavey September 10, 2012 at 5:19 am #

    Thanks for the info. I think I will try DropBox. I use USB and a separate network backup (don’t know the details, my spouse is great with this stuff, not me).

  2. Diana Harkness September 10, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    As a somewhat paranoid computer consultant, I frequently see the effects of loss after failing to backup. I recommend Norton 360 for “set it and forget it” security and backup. It automatically backs up any changed or newly created files. I do not use or recommend cloud storage because restoring files to a previously corrupted or disabled hard drive from the cloud is onerous: it takes hours and sometimes days. I once had a client spend 18 hours restoring his files from the cloud. As for me, my files are backed up to a USB hard drive which is stored in a fire-safe vault when I leave town. On rare occasions, I have also left it with a neighbor. In addition, I copy my writing file and accounting files to a password protected flash drive; they accompany me on any out of town trips. If for some reason my home city is bombed and my backup destroyed, I will have my most important files with me. On a more practical side, if I have the inclination to write while out of town, the flash drive allows me to easily access my files.

  3. Matthew Sheehy September 10, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    I use the Amazon cloud drive, but you might have sold me on Carbonite since I don’t have to remember to back up anything.

  4. Jeanne September 10, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    I was introduced to Drop Box about a year ago. It’s helped me out when my computer has needed repairs. Whenever I’m writing, I save to Drop Box and to my hard drive.

    I’m glad you mentioned the other options for storage. I’m with Matthew–Carbonite sounds like a good option.

  5. Micah Solomon September 10, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    Thanks–a quick note: the info about not backing up the apps is incorrect on time machine. You only restore what you choose to restore–everything or nothing. I suggest revising the article to make this clear.

    • Steve Laube September 10, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      Since my only experience with a Mac environment is my iPhone and iPad, I have no experience with “Time Machine.” I do know that someone was given advice by Apple tech support to only back up data in case their system problems were program software related.

      Thank you Micah for the correction. I’ve made an adjustment to the post for a little more clarity.

  6. Liz Tolsma September 10, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    I use Dropbox and it saved me when my computer crashed this summer. You can download Dropbox onto your computer. It creates a Dropbox folder which I use instead of my documents. Anytime I hit save, the file is saved to Dropbox automatically. I don’t have to think about it at all, but I have access to it anywhere on any device that I can get internet. It was a life saver and I recommend it!

    • Steve Laube September 10, 2012 at 8:42 am #

      My caution with Dropbox is that using it as the ONLY place where your file resides puts you at the mercy of that program with your key files. If you cannot access the Internet or if, for some reason, Dropbox changes their access rules or goes bankrupt overnight, you are in jeopardy.

      Just a little paranoia creeping in. Why? Because years ago I loved a particular calendar program on my PC and Laptop. It worked beautifully and I enjoyed its intuitive interface. But they went out of business and when Windows upgraded to a new operating system that program no longer worked. I lost all the data I had on that program and couldn’t even start the program to export anything. Had to start over with another calendar.

      Nowadays I use Outlook’s Calendar and sync it with Google calendar which syncs across all my devices.

      But I’m still a little gun shy about moving anything completely outside my local control, especially when it is critical data.

      • Liz Tolsma September 11, 2012 at 11:43 am #

        That’s good advice. My husband does back up everything once a month onto an external hard drive. The more places you can store things, the better. Imagine the feeling if you lost your WIP 🙁

      • Steve Laube September 11, 2012 at 11:49 am #

        One client literally lost an entire book the week before the deadline. And that happened earlier this Summer. There wasn’t a back up anywhere. Author had to rewrite the entire manuscript in a week.

        Don’t be that person!

  7. Georgiana Daniels September 10, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Dropbox is helpful, but I haven’t made full use of it. Generally I save all my chapters/manuscripts in my gmail by simply never deleting, but I do need to devise a better way to store pictures/etc.

  8. Kim Taylor September 10, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    I have iCloud. It backs everything up and is accessible from anywhere.

    • Steve Laube September 10, 2012 at 8:51 am #

      Have you tried to restore from iCloud yet?

      Try it out to make sure it works the way you think it will.

      I learned that lesson when helping out a small company a few years ago. They dutifully backed up everything. Then they had a crash. Went to the backup and discovered they had been backing up nothing. Each backup was empty. It had been configured wrong and was looking for backups in the wrong directory.

      So when I started using Carbonite I intentionally renamed a file and then went to Carbonite to restore the original (renaming the file insured that I wouldn’t lose it during the process). It was a seemless process. I quickly found the original, checked the box and pressed “restore.” Within seconds the original was back on my computer.


  9. Jennifer Major @Jjumping September 10, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    I’m “old school”. I email my files regularly to me and I have a USB stick/drive/jump whatever. I also save things on hub’s gov’t issued work computer in an email file.
    Since I nearly killed the laptop by driving the driver’s seat backwards over the corner of it (yeah, I know, long story), several friends also have Word files of my stuff.

  10. Katie Hart September 10, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    After my hard drive crashed (I’d saved some stuff via email and an external hard drive, but a lot of current stuff got lost), I started using Dropbox. So far it’s worked great. I downloaded it to my computer like Liz mentioned, but the files are still also stored locally on my computer, Steve.

