OTDOD 040411 - "Back up your data!" Edition

As one of the resident IT guys of LL, I always try to help out the OT dwellers with their computer issues. Lately, it seems, one of the prevailing topics has been people losing data, or not knowing good ways to back up their own computers. So, this serves as a How-To for the safe ways to keep your computer backed up. 

This is meant to be more generalized for the average user. I won't be delving into RAID, for instance. If you have questions regarding anything more advanced than what I've covered here, feel free to ask in the comments.


General Rules -

So you've decided to back up your data. What does that even mean? There are a myriad ways to back up your data, and all of them involve copying it to a different place from where you normally access it. 

However, some places are safer than others. From Least Safe to Most Safe, here are the main options:

  • On to your own machine - This involves copying to a different folder on the same machine, don't recommend. This wont protect you from any data loss.
  • On to another device in your home - This could be anything from plug-in flash drive to an external hard drive to the desktop machine in the den. This will protect you from data loss on the machine, but not in the case of a whole-house calamity.
  • Onto a device out of your home - This could be anything from a hard disk that you leave at your parents house to cloud backup. This is what we will be focusing on, as it protects you in case of a calamity such as a fire.

Now that we've discussed getting data out of your house and somewhere else, here are some options for doing so:


Option 1 - Hard disk kept offsite

This is a tried and true method for many people. This involves using a backup method to copy data to an external hard disk or flash drive, and moving that disk physically to another location such as work or a family member's house.

Upsides - You know what you're backing up. You can pick and choose what files you want where, and can version things to your own plan. You can keep them in a spot you know in a place you know and trust.

Downsides - Despite being all knowing and all seeing, sometimes you will miss things. These things could be as simple as your bookmarks in a folder you didn't know existed, or a file that you thought you drug over but didn't. It is also difficult to keep track of versions, or know what to get rid of when. Anyone could plug in that hard drive and see your [insert uncomfortable subject here]

Tips for using this method - Get on a routine. Use two hard drives, and swap them every time you visit, bi-weekly at most. This will cover machine failures in the short term and house failures in the long term. Don't keep the hard disk with you when you aren't moving it to storage. Get a backup software that knows what to store and for how long (they're free, really).


Option 2 - Online backup of some flavor

This is obviously my preferred method, but if you don't trust some faceless company, there are ways around saving your personal data to "the cloud", as they call it. I'll go over both. 

This is the part that is probably going to sound like a commercial, but it's more of a "satisfied customer testimonial". I use Crashplan. I use it in both its paid for cloud method and also for its free "friend" system that allows you to back up to (or in my case, back up for) friends, and keep your/their data safe in the meantime. 

With my friends I like to use the term backup buddies for how I set them up. It sounds cheesy, but given to non-computer savvy people they usually love it, and you can also use it sarcastically with your friends. 

I won't go too heavily into their sales pitch, but the main reason I use them for backing up my friends is that I can show them exactly what I see when they back up to me:


That's it. That folder is originally about 2GB of random PDFs and pictures (and who knows what else) from a friend of mine. Now it's encrypted into files I don't have access to. (not that I really care what he has in there anyways)

All that it takes is to go to, get the software for the type of computer you have, and install. They'll ask you to sign up for an account, and give your computer a "friend" number. All you need to do is do the same on the other end (I usually do this for friends, but their savvy may vary), and swap numbers. 

There are two settings that you need to figure out using Crashplan - what folders you are backing up, and where you are backing up those folders to. The first is under the backup tab, down near the bottom. For numerous reason I recommend leaving it at its default at the least, and adding folders where you know you save data. The second is where you are going to store your backup buddies data. It defaults to a place deep in your main drive, but this can be changed easily if you have a second disk with more space or an external drive that you leave plugged in all of the time. 

There are a couple of caveats. If both you and your backup buddies have laptops and no desktops, it can be difficult to schedule backups together. Both computers have to be on and connected to the internet for this to really work. If there are intermittent connections, it will cause problems. Therefore I recommend that if you use the backup buddies system, you both have desktop PCs or laptops that you leave on 24/7. That being said, I have had friends that I made backup buddies agree to leave their computers on overnight every Tuesday and Friday to allow backups to run twice weekly.

The other, easier option is to back up your data using their servers. Obviously, this costs money, though not much for the peace of mind it will give you. If you only have a laptop, or alternatively don't have any friends or family, this may be the option for you. 

I will be around off and on all day today to answer any questions about this, any other backup solution, or anything computers in general. 

As always, this is also an OT, and all OT rules apply. 

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