Dropbox and Backups, Oh My

A week ago, I was sitting in class, and encountered the all too common story of a classmate who had lost a USB stick, containing the last five years worth of schoolwork and articles. On its own, the situation is pretty common and a minor nuisance, but combined with the fact that none of these files were ever backed up, led to an irreplaceable loss of information. A cautionary tale in the art of Murphy’s law, where what can will go wrong. I very well understand that backups are something people would rather ignore (myself included). It’s a pain, generally taking time and effort you might better enjoy spending elsewhere. However, given the high cost of data loss, the benefit of maintaining copies of your important files cannot be overstated. I don’t know about you, but having to recreate my resume from scratch is not on my list of things to do.

In order to preemptively avoid situations such as this, I use a combination of “cloud” data storage provided through dropbox for my important files as well as an incremental backup solution provided by paragon through the free edition of their backup and recovery software.

I won’t bore you with the details of disk imaging, but basically, it creates a file on your computer, that you can restore your hard drive from should you encounter disaster:

  • Windows won’t boot
  • Virus infected computer that refuses to be cleansed
  • You like that responsive feeling of having a computer that isn’t bogged down by accumulated muck in the windows registry

  • The benefits of having a disk image are many, but basically, should something go wrong, you avoid having to sit there and manually reinstall windows (and your key applications, for that matter). This can be a great boon to people who have reinstalled windows more times than they would care to admit.

    As to Dropbox, this is a free product (unless you decide to go professional and pay a monthly fee) that I can’t say enough good things about. How it works at a high level is pretty simple:

  • You sign-up for a Dropbox account at getdropbox.com, giving you access to 2 gigabytes of free online storage
  • You install Dropbox on your machine (or machines), allowing them to sync a specified folder on your computer (computers) to the cloud
  • Any files you save in the designated Dropbox directory (sub-directory or sub-folders even) are automatically synced to Dropbox’ servers, and ultimately to other machines that you’ve installed it on, the next time you connect them to the internet
  •  
    The benefits of this solution are as follows:

  • Regardless of which computer you are working on, your Dropbox stored files are accessible (either through the Dropbox application, or through the getdropbox website, which you can login to, ala Gmail)
  • If you accidentally delete or modify one of your files, you can recover previous versions
  • If your computer dies, anything stored by Dropbox is pretty much safe – the next time you sync the machine, your files will be synced from the cloud to your personal computer
  •  
    Now it isn’t all roses and sunshine:

  • You *are* sending your files across the internet to a third-party – though they use SSL to secure transmissions across the web (the same technology used by banks and web-based shopping carts) – you may be leery of transmitting files. Moreover, though Dropbox has a comprehensive privacy policy, you may still be concerned. One means of mitigating risk is to sync only files you feel confident sending over the web. Another possible solution is to use the open-source AxCrypt to encode your files, prior to transmission over the internet. This adds another level of security, which is definitely not a bad thing.
  • The basic (read: free) account offers 2 gigabytes of storage from the get go. If you want more storage you have two options:
  •  
    a) Sign-up for a premium account at a monthly cost (may be nominal, depending on your situation)

    b) Refer friends to the service, to upgrade your storage space to a 10 gigabyte maximum (presently).

    Should you feel charitable towards this humble blogger, you can both sign-up and get me more space here :-).

    I’ve been using this service for a little under a year and have nothing but good things to say about it. Data loss isn’t exactly a thing of the past (given I still save local files), however, Dropbox provides a means of adding redundancy to files you would prefer to never lose. Dropbox also provides another useful feature, which is creating a shared folder, should you wish to share files with friends or colleagues, via an accessible web link. I’ve probably only scratched the surface of what Dropbox can do for you, but hopefully I’ve made you aware of an immensely useful service.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this first content-filled post! Avoid a bit of heartache, and seriously consider some form of backup, be it cloud storage, an external drive, or disk imaging.

    Syd

    Opening image courtesy of:

  • Brittney Bush – Stressed Out Bride to Be: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tzofia/
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    Author: sylint

    I'm a business analyst, working in Information Management and Information Technology. Technically, I'm a librarian, though I prefer to think of myself as professionally varied.

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