Don’t let your computer get caught with its pants down – Backup your data!

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The five stages of grief. Strangely these steps are all too familiar to those who have dealt with the loss of a different kind – one of the digital sort. I’ve personally witnessed individuals cry after telling them that their data isn’t retrievable without spending upwards of $2,000 (that’s the low end by the way). Your business’ accounting information, your son’s school papers, even your Wedding photos – your hard drive doesn’t discriminate. It could all be gone in a split second. It’s not a matter of “if” your hard drive will crash, but a matter of “when.”

It’s important to stress that there is no guarantee on the lifespan of a hard drive. 1 day, 3 weeks, 6 months, 7 years. Nobody really knows when that spinning disk will bite the dust. So how can you keep your eyes dry? Luckily, there are many options.

The first decision you’re faced with is onsite vs. offsite backup. Their names are self explanatory – onsite backup means you’re storing your backup “onsite” and offsite backup is where you store your backup “offsite” or on the internet or “cloud”. While backing up and restoring your data offsite might take more time (you’re limited by the speed of your internet connection), it’s worth it as your data is more secure (theft/fire/flood/etc. aren’t an issue.) The other inevitable downside to offsite backup is the cost that you’ll incur – it’s a monthly subscription service vs. the upfront cost of paying for hardware/software for onsite backup. However, in the rare case that you have very little data that you need to backup you might be able to get a free pass – more on that in a minute.

If you’re going to be using onsite backup you need to first get yourself an external hard drive, or a spare hard drive in your computer that’s not being used. A flash drive might work as a backup medium, but I usually don’t recommend it because the average flash drive storage capacity isn’t adequate for most people’s backup needs.

Next, you’ll need some software to facilitate the backup job. If you’re a home user looking for something simple then I recommend Genie-Soft’s Timeline Home. It’s a continuous (always backing up vs running at a scheduled time) program that copycats Apple’s Time Machine backup. I find it to be incredibly easy to setup and restoring files is a snap. That brings me to my next point – if you’re an Apple user I recommend Apple’s Time Machine hands down. I wouldn’t use any other software. Apple’s Time Machine is really as “set it and forget it” as it gets. Bundling Time Machine with an offsite backup solution is even better.

If you’re a home or business user that requires more control/options and you want to run your backups on a schedule then I recommend Genie-Soft’s Backup Manager Pro. It has been absolutely bullet proof in my experience. Another good option that’s slightly less expensive is SmartSync Pro.

If monthly fees don’t scare you, and having your data secure is your primary goal then offsite backup is really the way to go. There are two big dogs in this category – Carbonite & Mozy. Carbonite is $54.95 a year (business or pleasure). Mozy comes in three different flavors. The first is for home users, which is $4.99 a month per machine for unlimited backup. The second is MozyPro for business users, which charges $ .50 per GB plus a licensing fee per machine. Don’t let that discourage you because most business machines on average aren’t backing up more than 10 GB of data, and you can’t put a price on a reliable solution for your business. Both companies offer a very similar service, but in my experience Mozy’s interface/options are superior. On top of that, Mozy’s third flavor is completely free if you’re a home user backing up 2 GB or less! While 2 GB of data isn’t going to cover years of photos, it’s usually enough to cover the really critical data.

While doing one is better than none, I recommend doing both (onsite & offsite) if your data is highly valuable and having little downtime is of concern – time is money after all. Well there you have it. Go out there and backup your data. After all – it really is cheaper than the counseling you’ll be paying for if you don’t and your hard drive decides to die.