Friday, April 1, 2016

Digital Backups

It's a really good idea to back up the data on your digital devices. There was even a World Backup Day recently, to remind people to keep copies of their data in case of catastrophe. Which is a good excuse to discuss what I do for backups, and why I recently cancelled my subscription to a backup service. (Yes, really; no April Fool's Day joke here.)
I've used more tape drives over the years than I like to admit, but they're no longer my backup solution.
There's two major reasons to have a backup of your digital assets. Either it's something you can't re-create, like photos or some kinds of important documents; or it's something that you'd have to spend a lot of effort (time, money, maybe both) to replace, like backing up your entire computer's hard drive. I find that I worry more about the former than the latter. I generally have the time I'd need to rebuild something if necessary, even if it's an inconvenience. And honestly, in the case where I was recovering an entire device, I'd usually rather have a fresh start anyway.

The vast majority of the data that I use day-to-day is somewhere in the cloud. My account data in LastPass, pictures on Google and Facebook, blog posts on Blogger, various types of documents in Google Drive or Dropbox, email in GMail, games on Steam, music on iTunes/Google Music/Amazon Music (not to mention Spotify). This certainly makes backups easy, since those services generally do it for me. Of course, I'm running a bit of a risk that they might lose my data (or sell it off to someone), but that's a risk I'm willing to take in exchange for the convenience factor.

For sensitive information that I really want to make sure are kept safe, I don't just trust the services...I keep multiple copies and encrypt them. For instance, tax documents. First, I encrypt the files to limit the danger that they might be stolen or otherwise misused - the simplest way is to use 7-Zip to bundle them all up and encrypt the archive. Then I put that archive in a few difference places: Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. When you need to update them, extract the files, make changes, then re-encrypt and distribute the updated archive. It's not the most efficient process, but that's not a big problem since those kinds of important documents don't change often - usually just a couple of times per year.

If my condo was robbed or burned down or whatever, causing me to lose my various digital devices, I could recover anything important from what I have in the cloud. I'd have to get new hardware, and it might take a while to re-install the various applications I use, but the data would be there waiting for me to be back up and running.

All of which brings me to why I cancelled my subscription to Crashplan, a remote backup service. I just didn't need it any more. Nothing against Crashplan - they provided exactly what was advertised and I never had any significant issues with the service. It just seemed silly to pay for and use up resources on a service that was redundant.

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