I learned saves the hard way so you don’t have to

I learned saves the hard way so you don’t have to

I learned saves the hard way so you don't have to

It had to happen. Like everyone else, I only had the best intentions. I considered myself and my methods to be prudent enough. But I also thought that making backups was tedious and I could always do it later. Then a hard drive stopped working – it was perfectly fine one day, then refused to work the next. I lost a lot of my oldest data – school and college projects, photos, little snippets of stuff saved from everywhere, and probably a lot of unnecessary junk too. I had copies of them scattered on old CD-Rs and saved as email attachments, but I don’t even remember how many there were. It’s a shame – I used to browse this stuff from time to time.

There is little comfort in the fact that many people have had this same experience. I’ve heard horror stories and been called upon to provide emergency technical support to countless friends, acquaintances, neighbors, distant relatives, and even strangers, who took their hardware and software for granted. , never imagining that their data could be lost. One was a photographer who accidentally erased a CF card full of photos from a client’s events. One was the mother of a friend who had given in her iPad for repair, not realizing that it would come back clean.

Then there are situations where you know you can’t do anything afterwards. A friend’s bag was stolen from a crowded train; he lost his laptop and the portable hard drive with all his backups on it. Another pulled out an old pile of DVDs only to find that they had physically deteriorated.

Everybody makes mistakes. Disasters happen. We just need to plan for them. Some people make backups only as protection against accidental deletion, or only for documents they need to refer to older versions. The friend whose bag was stolen was safe from one type of disaster, but not many others. Many people make copies of their data manually, at irregular intervals, but do not choose the right medium or the right location. Many save the photos on their PC but not the ones on their phone. Many lose track of what is where, or leave it to someone else to manage. Many simply do not care.

People also assume that the data can be recovered – very often this is not the case, or it takes an awful lot of time and money. It used to be easy to get a hard drive out of a dead computer (assuming the drive itself was fine), but many laptops and tablets today don’t give us that layer of security. . Your data and the drive it’s on may both be fine, but there may be no way to get it out of a dead device.

I realized several things. First of all: a copy is not a backup. You need multiple backups, preferably created and updated automatically, and they should be stored on different media and in different places. Second: it will take at least a little time and at least a little money. There is no easy way around this; it’s a fact of modern digital life.


Here is the ideal strategy. First of all, you need to know exactly what you have, where everything is and how irreplaceable is it. Your most important files can be divided into two categories: those that are updated at regular intervals, such as financial statements, and those that are not, such as scans of old important documents. It will help you keep track of what you need to do and simplify your work. Whichever storage medium you choose, one copy should be in a fireproof safe and another (perhaps less frequently updated) should be stored offsite. You can decide whether or not to use online services to store copies of them, depending on the level of security you require.

Next, you need to identify any files that you have created yourself, which can never be replaced if lost. This includes everything you do for work and for creative hobbies, all your digital photos and videos, email archives, game saves, software customizations, web bookmarks, and more. Many programs now save these items to their own online services so you can move around. between devices easily – remember to log in if you choose to use them, and remember the passwords! Online services that let you specify which folders to watch work best for such files, but a full dump to an external hard drive once in a while can’t hurt.

You can always redownload music, movies, games, and TV shows so they don’t have to be backed up so diligently. Services like iTunes and Steam show all of your purchases so you can keep track of them, but you need at least a list of the files you’ve gotten ad hoc over the years.


When it comes to backup media, you have plenty of choices. Optical media are usually short-lived and you may not be able to recover the data in a flash, which is becoming less and less sensible. Hard drives are much more reliable but should never be your only backup medium – and you should treat them with care – never eject them unless it’s safe and store them safely too. Network-attached drives and private servers should have clean, reliable power. Solid state drives can be expensive and some models have been shown to deteriorate when stored in less than ideal conditions.

Web services are increasingly becoming the best and most logical backup destinations. You have plenty of options. As mentioned, a lot of software now comes with an online component that at least backs up your settings, if not your work. There are those with specific purposes like Flickr for photos, which is really easy to use and offers plenty of space. Some are device or company specific, like iCloud. There are services more suitable for synchronization, including Dropbox and OneDrive. Then there are dedicated bulk backup services, of which Crashplan and Backblaze are the best known.

You might be able to get by with the free tiers of some of these services, but they’re all definitely worth the cost of a decent subscription. Many offer unlimited space for a nominal fee, which will be less than the cost of a few hard drives in the long run. The best part is that you can back up devices of all kinds and still have all your data at your fingertips. There is no worry of physical disk failure, as the data is distributed and duplicated at the backend of the service, and their hardware is much more robust than ours. Finally, you are safe from local disasters.

Backing up data takes time and effort, but it’s like an insurance policy that you don’t like to pay until you need it. With the variety and efficiency of services available today, no one has an excuse not to back up their data. You should never have to lose a precious memory or hours of hard work. Make a plan. You know you need it. One day, in the near or distant future, you will either sob that you didn’t do it, or thank your lucky stars for doing it.

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