Loose Wire: Read This, Then Panic
By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 9 May 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Ever fire up your computer, only to hear weird whirring noises from your hard drive — or nothing at all? Only to then hear another sound, as your stomach starts churning with dread — a little bit like food poisoning, or being in love, only worse. Suddenly your life starts flashing past, only this time it’s not when your brother or sister threw a box of Lego bricks at you when you were five, but when you last backed up your data to another device, and the horrible vision of what your future would look like without any data in it. It’s happened to all of us, and it’s not as bad as it sounds. Things could be worse.
Yeah, right, I have to say that for legal reasons. Of course it couldn’t be worse. Nine out of 10 doofuses (read incompetent computer users) never back up their data. At least that’s my experience: in fact the figure is more like half, according to surveys conducted by Iomega, a storage company. (Sure, they would say that, because they want you to buy their stuff, but I figure that’s evened out by the number of folk who lie in these kind of surveys because they don’t want to look like doofuses.) The sad reality is that we don’t really back up often enough and well enough, so that when a computer crash does come it hits us like a locomotive. So how do you avoid this?
Actually, it’s relatively easy. But you have to be disciplined about it. First, separate your data — document files, spreadsheets, pictures of your newborn — from your programs and create a folder on your hard drive called “Documents” or “Data” or whatever, and then subfolders according to what the data is: Letters to Mum; Letters to bank manager; Letters to bank manager’s mum; etc. With me so far?
Now you need somewhere to back this stuff up. Here are the options:
CD-ROMs: Many PCs and laptops come fitted with CD-ROM drives that allow you to create CDs. With blank CD prices so low this is not a bad choice. The only problems are that you’ll end up having a lot of CD-ROMs sitting around, most of which you’ll have been too lazy to label properly; and also that the CD-burning process is pretty unforgiving — if you use your computer while the CD is being created, chances are the resulting CD will be unusable.
On-line drives: If you have a fast Internet connection you can save data at a secure Web site like X Drive (www.xdrive.com) for a reasonable fee. If you are a Mac user, there is free storage with the Apple Web site’s iDisk service (www.apple.com/idisk). This is good if you’re on the move a lot, or are afraid a burglar is going to steal all your back-ups, or you live in an earthquake/forest fire/flooding zone. No point in backing everything up, carefully stashing it in a drawer and then finding your house and drawer have burned down, been horizontally rearranged or moved a few blocks down the canyon.
I’d put my money on an external drive: These are hard drives just like the one inside your computer but, you guessed it, they’re outside. With prices tumbling, you can now pick up a 20 gigabyte drive that runs off the USB slot on your computer for $200 or less. About the size of a TV remote, they’re easy to stash, and they’re fast. Iomega have just launched a very sleek-looking range of drives that use USB version 2.0, which should make them even faster.
Now all you need is to do the actual back-up. For this I would recommend Second Copy from Centered Systems ($30 from www.centered.com), which is extraordinarily easy to use, or the slightly more complicated Network File Monitor from AAR Software (a Lite version is $20 from www.aarsoftware.com). Work out how often you want your data backed up (no harm in doing it every day if you’re the nervous type) and then let the software run — best when you’re asleep or at the gym, since it always hogs resources. If you’re really nervous, try Iomega’s QuikSync (www.iomega.com), which will monitor the files you’re using and back them up every few minutes: This definitely slows things down, so it’s advisable only for the certifiably paranoid. No, of course I don’t use it myself.
Hang on a minute, what was that noise?