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)

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 after the first time they have a hard-drive failure on a computer that destroys all their data.

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 usually provide 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. This is what a synchronised copy means.

For many people however, a synchronised copy is adequate as a 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.

Apps are available that can do backups without you having to remember to do it which is generally safer! Most mobile devices using cloud services will synchronise frequently and automatically.

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.

How to choose between Back-up and Synchronisation

Files synchronised to a cloud service is easy and handy 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 summary, the suggestion is to do this:

  • Use cloud synchronisation for everyday activity.
  • Use permanent back-up for long term storage of important files.

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 there could be a failure/malicious damage which could result in data loss.
  • You may find that the expense of a cloud service is excessive if you have a lot of data to store.
  • There is a non-zero risk of data hacking in a cloud service which could impact; private correspondence, legal papers, identity papers, travel documents. That said, cloud storage is probably more secure than on your own device.

…but what alternative to cloud storage is safe and permanent?
None - it is about minimising risk of failure.

For example, you could save to:

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

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.

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 in a NAS system (Network Attached Storage) may provide higher reliability but at higher cost.

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