Backups

A boring topic, I know. We just want to be out there taking pictures. 

For most of us, our photos are our memories. For some of us, our photos are our livelihoods. If they’re you’re livelihood, you really need to have a backup strategy. If they’re you’re memories, you really want a backup strategy. Ok, yes, you know you should but you’ll get around to it tomorrow, the latest episode of “The Walking Dead” is on the TV. 

But, what if your hard drive dies tomorrow? Could you cope with the loss of all of the pictures of your kids growing up? Your wedding day? Baby’s first steps? These are moments that you can never get back. In the modern age we don’t tend to print our photos, they languish on our phones or our laptops until we flick back through them one day. As we all know, tech can be unreliable; hard drives die, we spill coffee all over our laptops, phones fall into vats of water. My point is, if you only keep all of your pictures on a single device, at some point the law of averages states that you’re going to lose them all. 

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that you need to back your stuff up now! So how are you going to do it? As with all things, there’s various ways to back up your stuff. 

Copy to an External Hard Drive

So, you can copy all of your files onto an external hard drive manually at a regular interval. This is the traditional way of backing your files up and works well. This is the way your dad does backups; it’s easy to understand and you can see the copy of your files on the drive. But, have you got everything? When was the last time you plugged it in and copied the files over? Which files still need copying? Have you missed any? How are you going to get the pictures off your phone?

The last question really depends on what sort of phone you have. The one way, that is universal, is to plug it into your computer and copy the photos to your hard drive. But, that’s an effort and Game of Thrones is starting now. A better way is to use some form of automatic cloud sync. Apple has iCloud, I’m not sure what Google has, but I’m sure there’s something similar. If you set this up you can get it to automatically copy all of your pictures onto your PC or Mac. That way it’s foolproof, you’ll never forget to do it. Instantly, your pictures are in at least two places. Feels good, doesn’t it?

The earlier questions are really down to you and how diligent you are. I’d argue that there’s very few people that can really pull this method off and have confidence that they’ve got everything. Another problem is that your external hard drive is right next to your computer. Not much use in a fire, flood or house burglary! 

Use an Automatic Backup Program to an External Drive

Better, this sort of backup is fit and forget. The program will monitor your computer and back up any new files automatically. You probably won’t even know that it’s happening. Apple has this built into the MacOS operating system as “Time Machine”. Windows has the catchily named “File History”. Both of these options are easy to set up and don’t rely on you remembering to do anything. 

This option is still susceptible to the same risks as the above option though, in that you still have all your stuff in one place, physically. All this does is remove the danger that a hard drive failure will destroy all your files. You’re still vulnerable to fire, flood, theft and coffee. 

Even with the above in mind, I’d strongly recommend using one of these programs in conjunction with the following…

Cloud Backup

Cloud backup is a great way to get a backup off site. It works by installing a program on your PC and then copying your files onto a server somewhere in a server farm. The key here is that it’s not in the same place as your computer, which is a good thing! Now, when there’s a fire in your house (hopefully this will never happen, but it might) you can concentrate on getting your family to safety, not rescuing your treasured memories. 

These systems work best when combined with local backups, although you can use them on their own. There are several different systems, with varying facilities and price points, depending on what you need. These vary from free to a few pounds per month to tens of pounds per month, depending on your needs. 

Some people swear by Dropbox. The service is excellent and much more than a simple backup solution. I’d certainly recommend looking at what this can do for you generally. I use the free version to let me access files when I’m out and about. Essentially it’s a folder on the hard drive of your computer that you can put any file into. That folder synchronises with a service on the internet that lets you access those files remotely from anywhere, as long as you know your username and password. As with all internet accounts, you should have a strong password that’s not shared with other services. The service is very secure but, as with all of these things, the weak point will be your password. No, the name of your cat is not a secure password. 

Dropbox currently has a free tier that offers 2.5GB of space or Dropbox plus for £7.99 per month for 1TB of storage. 

A free choice, but only for photos, is Flickr. By signing up to a Flickr account you get 1TB of space for all of your photos, but nothing else. The uploading process is pretty tedious from a computer, but there are apps available for iOS and Android, which make it much easier. I’d be wary of this at the moment though, as your only backup solution at least. Flickr is owned by Yahoo, which has just been bought by Verizon, an American telecoms company that’s not well known for its generosity. As with all things free, it could disappear completely or become a chargeable service at any time. 

My personal favourite option is backblaze. It sits in the background and backs up all of your files without any intervention on your part. Its totally unobtrusive. It’s also fairly cheap, at $5 (US) per month and your files are military grade encrypted on your computer before they are sent over the internet to the remote servers. You can set your own encryption key, if you’re totally paranoid, and then even backblaze can’t see your files. You can try it free for a month here. By clicking on the link, I get a free month as well when you sign up, so thanks for that. 

So, hopefully I’ve convinced you to start backing stuff up now, however you plan to do it.