Back it up

One of the boring things you are always told is to make a backup of your work. You read it in computer magazines, you hear techies tell you about the horror stories of people who asked for their help in recovering lost data, and yet you never do anything about it!

I learnt to usecomputers and was immediately told about the need to back up, and not just once. It is probably because of this training in the past that even before I start a document, I give it a file name and save it. Now, I know that Word, that magnificent word processing programme, automatically saves your documents in case your computer shuts down suddenly, but believe me, I am not going to trust myself to the mercy of a software safeguard, when a small task will allow me greater peace of mind.

Recently, I had reason to bless this habit. I changed my computer, and as a result, I found that somehow while transferring data, a manuscript I had been working on, off and on for four years, could not be located. I had used standard software that came packaged with the portable hard disk drive (HDD) that I recently bought to back up the programme, but it was not in the drive.

I would not say that I panicked, because I did not, but I was tense-this was a lot of work that had almost disappeared. In a moment of epiphany, I understood why my father always said that he wanted to see his documents in his hands, “not inside the computer”.

With a bit of effort, I remembered that I had “cut” the file and transferred it to a pen drive I was using, instead of merely copying it. I inserted the drive and found that the computer refused to “recognise” it. I plugged it in and unplugged it, but it did not register in the computer.

A quick search on the Internet followed. I wanted to find some software that would help in recovering data. I downloaded the “trial” versions of a few of these software programmes but nothing worked. Eventually, in desperation, I called for technical help and the person who came told me that my pen drive had been damaged. As a result, there was nothing that I could do to recover my data.

If ever there was a time to panic, it was now. When I started learning how to use the computer, the commandment was not only “Thou shalt back up your data”, you were also made to back up your data at more than one location, “in case of fire or some other disaster”.

Commandments are hard to follow, but those who do so often realise their wisdom. I had backed up my HDD earlier, on a separate portable hard drive that I keep for important files. The file was there, along with the other data. Admittedly, it did not have the latest changes that I had made, but it did have the basic, all 100 pages, which was a good starting point. Much better than ending up with nothing!

Of late, with cloud computing options popping up, it is also a good idea to use online storage for important files. That way, you can access it from wherever you are.

Eleven years ago, Yahoo had introduced its Briefcase service that offered 30MB of online storage. However, it shut it down last year because of declining usage.

I was an early user of Hotmail, but now Gmail has all but eclipsed it. However, Hotmail, in its as Microsoft-owned avatar, Windows Live Hotmail, has the consumer-focused SkyDrive Web file-storage system, which gives a user 25 GB of free storage space. I have used it both to store files, as well as to share some files with some specific people. This is a nifty feature that was useful in sharing the data with specific e-mail identities. Gmail does not have anything like it, but with it you can attach files (up to 25 MB) and either keep them in the draft folder, or mail them to yourself. Yahoo, too, has the 25MB limit for its attachments, as does Hotmail.

From time to time, I have read about software programmes that allow users to treat Gmail as a drive. I have also read that Google frowns on such usage, and blocks the mail. I would rather have my Gmail account, which is a repository of a vast amount of email “conversations” since many years, and thus have not taken any risk about using it. However, I found “Google documents” an easy way to collaborate with others and while it is not in any way a replacement for Word, it is still a very good tool, which also backs up documents.

Because Google Docs now supports files up to 250 MB in size, which is larger than the attachment limit on most email applications, you’ll be able to back up large graphics files, RAW photos, ZIP archives and much more to the cloud. Google Docs allows users to upload a total of 1GB of such files.

Given the bandwidth problems in India, I, however, find that backing up heavy files like pictures and videos is not practical. Thus, I go in for offline storage in backing up data.

Digital cameras have replaced film for most users, and all your photographs are electronic. The flip side of this is that hardly anyone makes hard copies of digital photos; they are stored electronically, and just transferred from the device to a computer.

You just need to make sure that they remain safe, and for this you just have to back them up, not just on one location, but if possible, two. HDD drives are becoming cheaper by the day, and I find that portable HDDs the most convenient way of backing up data.

With the price of storage falling, it is worth to buy two drives and back up data on both. I do use two, one that I always keep at home, and a smaller 160GB drive that travels with me. I do back up my data regularly. I know that it’s a boring task that ties up your computer for a certain amount of time. However, can you imagine the void that you would have in our life if one day all your electronic data vanished? I would not like to be in that situation, and having nearly been there a few times, I think it’s worth it to have your data secure with a backup that gives you a tremendous peace of mind.

This column by Roopinder Singh was published in the Lifestyle section of The Tribune on October 26, 2010

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.