    Free storage space is limited, so I store most of my media files on my external hard drive instead. I only update that once a month or so, since most of the files already exist elsewhere: I buy most music from Amazon, so their cloud storage has it; the few personal photos and videos I take are usually uploaded to Facebook; and videos I download from YouTube for offline viewing are likely still on the site.

    But as a writer, once a month doesn’t cut it with documents, so I use Dropbox for them. And in case both Dropbox and my computer fail, I do occasionally email important documents to myself.

  11. Diana Savage September 10, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    A year ago I signed up with Carbonite and have been pleased with the automatic backup feature. Like you, Steve, I ran into the issue of not being able to open a corrupted file. Although the most recent saved version on Carbonite was also corrupted, I could access previously saved versions too. It took just a few minutes to bring the most recent uncorrupted version up to date, saving me hours and hours of retyping from scratch. Carbonite’s annual fee is WELL worth it.

  12. Lindsay Harrel September 10, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I started using Carbonite afer my external hard drive crashed. I love that I can not only back up my files, but access them from another computer too if I want.

  13. Becky Doughty September 10, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Like Jennifer, I’m old-school. I email stuff to myself at two different accounts. Worked so far – had a computer crash twice and had all that I’d lost in my gmail files. Good reminder, though. I tend to get lax and don’t send stuff regularly enough.

  14. Karen Power September 10, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I have used Carbonite for years! When my PC started to wheeze and sputter, I saved the data to a flash drive, bought a Mac, and transferred the data. Then connected it to Carbonite.

    The user can also access their files from any comparable computer (PC=PC or Mac=Mac) from anywhere they have Internet access via Carbonite. So it’s not just for back up purposes only.

    Finally, it’s all done in the background so the user doesn’t have to remember to back up their files as it’s done automatically with any new files or changes to existing files.

    Great peace of mind for only $60/year!!!

  15. Rachel Wilder September 10, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I use SpiderOak as one backup, an external hard drive as another, and I’ve started using Google Drive too. I’m a devout Google user with an Android phone, so using Google Drive makes sense. Right now I only back up writing files on it, and I love that I have access to them on my phone if I need to look something up.

    The reason I picked SpiderOak over Dropbox is because of security reasons. SpiderOak employees do not have access to my files, unlike Dropbox. They’re still totally secure and under my control. Hence why I use it for my writing files. I have it configured to run in the background and it automatically backs up my Fiction folder. Don’t even have to close files for SpiderOak to find them and upload. Which works great for me because I keep files open for days and weeks at a time.

  16. Carol Moncado September 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    I use Dropbox too. The way I have it set up, it saves the file to my hard drive and syncs with the Dropbox website whenever it’s online but the original file is still on my computer. When I’m on another computer that’s registered to my account [like my netbook v. laptop], any changes I make work their way through the system whenever a particular computer is online. If I can’t get online, I can still save it to a thumb drive for transport to a different computer. They have 2 gig I think it is of memory. I use it for all my writing related stuff but that’s just about it [though that’s not 2 gig of course].

    For whole computer back up I’ve used Carbonite and it works well. Not long after I got everything backed up, my computer died and I restored everything in just a couple days.

    Now I use CrashPlan for a couple reasons. It’s a bit more expensive. It also has unlimited storage but you can save from multiple computers/devices/hard drives. My sister [who lives elsewhere] and I share the family plan and it includes backing up her terabytes of movies etc [all legally obtained…]. We’ve not backed up from it yet, but we have gone and searched for a specific file when not at home etc. and downloaded from the website.

    I’ve lost more than one computer to a hard drive crash [in the days before these kinds of back ups] and I’m so glad I shouldn’t have to deal with that sick feeling again.

  17. Peter DeHaan September 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I’ve had two friends lose entire books they were writing because their computers crashed and they had no backups.

    Early in my career while working as a tech writer I lost a week’s worth of work when I went home for the weekend without backing up my work. That was a hard lesson, but I’ll never forget it.

    Now when I write, I obsessively hit “save” every couple of minutes.

    When I’m done working on that piece or even take a break, I save it, make a backup copy, and save it to a second computer. That computer automatically backs up files all files to an offsite file storage service (Carbonite).

    Then once a week, I do a backup of all my files to an onsite external drive. I keep each backup in a separate folder, so if needed, I can retrieve a copy of my WIP from last weekend, last month, or even last October.

    Yeah, I’m compulsive about backups, but I have too much at stake not to be.

  18. Ruth A. Douthitt September 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    I use an external hard drive, USB, email my MS to myself, and now I think I will also try Dropbox. Thanks for the tip!

  19. Dana McNeely September 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    I use Carbonite for my backups on both our personal computers, the one my hubby uses (Dell) and my writing computer (MAC). I started using it years ago, when recommended by Kim Komando, the digital Goddess. I can’t remember the annual fee, but it is very reasonable and there are discounts for more than one laptop. Carbonite’s service continually backs up automatically – the ultimate in set and forget. I did have to restore our Dell laptop on two different occasions and both restores were easy.

  20. Sharyn Kopf September 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    I’ve been using Mozy for a couple years now, which is free for home use up to 2 GBs. Since most of my files are Word documents, that’s plenty for me.

    But I did take your advice, Steve, and make sure they were backing things up accurately.

  21. S. Kim Henson September 14, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    My husband and I have both used Carbonite for years. The minute it started backing up our files, I felt relieved. I’ll never go without it again. It’s a low price for peace of mind.

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