One of the side-effects of working with computers is data loss. This is why you should be backing up. We’ve probably all lost something important; photos, tax info, a recipe, etc. Some data is reproducible; most isn’t, and it is never cost effective. There are data recovery centers that specialize in retrieving data from a bad hard drive, but they are very expensive, usually $1000-$2500. The shame is, most data loss is preventable.
There are two ways to lose data. The first is a physical drive failure. Which can be caused by mishandling the drive, or if the drive dies prematurely. Solid State hard drives are not as susceptible to physical damage as are the mechanical drives. Mechanical hard drives can be damaged by being dropped or knocked. They are far more easily damaged when they are running. Keep this in mind when you are handling external hard drives. One thing you need to understand is, all hard drives die; both mechanical and solid state. It’s not a question of if, rather it is a question of when. All drives have a MTBF (mean time between failure) that is a calculated guess on how long a drive will last, but these are averages.
We’ve seen a 20-year-old hard drive still running, but that is by far not the norm. Mechanical hard drives fail the most in infancy’ (brand new) and then beginning at the 3-year mark the failure rate begins to increase steadily. Particularly with drives with regular use, like in an office environment. If you turn your computer on once a week, your drive will probably last a long time. The important fact is as a hard drive gets older, the odds of it failing keeps increasing. Over time, mechanical hard drives can develop many types of errors; cabling, ECC and seek, to name a few.
Unless you are using a utility that monitors a hard drive’s S.M.A.R.T. data, you won’t know the drive is having problems. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology. Even if you have a utility that measures this data, it is often hard to decipher. If you think a solid state hard drive is the way to go, their failure rates are very close to the mechanical drives. Please keep in mind that either mechanical or SSD drives can and do fail without any warning.
The second way to lose data is logical (software). There is a variety of ways this can happen, including accidental deletion, viruses and corruption. Most of these are easily understood but ‘data corruption’ needs some explaining. Data corruption is when an error occurs to the data during reading, writing, storing or transferring. In the early days of Windows, you could lose data simply by turning the computer off either during the boot-up or shut-down process.
We mentioned viruses as one form of data loss. While many viruses do not delete data, there is one very nasty virus, Crypto Locker, which encrypts your data and charges you to get your data back. While the virus is easy to remove, the encryption isn’t. Currently, the only fixes for this are to pay the ransom fees, or restore completely from a backup. What complicates matters is if you overwrite your good data with the encrypted files.
The best backup plan involves three key parts. The first is regularly backing up your data. You’re the only one who can determine how often you backup. A business is best backing up daily to avoid lengthy time re-entering data. A home user may be sufficient backing up once a week or once a month. We recommend making a list of what you want to backup. This will jog your memory and make sure you don’t miss anything important.
Here are some different formats used to backup; flash drive, media (CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays), tape drives, external hard drives and the Cloud. All of these forms of backups have their pluses and minuses. The bad news is we’ve seen bad flash drives, media, tape drives and hard drives….they can all fail.
This leads to the second key; periodically check your backups. Being in the computer industry for over 25 years you see a lot of things. One of them is people who think they are backing up their data, only to find out they are not. You need to check and make sure your backup software is doing what it is supposed to. Cloud backup utilizes software that usually runs in the background. Sometimes that software will stop running due to a conflict with another problem. People also accidentally overwrite data, not realizing it until it is too late.
The last key is redundancy. We mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating; we’ve seen every form of backup fail. This includes flash drives, hard drives, cloud backup, tapes and cartridges. We often see people backing up their data to the same drive the data is on, just in a different spot. With the price of hard drives, flash drives and media so cheap, there is no reason to not have more than one backup. Not only is it a good idea to have more than one backup, but have one offsite. In other words, have a backup away from your home or business. While it doesn’t happen often, we see people lose data due to fires, theft, flooding, and even tornadoes. Nobody expects lose their data. Backing up to the Cloud does cover this issue.
We want to take a minute to cover backing up to the Cloud since it is new, relative to all the other backup types. The pluses to the cloud are;
- You can set it up to automatically backup what you want, usually when you want to.
- It is offsite and usually redundant.
- You can access your data from other computers via the Internet.
Like every other form of backup, there are some negatives to backing up to the Cloud. Here are the negatives;
- Backing up to the Cloud can be slow. When you backup to the Cloud you are using ‘upload’ from your Internet Service Provider. Your upload speed is always much slower than your download speed. As an example, Charter is offering 200MB down and 10MB up. If you have a lot of data, your first initial backup could take a long time.
- Restoring relative to other media is also slow. A business who needs to do payroll may not want to wait the required time for all their data to download.
- Cloud backup utilizes software to do its job. If this software stops running then you are not backing up. You need to check periodically to make sure data files are being backed up.
At Computer Pro Unltd., we sell and use Cloudberry and Computer PRO backup. They are an offsite Cloud backup solution that starts at $59 per year with no size limit. They let you access your data from any computer that has Internet access.