Okay, well maybe not EVERYTHING. I mean, the fact that you're backing up at all probably puts you in the top ten percent of humanity. But I still come across far too many disasters and tales of woe, so here's my breakdown of a few fundamental mistakes, and what to do about them.
If you don't back up, please remember that the failure rate of hard disk drives is 100%.
I don't care how much you paid for it, or how great the man in with the name badge told it would be. It will fail. And it will not give you any warning.
Mistake 1 – It's copied to my portable hard drive
Yeah – you see that bit above about hard drive failure? Well that goes for portable ones too. In fact, even more so because HDs are sensitive to physical movement such as knocks and bumps. So the term portable hard drive really is an oxymoron. The case won't help all that much, whatever the manufacturer claims. And oh look, it's just fallen off your desk. Bye bye backup.
I've never owned one and I never will.
Bungle 2 – It's on a pen drive
Oops, I think yours just went into the washing machine. Pen drives are meant for transporting data in the short term. They are easily lost, and very, very easily damaged. They get a voltage from the USB socket and there can be small sparks when removing them from a computer, and that's enough to corrupt the whole thing. I own one, and it has a metal case (see pic below). But I do not ever use it for backup – just for carrying a file for a specific purpose, e.g. to transfer it quickly to a laptop.
Catastrophe 3 – I save it on dropbox/google drive/one drive/or similar
Now you're getting close. Your whole house can explode/drop down a sink hole/be demolished by robotic concrete-eating termites and your file will still be on the dropbox (or whatever cloud storage you picked) website. So long as your computer has had time online to synchronise with the cloud.
It hasn't? Oh dear.
In that case, you were only working on your local version on your own hard disk (see Mistake 1). But even if it has synced – there could still be a problem. Dropbox and cloud storage services are designed for sharing, so they automatically synchronise your cloud files with local files. That means that if your local file is accidentally deleted, your cloud storage will helpfully delete the cloud version as well. It may be some time before you notice it has gone and by then it's probably too late to recover it. There goes your cyberpunk version of War and Peace.
Foolishness 4 – You're doing any of the above manually.
You finish work and then you laboriously move or copy the file to what we're laughingly calling your backup. And each time you do that, there's a chance you'll make a mistake. It's just too easy to misname a file and overwrite something. And sometimes, you might just forget to do it at all.
Craziness 5 – You email it to yourself.
This is a clumsy manual method and hardly worth discussing. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed in you.
Okay smart arse, what the hell do we do?
Step 1 – automate it.
Invest in a dedicated backup product. It will be worth every penny. I won't tell you which one to pick because there are many reviews online and they are all priced differently. I've used carbonite (http://www.carbonite.com/) in the past and I'm using crashplan now (http://www.code42.com/crashplan/), mainly because it's cheaper. These products may not be the best for you – you should do some research. Whatever you pick, make sure it's easy to set and forget. Your backup should watch for file changes and save them frequently. Some services also offer to store several versions of files and even keep copies of files that you've deleted. Most offer a free trial so you can test them out. Find one with an interface that you like. Some are quite techy and others are very simple. Just get one. The expense is worth every penny/cent/gold nugget.
Step 2 – for when you must have local storage
This may be overkill for some of you, but there is no substitute for having total control of your precious files. Other options rely on third parties and they could fail or be hacked or go bust.
I'm going to suggest a NAS, or network attached storage device. These typically have two hard discs which you should set up to mirror each other (so one is effectively redundant). You'll then need another backup app running that automatically tracks your file changes and saves them to the NAS. Since one disc is redundant, the only way you could lose your backups is if your computer's HD and BOTH HDs in the NAS fail at the same time. Once setup, your NAS should be maintenance free. Mine even turns itself off at night and on in the morning.
They are quite expensive so shop around and look for bargains. You can buy them without the HDs and then purchase the HDs separately, but if you do that, make sure you buy HDs that will work in the NAS. Or they can be bought with the HDs.
This is similar to mine and I've had no problems:
Yes, your house could implode etc. and take your NAS with it, so you must also have a remote automated backup as in step 1.
Step 3 – there isn't one.
You have rock solid local backup and an automated remote backup. if you really wanted to, you could make an extra copy, say each month, onto a cloud storage service. You might want to label your folders by the year and month like this:
That way, you probably won't accidentally overwrite files. And since you're only doing this once a month, there's little room for error.
The take home message is this: use the right tool for the right job.
Pen drives are for transport, cloud storage is for sharing, and portable hard drives are for… I have no idea.
You want backup? Pay for it and get it done right.
Good luck. And if you ignore the above, I really hope that you don't lose your work.
But you will.
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