I don’t know about you, but I have had hard drives crash a number of times.  If you haven’t had it happen yet, it will sooner or later.  No matter what kind of backups you have in place, it’s going to be a frustrating experience and a big pain.  But you can take steps to keep it from being worse than it has to be.

Whether you have irreplaceable photos and documents or important work files that spent hours to create or can’t be re-created, you can’t afford to lose your files.

Maybe you’re weighing the pros and cons of an external hard drive versus an online backup service.  If so, I would strongly suggest using both.

An external hard drive is nice because you can set it up to happen automatically as long as the hard drive is connected to your computer.  If your computer’s hard drive crashes, an external hard drive is the quickest way to get your data back.  Let’s say you get the hard drive in your computer replaced and you’re starting from a blank slate.  You can plug in your external hard drive and start copying the files and they’ll be back there within minutes or hours, depending on how many files you have.

An online backup service is going to take longer to transfer your files because you have to download them all from the service.  Depending on your internet speed, it could take anywhere from hours to days.

So maybe you’re thinking, “OK, so an external hard drive is the way to go.”  Before making that decision, you need to consider some serious limitations of an external hard drive.

Reasons an external hard drive is not enough:

  • External hard drives crash too, and pretty often.  I don’t know if it’s because they get moved around or what, but I’ve had about 5 or so external hard drives stop working.  I wouldn’t say they all crashed, but several just stopped powering on when connecting them to my computer.  You just never know when they’ll stop working.  It could be at the worst possible moment, such as when you’re computer’s hard drive crashes.
  • What if your house gets struck by lightning or there is a power surge?  I know, you may be thinking, “I use a surge protector so I’m OK.”  That would be nice, but surge protectors do fail sometimes, and especially against lightning.  I talked to a guy who had his computer and other electronics connected to a surge protector and his house was struck by lighting and it blew the whole outlet out of the wall that everything was plugged into and everything was fried.  It can happen.  If your hard drive is connected to your computer or plugged into electricity, you could lose both your computer and your backup at the same time.
  • What if someone breaks in and steals your computer and external hard drive?  Regardless of how much crime there is in your area, you just never know when someone could break in.  If the thief is smart, they’ll focus on electronics and other valuables.  So your computer and hard drive could both be stolen at the same time.
  • What if your house is hit by a natural disaster?  Whether it be a flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc., no area is immune to natural disasters.  Of course you hope you’re not hit, but what if you are?  What if you lose all your possessions?  Your irreplaceable photos and files could all be wiped out.
  • What if your computer gets infected by a virus and it gets onto your external hard drive too?  If you get a nasty virus on your computer and your external hard drive is connected, your files there could be infected as well.  Of course, if you don’t catch it fast enough it’s possible infected files could be backed up on an online file backup service, but many of these services keep previous versions of your files too.  So even if infected versions of your files get backed up online, you could potentially find the older versions of your files and get everything back to the way it was.

There are probably other reasons too, but I think you can see that an external hard drive is not enough if you want to really protect your files.

This is where online file backup services come in handy.  No matter what it is that happens to your computer and/or external hard drive, your files will still be safe and secure online.  When you get your computer back up and running or get a new one or whatever, you can download your important files and have everything back.

Many online backup services let you also access your files from multiple locations such as from your mobile device like an iPhone/iPad, etc.

I’ve tried a few different methods of doing online backups, such as Google Drive, GoodSync, Mozy, etc.  I had high hopes about Google Drive, but it flat out failed.  Maybe they’ll eventually get the issues resolved, but I fought with it for weeks and ended up with a big mess that took me a while to straighten out.  I was using GoodSync to sync files with my Amazon S3 account.  In my experience, often the backups just didn’t take place.  Again, maybe they’ve resolved their issues by now but when I tried it, I had problems and my files weren’t backed up.

I’m currently using Mozy, but I’m honestly not a big fan.  I’ll tell you about a new service I’m going to try in just a moment.  For me, Mozy runs really slowly.  Any time I try opening the software to change settings or anything I have to wait what feels like forever for anything to open.  My computer is not that slow.  I use it a lot for web development, graphic design, audio editing, etc. and all the other software works quickly.  Mozy, on the other hand, is very, very slow.

I also had a bad experience the one time I needed to restore a file from Mozy.  To make a long story short, I needed an older version of a file than the most recent backup.  I didn’t see a way to get it through Mozy.  It’s possible they didn’t have that feature at the time, but I see on their website that they do say they keep older versions for 30 days.  Whatever the case, I didn’t find a way to get the older file.  I really don’t like their software interface.  I find it awkward and very slow.

Another limitation with Mozy is the amount of space they give you.  I keep upgrading to buy more space but it’s not enough.  I have a lot of large files because I do some video and audio editing, as well as Photoshop files and others that take up a lot of space.  Not to mention my personal photos and music.

I recently came across a service that I’m going to try out called LiveDrive.  For one thing, their basic plan gives you unlimited space, which is really nice.  It can also work out to be a lot more affordable than other services I’ve tried, especially if you pay for a year or two in advance.  As of right now, it can be as low as $3/month if you pay for two years at once.

They also have other packages where you can keep files in sync between multiple computers/devices.  They keep 30 versions of uploaded files, so if something happens to the most recent version, such as if you accidentally messed up the file or if it gets infected with a virus, you can go back to an earlier version.

You can even stream your movies and music.  That’s pretty cool.  Movies and music take up a lot of space.  If you can put them online and stream them, you can get them off your hard drive.

So I’m going to give LiveDrive a try.  It looks pretty nice.  I’ll try to update this post later to let you know how it goes.  But I’d recommend giving it a try.  They have a 14-day free trial, so there’s nothing to lose for testing it.

As I mentioned, the best thing is to have a combination of backups – an external hard drive, which is quick and convenient to restore from, along with an online backup service which gives you off-site protection in case something were to happen to not only your computer but your backup hard drive as well.

Hopefully you never have to use your backups, but chances are you will sooner or later.  Be sure your backups are there when you need them.