When I worked IT support we divided the world into two classes of people: Those have lost data and those who were going to lose data. It was always easy to spot those about to lose data when they would come charging through the door with their hair on fire, clutching an open laptop, a single world announced their plight, “Help!”
You could watch the stages of grief unfold as you gave them bad news: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance would play out on our help desk counter almost every day. We got very good at being sympathetic, active listeners. One case that stuck in my mind was a postdoctoral candidate who lost six months of research data and it was only because of a commercial data recovery service that he didn’t lose two years of research.
These days it’s crazy to have your data at risk and backup solutions are out there for almost every device and operating system on the market. Here are my suggestions for backup options that are easy, work with any operating system and allow you to access your data remotely.
2 GB Free, Pro 100 GB $9.99/month. Dropbox is simple and intuitive application that puts a backup folder on your computer and whatever you put in there is automatically synced with the mothership. Whenever you have an internet connection, you have access to your documents.
The only thing you have to watch with Dropbox is that it will sync your docs whether you want it to or not. I accidentally wiped out a long document during testing because I wasn’t careful with versions.
CrashPlan is one of my personal favorites because it lets you build your own distributed network of backup computers run by your family and friends. Or, if you’d rather, you can opt for a backup device, storage drive or use CrashPlan+ Unlimited online backup for just $4/month.
If you have several computers or devices to backup, opt for CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited.
SpiderOak is another set and forget backup system that allows complete online access to your files and online file sharing. Unlike most services, SpiderOak will give you 2 GB for free for life. After the free space it gets a little spendy running $100 per year for each 100 GB of space.
People tend to forget you can buy additional storage that automatically integrates with Gmail and G+ Photos. Prices run 4.99 for 100 GB and there are discounts for one and two year purchases. I probably use Drive more than any other online storage service, although it’s not as automatic as some of the other online services.
If you’re worried about storing your private files on online storage, it’s relatively easy to learn how to use a product like TrueCrypt to create encrypted containers and feel more secure storing those in online drives. Once you get good at TrueCrypt, which is free and incredibly powerful, you can even create partitions with a secret pass phrase hidden inside a throw-away encrypted container for extra security. One word of advice if you’re using TrueCrypt, don’t lose the password for your containers. Forget the passphrase and you have effectively destroyed whatever was inside the containers. Nothing is totally secure in the digital world but TrueCrypt encryption is quite good.