Happy World Backup Day!

Okay, yes. I am geeky enough to celebrate a day for backing up your computer. But, seriously, this is important. We have so much valuable data that we store on our phones, tablets, computers, and social media, yet few people really make sure it’s safe. It’s all too easy for data to go bye-bye – your device gets stolen, your account gets hacked, your hard drive fails … the list goes on and on.

Now that I’ve (hopefully) scared you sufficiently, lets talk about how to deal with this.

The key concepts to remember for protecting your valuable data are:

  1. Backup frequently
  2. Make multiple backups
  3. Use multiple formats for the backups (e.g., hard disk and DVD)
  4. Store one backup in a different location
  5. Test the backup periodically to make sure the data can be restored

This may seem overwhelming, but it really isn’t that bad. Yes, it does take some time to set up, but once you have everything in place, it should be easy to maintain. Besides, aren’t your photos, videos, financial records, etc. worth it?

Let’s break each concept down a bit further.

Backup Frequently

Your data should be backed up frequently enough to ensure that what is most important to you will never be lost. There is no set formula for this as it depends on how you create/collect your data. If you’re taking photos every day, you probably want to back them up every day. If you only take photos when you’re on vacation, maybe monthly would work. The best way to figure out how frequently to backup is to look at the data that is important to you and figure out how often it changes. The good news is there are many tools that can be set up to automatically backup on any schedule you decide. What software should you use? Well, there are a lot of choices that depend on the type of devices and data you have. Check out sites like The WirecutterCNet.com, PC World, and Mac Observer for suggestions.

Make Multiple Backups

It seems redundant, but why take chances? You could back up everything to an external hard disk and then have it stolen along with your computer. Or, a fire could burn down your house including your computer and the backup. It only makes sense to have a second backup just in case. Ideally, you would combine this concept with #3 and #4 to completely hedge your bets (read on for details on this).

Use Multiple Formats

Hard disks can fail. DVD drives and disks can fail. But, they fail in different ways and have different life expectancies. If you make one backup on a hard disk and another on DVD, you’ve diversified (just like investing in stocks, bonds and mutual funds, instead of just one type of investment). There are a lot of different format options: USB sticks (a.k.a. thumb drives), external hard disks, multi-disk devices (Drobo, network attached storage), DVDs and CDs. Pick two and start backing up!

Store One Backup in a Different Location

Us geeky types call it ‘offsite backup.’ You don’t want all of your backup eggs in one basket. If that basket gets robbed, burned, flooded, plagued with locusts, or whatever, all of your backups could be gone. This is a pretty easy problem to solve. Assuming you made multiple backups of different formats as described above, you can just store one of them somewhere else – take it to work, give it to a friend or relative, or put it in a safety deposit box. You could also use an online backup service. These are reliable, secure and relatively inexpensive. Some examples include CrashPlan, Backblaze, and Mozy. You could even use services like Amazon Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox or iCloud if you want, but these don’t offer backup apps so you’ll have to do a bit more work to set it up.

Test the Backup

Just because you backed it up, doesn’t mean the data is safe. Backups can get corrupted. You should periodically check your backup to make sure you can get to your data when you need it. Some software lets you run a verification process to do this. I prefer to test restoring the data to a temporary location (e.g., an extra external drive, a temporary hard disk folder, etc.) so I can really see it happen. If the test shows a problem, you can fix it before you really lose data.

So, celebrate World Backup Day by giving yourself piece of mind that your data is safe. As a bonus for reading this far, here are a couple of special deals going on for today to help you get your backup strategy going*:

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

* I’m posting these as a public service, not an endorsement of any of these products or merchants.