Why backing up your data is so vital

James O'Malley 30 November 2021

In these days of information overload, it's never been more important to keep track of and back up your data—here's how

Whether it’s doing the washing up or filing a tax return, unfortunately, in life there are a range of dull but important tasks that we just have to get done. And in these modern times making sure that your most important files are backed up can be added to this list. It’s something we should all probably take more care over, before it is too late.

The problem is that digital storage doesn’t last forever. Hard disks fail, phones tumble out of our pockets, and tablets are beaten up by grandchildren. This is why it is important to think carefully about your back-up strategy. You don’t want to lose a lifetime of family photos just because your laptop had an unfortunate encounter with a glass of water.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single gadget or app that can take care of backing up for you. But what I recommend is that you should aim to have two different sorts of back-up: one online, and one offline.
Having both is a good idea because it provides extra redundancy. You don’t want to entirely rely on the Cloud, just in case you lose access to your account, or if the provider closes down.

And you don’t want to rely exclusively on offline storage, say, on a plug-in hard disk stored at the back of a cupboard, because if disaster strikes then your back-up will burn down alongside your computer and the rest of your belongings.

Online back-ups are arguably the easier of the two to sort out. All of the big tech players have online storage you can treat like your own hard disk. Google has Google Drive, Apple has iCloud, and Microsoft has OneDrive. And then there’s Amazon storage, Dropbox, and many others.

All you have to do is download the app for whichever service you want to use to your computer or phone. Then it’s easy to upload and download files to the Cloud for safe keeping. Most Cloud storage apps even have the option to automatically upload your camera roll, so when you take new photos they’ll be sent up to the Cloud as soon as you connect to wifi.

"All of the big tech players have online storage you can treat like your own hard disk"

Offline storage is slightly trickier. Looking after Cloud files is Google’s or Microsoft’s problem. But offline, figuring out what equipment to buy is something you need to figure out for yourself. The most obvious option is to buy a portable USB hard drive. Just plug it into your computer and you can copy important files to it. This is definitely a better approach than doing absolutely nothing, but there’s still a problem: if your back-up drive fails, you still lose everything.

This is why if you’re serious about backing up—and you should be—I recommend the slightly pricier option of getting a device known as a NAS. NAS stands for “Network Attached Storage” and is basically a mini computer that you can plug directly into your wifi router.

There are many different NAS options on the market from companies like Synology, Western Digital, and QNAP. Some companies have devices available that contain only one hard drive, but I recommend buying one with space for at least two. 

This is because on most NAS models, two hard disks can work together to keep your files safe. Instead of appearing as separate hard disks, they can be combined using a feature called “RAID”. RAID stands for “Redundant Array of Independent Disks” and it basically tells your NAS to treat the two hard disks inside it as though they were one drive, with the contents mirrored on both drives automatically. It means that if one of the two drives goes kaput, you still have a perfectly functioning mirror copy with all of your files safely stored on it.

And finally, the bad news. The price. A decent NAS tends to start at around £300, and that excludes the price of the hard disks themselves (the cost will vary depending on how much storage space you need). But before you scream in horror, remember—this is for your most important files, to keep them safe.

So, as annoying as it might sound, this is important. Just as you wouldn’t leave your home with a risky boiler or drive a car with faulty brakes. It’s time to do the boring but important thing and spend the money to get your data backed up—before it is too late. 

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