Building a Digital Storage Shed
We have all had our version of a digital nightmare, the one where you just know you couldn’t possibly have deleted the only copy of your favorite vacation photo or what you thought was only an old back-up copy was indeed the only copy of the great novel you were writing. How do you make sense of all the digital stuff out there so you can avoid living this nightmare again? Back-up everything, twice if need be. Here is a run-down of some options you may consider to avoid your next digital disaster.
Cheap, simple and temporary. If you need to make extra copies of files for the short-term and won’t need a durable back-up, the easiest thing to do is burn the files to CD/DVD or use a flash drive. Of the two, flash drives are the longest lasting and easiest to use. Both of these methods are considered temporary because flash drives are pretty easy to lose and writable CDs/DVDs do not have a long shelf-life, particularly if they are actively used and not stored in a proper environment.
Redundancy. Using an external hard drive is the next step up in back-up protection and the suggested method for most home users. Drives come in a variety of sizes and storage capacities with some sporting features like a rugged exterior to prevent damage if they are dropped, stepped on or taken over by the family dog. The drives are similar to a flash drive in how they function, they are plugged into a USB port and show up under My Computer as an additional drive so you can copy and paste to the drive. Cnet has a review page on the latest drives.
In the cloud. Online back-up services range from free to subscription-based, depending on how much you need to store and what kinds of features you need. Online is great if you have multiple PCs, wireless devices or just want to access your files from multiple locations, say home and work or school. A free service such as DropBox will work on your computer and mobile device and is particularly good for accessing and sharing files over different devices or with others via a link you can e-mail. Other services offer a full-service back-up that will allow you to restore your computer or device should something catastrophic happen to it. PC Magazine featured these types of services in an article this spring, including tips on additional features such as folder syncing.
Software options. You may already have a back-up option and not realize it. Many computer security/anti-virus packages and internet providers offer users a limited amount of space to use for back-ups and/or offer software to set-up an automatic back-up schedule. Additional storage space is often available for a fee. Check with your internet provider to see if they offer this option.
Set up a server. Most people find that suggestion rather intimidating, but the surprising thing about servers is they really don’t have nearly as many components or settings as a regular PC. By comparison, they are pretty simple machines that don’t need a lot of memory and can even be run without a monitor, keyboard or mouse. If you have some extra cash and want a full-featured server that runs daily back-ups of your PCs and can be used to stream music, photos and video, Microsoft Windows Home Server might be an option to consider. The device can be put in a corner and left running without much interaction, as you control it from your PCs. If, however, you want to save some money and happen to have an old PC that can run Windows XP, Vista or 7, you can convert it into a file storage server fairly easily if you have the recovery disks. If the internal hard drive is old or a small capacity, you may want to replace it. Use the recovery disks to install a clean version of Windows. There is no need to install any other software other than an anti-virus, but you will want to share the document folders so you can link to them from your computer.
- Laura N.