If you aren’t wired1 into technews, you may not be aware that the Wired writer Mat Honan has had his online digital life mangled and wrecked, which included a great deal of personal data on his laptop. The article is enlightening, but the bit I took out of it as most important is this:
Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn’t have had to worry about losing more than a year’s worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter, or documents and e-mails that I had stored in no other location.
If you read farther in, you’ll realize that in all probability, if Mr. Honan had been using a cloud service to do his automatic backups, those would have been wiped as well.
This is a horrendous cautionary tale, but the primary lesson I take from this, which just reinforces an opinion I’ve held for a long time, is always have your own data in your own hands where only you have control over it.
I’ve had various schemes set up for backing up data and I do this religiously.2 I do a tiny bit of cloud-based backing up, mostly for music, but the core of my backup protocols are two 2 TB hard drives which are regularly swapped out, and one of which is located off site. If my computer goes belly up, I’ve got a backup that’s about a week old. If my house burns down, I’ve got a backup that’s less than a month old. This gives me piece of mind given the 70 GB worth of images, 64 GB worth of music, 20 GB worth of podcasting files, and literally dozens of years worth of documents, letters, emails, and other bits that are on my hard drive.3
Here’s a good backup routine, and general discussion, focused on photography. Here’s the same guy talking about how to do it while travelling. I think cloud-based automatic backups are excellent tools, but make them secondary, rather than primary. One of my old sigfiles said, “You only own those things you can carry on your back at a dead run.” That has some applicability to data backups: “You only own data backups that you can carry with you out of the house during the zombie apocalypse.”
As a producer of a lot of digital content, I’m extremely sensitive to the possibility of losing my data. How sensitive are you? How valuable are those emails, those pictures, those music files. If nothing else, how willing are you to spend the time reassembling things you might have around your house, or from other people?