Friday, June 19, 2009

Iron-Clad File Safety: Backup Strategies

by Scott Rhoades

One potential drawback of writing on a computer is how easily all your work can disappear. A wrong move or a disk failure can result in a total loss of all your work, often irretrievably. It often takes a hard disk failure to teach us the importance of a good backup strategy, and two failures to make us start actually remembering to do it.

Today, backing up doesn't have to be a chore. In fact, while computers can be a threat to file safety, they also provide better file safety options than have ever been available. Best of all, your own short-term memory can be completely removed from the process.

This post explains one possible backup strategy that includes (at least) double-redundancy and disaster protection. Whether your hard disk crashes or aliens from the planet Xargon flatten your house with a poorly planned spaceship landing, your files will not be lost.

Best of all, you hardly have to do anything, so forgetting or neglecting to make backups will not come back to haunt you.

What Happens In Your Office Doesn't Have To Stay In Your Office

The most commonly used backup methods are easy, safe, and effective, as long as disaster doesn't strike and you don't forget to backup. Most people back up to disk, paper files, flash drives, or second hard drives. These are all effective methods for preventing the loss of your manuscripts if your hard disk fails. Flash drives are especially useful because you can keep your files with you.

But all (except maybe the flash drive) share one problem: if the Wasatch Front slides through your house, or there's a fire, flood, invasion of locusts, or other natural disaster that destroys your computer, your backups that you store near the computer will likely also be destroyed.

You need to store your files in at least two places. In the old days, people used to send copies of disks to a distant family member for safekeeping. This works, but it's one more thing to do, and you can't guarantee that the person on the other end will take good care of the disks.

Now, you can use backup software that can store your data safely and securely in another location. You can easily restore your files whenever you need to. Several backup options maintain multiple backup copies so you can go back a version or two if needed. Best of all, many of these applications are available in free versions (usually with storage space limits).

I recommend two applications to do your backing up for you. I suggest that you use both, because each has its own purpose, and using both together doubles your protection. Both are available in free Windows and Mac versions.

Mozy Home Free Edition (

Mozy Home Free Edition does one thing: it backs up files you specify to a secure location. If you ever need to restore your files, they are available for you. For free, you get 2GB of storage, but you can buy unlimited storage for a low monthly price. 2GB is plenty of space for your manuscripts. Illustrators, of course, have larger space requirements so the 2GB might not be enough.

To start using Mozy, download, register, and install the client application. Then choose the files or folders you want to back up, set a back up time, and let it go. The initial backup can take some time, but after that, only changed files are backed up so it goes much faster. Backups happen automatically, so you don't have to remember to copy your files.

There are other companies that provide similar services, but I've found Mozy works just fine for my needs, and they're located right here in Utah.

Syncplicity (

Where Mozy's goal is fast and secure backup and restore, Syncplicity has a different task: syncronize files between multiple computers. For example, if you write on both a desktop computer and a laptop, you can use Syncplicity to automatically keep current versions of your work files on both computers. Whenever you change a file on one, the changes are almost instantly copied to the other.

In the free version, you can sync 2GB of data between two computers. You can get more space by referring friends. Of course, you can also purchase a plan that lets you sync more data between more computers.

This might seem to create the same problem as backing up to an external hard disk. If Lake Bonneville suddenly returns, chances are that both of your computers will be waterlogged. But, Syncplicity also synchronizes yours files with a secure Web server, where you can access your stuff from any computer. So, for example, I sync between my desktop and laptop, but can also access files from my office computer if an idea strikes.

This has practical uses beyond backup, of course. Your files are available from any computer with an internet connection. You can share a space with your writing group for easy file sharing. Basically, you have a useful, shareable 2GB storage space that is always there, no matter where there is.

And, like Mozy, once you set it up, everything happens automatically so you don't have to remember to do anything.

Putting It All Together

No backup plan is foolproof, but if you combine redundant backup strategies, your manuscript files are as safe as you can possibly make them:

1. Back up to CD and your flash drive at key points, such as when you've completed a major revision. Store CDs in a safe place, away from too much sunlight or other things that will degrade the media.

2. Use a backup service like Mozy Home to copy files to a secure data center away from your home, where you can retrieve the files if disaster strikes at home.

3. Use Syncplicity to copy your files between computers and make them available on a secure Web site.

With this plan, you'll always have at least two safety copies if you need them, even after an alien invasion, or an invasion of children who think your laptop is a mini-trampoline. If only the rest of life could be this safe.


Tess said...

Love, love Mozy's free edition. This is great info -- thanks!

Mozy Promotional Code said...

If you're happy with Mozy's free version, but need more space, you can save 20% with this Mozy Promotional Code. It's only good on one- or two-year subscriptions, but you'll save a bunch.

As for syncing files between systems, I prefer SugarSync, but I'll check out Syncplicity.

Paul West said...

Excellent!!! Thank you. I've been worried about losing all my data for some time now. Great information.