Back Up

What is a back-up copy?

A back-up is a copy of your files, photos, videos or other information that is stored somewhere other than the device where it was created.
Back ups are made to ensure that you do not lose vital information due to loss, theft, device failure or natural disaster.

Back up best practice

To have safe back up requires a continuing practice of keeping the back-up copies up to date.
A back-up is of little use if it does not have all your critical data covered.

Best practice is for you to have three copies;

  • the original file, photo or video
  • an 'on-site' copy; on a separate device
  • an 'off-site' copy; on a separate device, located geographically away from the original device (eg another office, friend's house, cloud service)
  • the 'on-site' and 'off-site' copies are rotated at regular intervals depending how often new files are created.

For most people this is asking too much so having at least one safe back up somewhere is about as good as it might be.

Sadly, many people learn to have a back-up only after the first time they have a hard-drive failure on a computer that destroys all their data.
Importantly there may be little warning of impending hard drive failure. Unless regular software checks are made of drive condition, a hard drive can go from reliable to failed in 24 hours. Do NOT expect a hard drive to last indefinitely. (estimated lives are given at the bottom of this page)

Back up in the cloud

It is important to understand that a back-up is not the same as a 'synchronised cloud copy' even though these terms are often used interchangeably.

Cloud services provided with your device usually are set for a synchronised copy of your data so that you can access it from different devices in different locations. If you delete a file on one device it will disappear from all storage and devices. This is what a synchronised copy means. Most mobile devices using cloud services will synchronise frequently and automatically.

For many people however, a synchronised copy is adequate as a general back-up but it does not prevent loss if a useful file is deleted accidentally.

A backup can be done with a cloud service but it must be set up to do exactly that. Because it is a copy that keeps copies of files even if the original is lost, it provides safety against accidental deletion. A cloud service uses multiple copies of your data so has a level of safety beyond what you may achieve with home set ups.

How to choose between Back-up and Synchronisation

Files synchronised to a cloud service is an easy and handy choice for everyday activity.

The problem often comes with photos and videos where a mobile device gets nearly full and prevents updates or other information being stored.
Deleting some photos will delete them from the synchronised cloud service permanently.

So, periodically the mobile device must have copies made of the photos and video which are transferred to other permanent storage.
Once the transfer is made and confirmed, the mobile device can have all the photos and videos deleted. In this way the inconvenience in using a device with full memory prompts the user to make a back-up.

In summary, the suggestion is to do this:

  • Use cloud synchronisation for everyday activity.
  • Use permanent back-up for long term storage of important files in the cloud or on other secure storage.

What could go wrong?

  • All cloud services are on someone else's computer which might be anywhere in the world and subject to actions in another country
  • These services are backed-up but data loss is not impossible.
  • You may find that the expense of a cloud service is excessive if you have a lot of data to store.
  • Cloud storage is probably substantially more secure than your own device.
  • Cloud storage is not immune to Ransomware because your 'locked' copy on your computer will be synchronised to the cloud.

…but is there some storage method that is safe and permanent?

NO - all this is about minimising risk of failure.

For example, you could alternatively save to:

  • a portable hard drive which may have a life of perhaps 3-6 years with average use.
  • a fixed hard drive designed for longer storage++ which may last 5-10 years with average use.
  • a USB stick or other solid state memory which may last 5-10 years with average use
  • an optical disc, CD or DVD which with good care could make 5-10 years with average care

These life estimates suggest that it is necessary to copy your critical data to new storage every 5 - 10 years to be assured of reliable back up OR use cloud storage services, perhaps paying for the safety.

To avoid Ransomware, it is back to the start of this page where an off site copy is held that is completely disconnected from your computer.

Each of us must make a decision about the risks that we are prepared to run against the cost and complexity of reliable back-ups.

++Note: Specialist hard drives designed for a home "NAS system" (Network Attached Storage) may provide higher reliability but at higher cost.

What is even safer though is to back up to a storage location that is not always connected to your device. This could be a USB stick, portable hard drive or other device. You have to be deliberate in making back ups to take this route but it makes sure you avoid accidental deletions and you have a safe back up in case your device fails.

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