Protecting your Digital Assets, Guide to Backup - The Efficient Dad

Protecting Your Digital Assets, a Guide to Backup – Part 1

Life sometimes feels chaotic in general, but once you start thinking of how important your digital assets are, it can be overwhelming. Think about it for a minute. Photos of your children, writings, school work, art. So many things that are created and stored on a computer are irreplaceable, yet the average person does very little to protect them. Ask around – what is your extended family doing to protect their data? Maybe you have savvy friends and they are doing what is needed, but there is a good chance that some of them aren’t.

I had someone come to me not long ago and ask me for help. This person used a thumb drive to store gigabytes of very important family photos. That thumb drive sat sticking out of a laptop for years until someone walked by and snapped it off, ripping some of the internals out with it. Just like that, the memories were gone. Another person I spoke with just assumed Microsoft was taking care of their data backup because they paid for Windows. OK, enough depressing stuff – how can you improve your digital data management so something like this won’t happen to you? You need a solid backup plan.

Get organized

The first step to keeping your data safe is knowing where it is. Let’s assume you have a family computer and files are strewn around it in various places. Consider organizing it – put your photos in one folder, videos in another. School work, writings, art, etc. can all have their own areas as well. The details are up to you as long as you have a system in place. This will help you restore your files if they ever do get lost, but I’ll make sure to discuss some backup solutions that make sure you won’t lose a file just because it isn’t organized properly. Another purpose this will serve is to give you an idea of how much space your important information consumes. You’ll need to know when picking a backup type.

Two is one, one is none

You’ve all heard that mantra at some point, but the point here is that redundancy is key. If you have only one copy of your information, you might as well have none, because you are unprepared for any type of disaster. Having two copies is a great start and puts you ahead of the game, but perhaps we can do even better for your extremely critical files…

3-2-1 backups

The “3-2-1” strategy is a widely accepted backup plan that should serve you well: 3 copies, 2 local (on different devices), 1 off-site. No backup practice is 100% perfect, but you can be reasonably sure that you won’t lose your data this way. In a 3-2-1 scheme, two copies are stored locally, which might seem strange at first. The reason is that if you have a local disaster with your first copy (for example, you lose your laptop), your data is quickly accessible and you don’t have to wait to download it from the internet or have it shipped to you in the mail. Your third copy is just there in case of emergency, you don’t want to rely on it unless you absolutely have to.

Let me give you an example of how this would look in practice, using a file, called “novel.txt” that is saved on your laptop. This file is very important to you and you must be sure you don’t lose it. The first copy is the on the laptop. This is your working copy, considered the original. You might move the file manually, every day, to create a second copy on an external hard drive. You now have two local copies. Next, you email it to your gmail account each day, giving you a third copy that is also off-site. This would complete a backup strategy for your file. But what do you do if you need to backup your entire computer or a large amount of files? A manual process can be flawed, so you need to look for an automated solution.

Untested backup = no backup

This sounds weird – you can trust your backups, right? Your computer said the backup completed so your files must be safe. Well, not really. Until you’ve taken the time to do a test restore of some files, the backups cannot be relied upon. Once a month or so, depending on your level of comfort, restore some files and make sure they look exactly as you’d expect.

Coming Up Next

In the next article in this series, I’ll walk through some specific options to manage that second copy of your data. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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