2nd June 2011

Backup TODAY!

Firstly, a little background information…

At the start of January this year I was unfortunate enough to have my hard drive fail on my computer. Usually the panic that comes with this kind of thing is often followed by relief when you restart the machine or swap a faulty power cable and you are back in business! Not this time. Nothing I tried would get my hard drive to boot and a trip to my local friendly computer repair shop confirmed it was well and truly broken. That is when the panic really sets it.

You try and think how long ago you’ve backed up your files to your web hosting or an external hard drive. You realise you’ve got urgent client deadlines to meet. You worry your online backups may not have worked – after all, when was the last time you checked? And to top things of, if you need your computer to earn a living you can expect the inevitable lost couple of days while you reinstall all your software and files on a new operating system. Not a pleasant experience at all!

When this happened earlier this year to me I was quite lucky. Most of my music and photos (with the exception of about a months worth of recent files) were safely backed up to an external hard drive. My client work too was backed up both to a hard drive and via an online backup service. Two in fact! I use Dropbox for the active client work I am working on and also Carbonite for pretty much everything else on my computer.  A bit of a belt and braces setup to cover all bases as much as possible. Now it was time to see how they got on restoring my files…

How did Dropbox do?


Dropbox had everything synced and up to date (about 10 GB of files) and downloaded them to my computer in lightning quick time. That has to be the thing that impressed me most about Dropbox – the speed. It had uploaded all my files before the hard drive failure and downloaded them again in just a couple of hours. Perfect and highly recommended!

I was so impressed I’ve upgraded my Dropbox account to allow me to backup even more files. Having the ability to sync between more than one computer is a wonderful feature too. If I was to mention a slight downside to Dropbox it would be the large amount of system memory it uses to sync (either uploading or downloading) if there is a large queue of files but it does get the job done quickly! Learn more…

How did Carbonite do?


Carbonite had the bigger job of restoring about 150 GB of files. Because my internet connection is quite slow it hadn’t quite backed up everything and was missing around the most recent 10% of files. This isn’t Carbonite’s fault, more the fact that my broadband was a bit too slow to keep up to date with it. Something I should have considered more carefully in retrospect.

The restoration process was not as easy as Dropbox but once I’d worked out how it worked I had my files downloading and it restored most things in around 3 days on my slow connection. The speeds were not as fast as Dropbox but you are given unlimited space which is handy for larger backups. I’d recommend both Dropbox and Carbonite as they work in the background and give valuable peace of mind. Learn more…

How did my manual backups do?

I was lucky to have pretty much my whole hard drive backed up to an external drive too. The trouble is it can take an absolute age to back everything up (often more than a day) so I’d got in to the habit of doing it just once a month. All my files were safely preserved but I was missing a few weeks worth. A better solution would have been a system like Time Machine for the Mac. I do most of my design and development on a PC (don’t hold it against me!) and I’ve yet to find something that works as smoothly as this.

If you’ve got any recommendations for software like this on a PC please leave a comment at the end of this article! I now backup once a week to an external hard drive (usually after finishing work on a Friday afternoon) and leave it running until it has completed. Each week I swap between two different hard drives rather than trusting just a single drive with all the data.

What other things are there to consider?

I think I was quite lucky. Admittedly I didn’t get all my files back but everything important was recovered. It is all well and good having both online and manual backups in place but what happens if they go wrong?

Fire: A fire near your computer could damage the main hard drive and any external hard drives you may have in the vicinity. I’d recommend storing your external hard drives in a safe place whenever possible.

Theft: A horrible thing to consider but if your computer equipment was stolen would you have a way of getting your data back? It may be worth considering storing your external hard drives in a secure safe or even in another location.

Syncing Problems: Once an online backup system is setup the idea is you leave it to run in the background. Consider the possibility that the sync could stop, get corrupt or even reach your storage limit. Keep a close eye on these regularly to check files are backing up properly. Since having my hard drive fail I’m definitely on top of backups more. I got off lightly last time and don’t want to have to go through that again!

Below are some links to useful backup software and resources which I hope you find useful. So don’t delay, backup TODAY!

Backup Software

Backup Links and Resources

What About You?

Have you experience the loss of your data and files? Did you manage to restore everything you needed? Have you had any good or bad experiences with backup software? I’d love you to comment below and share any stories or advice!

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