And more importantly, why is it so important to you?
Read any article about computers, or have any discussion with anyone involved with computers and you will come across a variety of terms relating to storage & backup. These will include, backup, storage, data synchronisation, NAS (or Network Attached Storage), USB/Firewire Storage and cloud storage.
All of these relate to where you keep copies of your data, or more simply your files such as text documents and spreadsheets, databases, email, contacts, pictures, music, etc. Basically, anything that is on your computer that is important to you.
For now, don’t get tied up in what constitutes your data, in this article we are going to concentrate on what you do with it.
First some definitions (according to Keith):
Data – all of the files, databases, email, photos, music etc that are stored on your computer and are important to you for any number of reasons.
Data Storage – hard disks, CDs/DVDs, thumb drives, NAS, etc that contain your data. These can be in your computer, attached to your computer or on your network (e.g. Network Attached Storage or NAS for short).
Data Sychronisation – the process of ensuring that ‘live’ copies of data stored on various PCs, on external devices or in the cloud are identical. Often used when you have a desktop & a laptop. (Note ‘live’ = data you are currently working on, today, tomorrow or whatever).
Data Backups – secure & safe snapshots of your data stored in a safe place, preferably off-site. These are used to recover your data in case of emergencies
The Cloud – for all intense and purposes, the Internet.
Cloud Storage – storage for your data in “the cloud”.
Cloud Backup – a backup system for your data in “the cloud”.
Archiving – The removal of “old” (i.e. not ‘live’) data from storage (see above) to a safe place such as a fire proof safe. Examples of this may be data related to a completed project. You may require access to the data at a later date for various reasons such as compliance regulations. Archiving can be used to recover storage space or just to tidy up your storage (it can be tricky sorting through a thousand projects looking for a specific one).
OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, lets get started.
Data – you must identify all of your data and know where it is stored. As stated above this includes documents, spreadsheets, databases, photos, files, music and don’t forget email and contacts. Email & contacts are often tricky as they can be stored in the most obscure places. If you are a business, I also recommend that you also identify your “critical” data. That is, the data that your business could not run without. You may need to recover all of this data at some time. If you don’t know what your data is and where it is stored you are in trouble!
Data Storage – this is the thing we never seem to have enough of (like money), although with most desktop PCs these days coming with at least one 1TB hard disk it is not such a problem although there is a theory that our data storage requirements grow in proportion to the amount of storage space we have! Complications also arise nowadays due to the need to access our data from a variety of sources and places. It is not uncommon to own/use a desktop PC, a laptop, a smartphone and a tablet (e.g. iPad). How we access and manage data across these devices is another tricky area and usually involves some form of synchronisation (see below). On your network at home this can be easily resolved by using a NAS device on your network which is accessible to all devices attached to your network and does not require a computer to be on all of the time. These devices can often be accessed across the Internet as well so when you find your self at a clients without that important document you require you can login and get it from the office! NAS is a subject that can and probably will be covered all by itself at a later date.
Data Synchronisation (yes, with an ‘s’ not a ‘z’ as the spell checker keeps trying to tell me) – there are a variety of programs/applications that allow synchronisation (I will use ‘sync’ from now on) of your data across devices.
I use Dropbox (which is technically a storage and a sync solution) which utilises the cloud. I have a folder on my desktop PC called Dropbox. I place folders in this that I want to access from other devices such as my laptop. The entire Dropbox folder is then duplicated on other machines I specify. For instance, I have a folder containing all of the HighComm business data in here so that I can access it from my laptop as well (or my phone). Any changes I make on the laptop are immediately reflected in the copy in Dropbox in the cloud and then immediately sync’d to my desktop PC and phone and vice versa.
Data Backups – I am not going to spend much time on this subject here as it will have it’s own article at some stage, and I have covered it ad nauseum in past newsletters. Put simply, if you do not have a backup of your critical business data or of those baby photos, one day you will lose some of this data or some of those photos. I could quote statistics but just go and talk to people you know, I guarantee you will find someone who will admit to having lost data and not had a backup to recover from. Apart from being annoying and frustrating it can cost you a lot of money in your business.
Remember, it is NOT a backup if you do not store it securely offsite, it is just another copy of your data!
The Cloud – as I said earlier, put simply this is the Internet, and yes it is accessible on sunny days! When referring to the cloud in this article I will be referring to it from the angle of data storage, backup, etc., I will not be covering cloud applications such as Office360.
There are many ways to use the cloud from web based email solutions such as Gmail (free), or MS Exchange, to backup solutions such as Carbonite and sync solutions such as Dropbox (free for 2GB). I like to use examples so here goes. I use Gmail (as well as my Outlook based HighComm email account). All of my Gmail data, messages, contacts, calendars, etc is stored in the cloud. With one username and password I can access this from anywhere on any Internet enabled device and it is automatically synced to this device. Simple and free! I also, as mentioned above use Dropbox for synchronising other data between machines. And I also use Carbonite to backup, offsite to a secure location all of my critical data (including that in the Dropbox folders). Once set up this is all automatic!
Dropbox currently costs $9.99pm for 50GB of data sync (unlimited machines) and Carbonite something like $79pa for unlimited backup space (one computer only). So why aren’t you using the cloud?
PS Don’t forget to backup things such as Gmail as well. There are good, free applications to do this.
Cloud Storage/Cloud Backup – I think I covered this in the above paragraph. But again, put simply this is just storage or backup in the cloud.
One question I get asked a lot is how secure is your data in the cloud. Well, putting aside that it is stored in backup server farms with power and data redundancy, air con, fire control, security and backup systems, all data is encrypted before it is sent across the wires to the cloud. Oh, and it can be completely automated. Can your current backup system make these claims?
Another question is, what if the company hosting the service goes bust? Well you will just have to bite the bullet and sign up with another company and hope nothing goes wrong in the interim! Just joking, you should also have a local backup of at least of your critical data for situations such as this (I do).
Archiving – with the growth of storage space and the drop in price archiving is not such an issue these days. With 3TB disks available for less than $250 it is unlikely you will be running out of data storage space in a hurry so you may not bother with archiving. However, for the sake of simplicity and efficiency it can often be worthwhile archiving at least some of your old data. If you work on a lot of projects and “close” these off regularly it may be worth archiving them. Just be careful of the media you use for archive and the storage conditions. Even DVDs do not have infinite life expectancy. Depending on legal and compliance requirements for this data you may want to look at secure offsite storage offered by local self-storage centres.
OK, now I’ve given you a headache, sit down with a cup of tea, relax and start thinking about what is your data and where it is stored. Work out what is critical and what is less so. Figure out if you need to sync any data across machines, what needs to be backed up, etc. Then you will be in a position to decide what to do with it.
Oh yes, one thing I forgot, how much data do you have? A few hundred MBs, a few GBs or hundreds of GBs (maybe even TBs). It doesn’t really matter, all of the above solutions are available to you. Obviously if you have lots of data initial backups or sycnhronisation can take days, but from then on it won’t take very long.
And lastly, if you want to use the cloud make sure you have a fast, reliable internet connection with plenty of data allowance!