Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Protecting Digital Data - Part 2

In my previous post we looked at the explosion of digital data coming onto our computers.  Photos, videos, movies, and games are all getting bigger and going digital.  What was a small part of our hard drive before has grown, and so have our needs for backup.  In this post we'll look at cloud based options, easy to use and share network options, and cheaper solutions for small data libraries.  With all the options before us, it shouldn't be hard to get a good backup system in place so you can avoid digital loss.

Online Cloud Backup
With services like Dropbox being around for years and everyone else getting into the game, cloud based backup is getting easier to find.  Microsoft launched Skydrive with Windows 8, Apple has iCloud, Google has Google Drive, not to mention several other companies offering similar services.  These services allow you to upload files to 'the cloud' and share them between your computers for easy access so you can always have your current project at your fingertips.  The ability to share with friends also makes these services a great tool.  Most services offer anywhere between 2-5GB for free and space upgrade plans with a monthly fee.  Dropbox will upgrade your space as you share the service with friends, both giving you more space and  bring them more users.  A few other achievements in the Dropbox list will net you a bit more extra space, the total free space you get get for friend referrals stands at 16GB now I believe, an incredible amount of space for a free service.  I've used Dropbox for a few years now and it has been invaluable for sharing video work between my partner and I.  If you are interested, you can try Dropbox here.

  • Syncing (upload and download of data) is automatic in most cases.
  • Makes work documents easy to transfer between home and office computers.
  • Ease of sharing between friends.
  • More than just storage.
  • Limited space.
  • Speed depends on required internet connection.
  • How safe is 'the cloud'?
Network Storage:
One solution I'll be trying out shortly is a shared storage unit over my router.  Newer routers now sometimes offer the ability to plug a portable hard drive unit into the router to share over the network, making for an easy and cheap method to have full or part time storage available to all the devices on your home network.  Watch for routers that include DLNA service and you can stream movies from the device to your PS3, Google, or Apple TV.  This brings a localized sharing system right to your network, allowing any computer to access storage, and some offer management of the service via iOS or Android app, as well as local computers.  Since most homes have some wireless devices in them and have a router sharing internet access between multiple devices, this option can be attractive when you need to share larger amounts of data, or require streaming for your devices or TV.  I'll be testing out the D-Link DIR-645 soon and hope to be able to report good things in the next month or so.  If you plan on leaving this storage online all the time, you'll want to make sure you get a unit that either has a fan or runs cool.

  • Easy access to storage for wired and wireless devices.
  • Storage can be easily disconnected and stored offline.
  • Storage media can be easily changed.
  • Most useful when constantly connected, leaving prone to power surge.
  • Expect to add $40+ on top of a portable storage unit to upgrade your home network.
  • Faster wireless routers cost more.
If you have a limited library and don't want to make a huge expense to back it up, and don't trust online sources for free backup, you can always burn your photos to disc.  A stack of 100 DVDs is about $30, and that will hold about 470GB of data.  In the end, it's better than nothing, especially if your library is under 20GB in size.  It's definitely not as convenient as a hard drive option, but it will do the trick.

  • Cheap for small libraries.
  • Most computers have a DVD burner.
  • Easy to acquire.
  • Managing your stored library can be a bit painstaking.
  • Slow.
  • Time consuming.
USB Stick Drive
Antoher option for small amounts of data are USB stick drives.  They are getting cheaper with higher capacities each year and they are very easy to plug in, backup, and store in a drawer, cabinet, or safe.  For small backups, documents, and the like, a USB stick can be a great solution.  For best practice, use a second stick to make a duplicate copy in case one stick fails.

  • Extremely portable.
  • Cheap.
  • Reusable.
  • Easy to store.
  • Most sticks are USB 2 drives, which are slower.
  • Smaller capacity than a hard drive based solution.

How much is enough?
So now that we've gone through the options, we have to ask - how much is enough?  How many copies should you keep?  When people talked about external hard drives in the early years, it was often as an option to move data that was taking up space on your main computer drive to the external to make room.  Now hard drives are fairly cheap, much larger, and easy to install.  Space isn't as big an issue, but as devices are more digital, backing up your data is.  Redundant backup means you have a second, or more, copies of what exists on your computer.  Whether that means a second copy on a laptop, or a copy tucked away on an external drive in your desk drawer, that's up to you.  What you have to ask yourself is, how important is it to keep my data safe?  If you don't want to risk losing your digital family photo album, then having a copy on your home computer AND an external is probably a good idea.  Having a third copy somewhere else is up to you.  You can always do it the old fashioned way and print the best photos and put them in an album.  The bottom line is, when it comes to precious memories, it's easier and cheaper than ever to make sure they are safe, two or three times over.  Having a spare copy to keep at a family member's, friend's, or storage box can help in case of house fire.  No one likes to think of situations like that, but planning ahead with an off-site backup can make the best of a worse case scenario.

If you are in the market for backup devices in Canada, you can try Tiger Direct, who often have good prices on computer parts and accessories using this link:

TigerDirect (CA)

If you are in the US, you can use this link:


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