How (and Why) to Back Up Your Data

I, like most people, like to think of the work that I do on my computer as pretty important to me. As a result, losing that work, be it a thousand lines of fresh source code, new graphics that took my art-inept self hours to create, or a tiring paper for school, would be absolutely gut-wrenching. That is why it is so extremely vital that, if you value anything you do on your computer or anything that is stored on your machine, you take as many precautions as you can to make sure that data stays safe.

You have no doubt seen articles like this before, warning you to keep your data backed up and whatnot. There’s a reason to this redundancy, of course. I have always understood that repetition is one of the best ways to get something stuck in your head. Going on that, the more you read about data backup and why it’s so important, the more likely you are to take the necessary steps to keep yourself, your data, and possibly your livelihood safe and sound.

I am a programmer, as you have probably figured out if you have read a few of my previous articles on LockerGnome. While I have picked up a few habits that have secured my code nicely, there have still been a couple of instances where I mindlessly stormed through a project, unknowing of the unfortunate event set to wreck my evening (or morning, in some cases). The more these pitfalls plagued me, however, the more vigilant I was about the work I was doing. Here are a few ideas I finally solidified in my head after many episodes of absolute heartbreak (not kidding, I was almost brought to tears after one experience; computers can be cruel):
How (and Why) to Back Up Your Data

  • Save often — While this seems like the most obvious tip in the world, never underestimate the human mind’s ability to get lost in work and other distractions. Forgetting to save has probably led to more lost lines of code than I care to count, and the same probably goes for digital artists and musicians. Apart from programming, I can tell of one experience I had while working on a video for a school project. I was literally close to completing the editing, putting the finishing touches on it, when the program (that will remain nameless) I was using up and crashed on me. I was pretty upset, considering I was under the impression that I was actually going to get an early night to bed for once. After it happened, I kicked myself for neglecting what was perhaps the easiest key combination there was, Ctrl+S, and begun the editing process over again.
  • Invest in a UPS — No, not the big brown truck, although it might arrive in one. An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) will protect your equipment from surges as well as retaining a charge for a short period after a power outage, giving you time to save your work before you are shut out in the dark. Not only useful in blackouts, these will be especially appreciated during those annoying brownout moments, when you lose power only long enough for your computer to shut off and quickly power back on (in fact, I have lost more of my work from brownouts than blackouts, strangely enough).
  • Version Control Systems are your friends — Even if you’re not a programmer, version control like Git or Subversion are still useful, especially if you are pushing your repository to a remote machine. I have seen artists use Git to track the history of their art projects, but it also served as a backup solution when they pushed their repository to GitHub. For Mac OS X Lion users, the Versions feature operates similarly to a VCS like Git, tracking the changes made to files over time. In conjunction with Time Machine, the duo offers a viable backup solution for OS X users.
  • Utilize the Cloud to the fullest — There are services out there that will literally give you free storage to put whatever you like, so be sure to take advantage of them. A few to name off the top of my head: Google DocsDropbox, and Backblaze. Fun fact: Not many people I know have realized that Google Docs functions as regular file storage as well as an office suite, so they have been missing out on tons of free storage space. Don’t be one of them!
  • Keep multiple physical backups for your most important data — Family photos, large projects spanning weeks or even months, and music collections are all things you would probably hold near and dear to you. Keep the most important data on multiple storage devices. Buy an extra external hard drive to keep alongside your machine, where you keep copies of your most precious data.

Remember, the key to keeping your data backed up and kept safe is redundancy. Don’t just pick one of the above tips and believe that you will be safe from here on out. If your work and files are important to you, prove it to yourself by going the distance. Who knows? Perhaps one day you’ll come to seriously appreciate that you made the decision to protect your data.