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GadgeTell How-To: Make worrying about a hard drive crash a thing of the past

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It is how-to week here at TechnologyTell and that means each of the sites will be bringing you a lesson. We have already seen some goodies from Dennis Burger of HomeTechTell and Bill Stiteler of AppleTell and today, well today brings my turn. Today I am going to talk about something that I touched on in my guide post from last week — backups. Or in this case, how to make worrying about a hard drive crash (or data loss in general) a thing of the past. And yes, I am speaking from experience here. Simply put, follow this advice and a hard drive crash will end up becoming more of an annoyance than a tragedy.

To recap my recent experience, the hard drive on my mid-2007 iMac recently crashed — completely dead. I woke one day, turned on my computer and nothing. Sure, I had known that a drive failure was a possibility, after all, the computer is more than a few years old at this point. But on that note, despite knowing and probably on some level expecting a crash — I was not at all worried. In fact, I let it happen and then took it as an opportunity to get a fresh install. You see, I back up my data, on a regular basis and I do it both locally and in the cloud. And you should do the same. In fact, I challenge you to do the same.

Make a backup plan and stick to it.

There are lots of options here and those include automatic options and manual options. Not to mention, locally stored backups and cloud (or off-site) backups. My suggestion, use something automatic if possible and make sure to use on-site and off-site. I prefer to think cloud based but I understand not everyone wants to (or can) spend the extra money backing up to the cloud. That being the case, to get an off-site backup without having a cloud service — make a backup with a USB hard drive and then store that drive somewhere else — at a friends house, a family members house or even a safe deposit box. The key here, make sure you retrieve that backup and update it on a regular basis. After all, a backup is only as good as the files it contains and if they are 2, 3 or 6 months old — well, you may have some data loss. That is why I suggest an automatic cloud option.

I use Carbonite for my off-site backups. This stores my data in the cloud, but perhaps more important is that it is out of the house. You see, having a good backup of your data is not only important because of a potential hard drive crash, but also due to unforeseen happenings. For example, the unthinkable — a house fire or even a natural disaster such as a hurricane. Another cloud based solution that I could suggest is Mozy. Both services are similar in features and support, though Carbonite is a bit less expensive.

Of course, a full computer backup can take some time, both to upload and also to download should the unthinkable happen. Based on that I suggest also having other off-site options. For example, I use SugarSync (the free 5GB account) for my more important files. And to a lesser degree, Amazon Cloud Player for my music files. Some alternatives to consider; Google Drive, Dropbox or Box.net. Anyway, these are the files that I tend to access on a regular or somewhat regular basis. Having this second option is nice because during a recovery, these can be retrieved a bit quicker.

More to the point here, with a recovery you will ideally want to use something local, which is why I suggest having at least one on-hand. In this case there are plenty of options, you can manually copy important files to a USB drive, flash drive or even a CD or DVD. I use Time Machine on the Mac. Unfortunately on the Windows side of the house things get a bit more difficult. Well, maybe not difficult, but not free. There is a program called Oops!Backup, which does offer a 30-day free trial, but costs just shy of $40 after. Of course, $40 as compared to having everything go away seems like a deal to me.

Just to recap, have a cloud based backup, two if possible — one for everything and one for the more important files. Have a local backup. And again, two, or multiple if possible. I mentioned that i use Carbonite and SugarSync for my off-site backups and I also use Time Machine locally. But on top of that, I also make a backup using Carbon Copy Cloner on a monthly basis and semi-regularly make a backup copy of my photos, music and video files. That means I have my main local drive as well as three USB drives containing backups — Time Machine, Carbon Copy Cloner and then the image, audio and video files.

Bottom line here, assuming you have a solid backup solution in place (one that is redundant and actively being used), you may even begin to welcome a drive fail as it will be a perfect opportunity to get a new hard drive and a fresh start. That is what I did. And sure it meant some down time and some time playing around, but ultimately, the biggest headache for me was the $100 bucks and the 60 minutes that I spent to buy and install the new hard drive in my Mac.

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