Keeping Your Data Safe

Collision Course now stands at 55,740 words. I have a good ending in my head and the path to get there is relatively clear. If all goes well, the first draft of this new novel will be done by the end of the year (I hope).

Keeping Your Data Safe
You just finished typing "The End" on your latest 121,000 word novel you've been working on for the past five years. This major accomplishment calls for a celebration. Closing the lid on your laptop, you set it aside and head for the kitchen to open that bottle of bubbly you've been saving. After a steak dinner and a few glasses of celebratory drink, you head back to the laptop to share the news with your friends.

When you open the screen, you are greeted with a blue screen with white letters saying the computer has encountered an unrecoverable error. When you reboot, the system calmly explains that it cannot find the boot disk. After a sleepless night, you drive 30 miles to the nearest computer shop and hand your machine to the kind young adult behind the counter. She disappears into the back and a few minutes later tells you that your hard drive has crashed and all of the data it once held is now lost forever.

The above is a very possible reality--but it can be prevented. "Well, I use a memory stick," you say. Although that's a better solution, you're still not protected against the stick failing. Using a solid state drive? Same issue. Even though these devices are far more reliable than mechanical hard drives, they can still fail and when they do everything on them is forever lost. So how can you protect yourself?

My preferred method is to use a cloud-based storage solution. I'm a fan of DropBox. For the fair price of absolutely nothing (i.e. FREE) you can store up to 1 gigabyte of data. DropBox (and other similar cloud-based storage solutions) synchronize with a local copy of the data. This means that when Microsoft Word or Scrivener saves a file to your hard drive, DropBox quickly sends that same change to the cloud. If you are working offline, the program syncs as soon as the computer reconnects to the internet.

One popular non-cloud-based solution is to make a daily copy of important files to a second hard drive or a memory stick. This is good, but what happens if disaster strikes and your house burns to the ground? The fire will destroy your master copy as well as all backup copies you have in the house. The only sure-fire way to protect your work is to keep an up-to-date copy in the cloud.

Do you pay for the right to use Microsoft Word? As part of your annual subscription, you get access to a really good cloud-based storage solution called OneDrive. If you set this up right, all of your important data (pictures, videos, financial records, novels, etc.) will be securely stored in the cloud. The initial upload will take a long time but eventually, you will be protected against even the worst possible disaster. If you have more than one computer, you can create multiple accounts to back them up in the same way or you can just combine them all in the same account and they will automatically synchronize themselves with the same information.

The OneDrive solution works very well if you have a Microsoft subscription. But what if you don't and you have a lot of information to store? There are other services out there such. Carbonite and Crashplan are two of the largest. These cloud-based storage solutions are designed specifically for backing up your data and they cost about as much as a subscription to Microsoft. The cost, however, is well worth it.

One word of caution though. Never rely on the cloud-based service as the sole storage of any important documents. Why? What happens if the company goes bankrupt? This has happened and people using their servers were out of luck. You should always have a copy on your local system. If your cloud-based storage company closes its doors, find another one and upload again.

If you have extremely important data to store, make a couple of copies on memory sticks and get them out of your house. Take one to work, put one in your safe deposit box, put it in your car, give it to a trusted friend (you might want to encrypt it), or store it in a fireproof lockbox. The cloud is a great place to store your data, but sometimes you want to be extra paranoid.

Finally, it's always a good idea to make a system backup of each of your computers. This is different than just backing up your data. This process makes a copy of your operating system so it can be restored if your hard drive crashes. Hard drives are inexpensive these days--far cheaper than replacing the entire computer. If your hard drive crashes, you buy another drive, restore your operating system, and then wait while your data is recovered from the cloud. If you don't have a system backup, you have to go out and buy a copy of the operating system--might as well just buy another computer at that point.

System backups are relatively easy to do and I don't have the space here to explain how. You can store the backup in the cloud (if you have the room) or offsite as suggested above. Onsite storage is okay as well since if your computer is lost in a fire the system backup won't do you any good anyway.

Key points: Computers can and do fail. Memory sticks go bad. Your data is often irreplaceable. Treat it like a precious commodity. Back it up. Put the backup where a disaster can't touch it. If you don't, one of these days you're going to regret it.