We all know how important regular back-ups of your work are. Don’t we? Well, we all learn pretty quick the first time a harddrive fails us, a virus wipes our files, or our laptop gets stolen, anyway.
But religiously doing back-ups does not guarantee you’ll actually save your work if something were to happen. That’s why you not only need to do back-ups, you also need to test that your back-up system achieves what you want it to achieve.
My back-up system is meant to not only preserve my files but also allow me to keep working should my laptop become unavailable. Recently, it went to the shop for a cooling fan replacement, and I had a chance to see if my system really worked all that well.
I use Mozy to do online back-ups, usually twice-daily – once after I’ve finished my freelance work for the day, once after I’ve finished my fiction. Mozy is a secure online back-up service which gives 2GB free storage for home-users. Its simple advantage is that it runs automatically but can be manually started any time, and it preserves your data off-site, which is insurance against something like a fire which could wipe out both a computer and any back-up devices kept with the computer.
Disadvantages? 2GB will only store your most important files but probably not manage the entire contents of your computer now that digital photos, music and video is the norm (it’s only $4.95 per month for unlimited storage). Your account is accessed by username and password – which is all very well when you’re on your own computer and have those details stored – but if you don’t have your own computer, you might find you’ve forgotten your log-in details. Another factor which I see as an advantage (it saves space) but others might see as a disadvantage is that Mozy will remove a file from your online storage a few months after you’ve deleted the file on your own computer – so if you accidentally delete something but don’t notice for a time, you could lose it.
Secondly, I use a SanDisk USB geek stick which contains CruzerSync U3 Edition, a mobile desktop style program which picks up your email and personal files and allows easy access to them on any computer, plus sychronised return to your main PC/laptop.
This is the part of my back-up system which is meant to let me keep working if my laptop becomes unavailable, and it is the part of the system that failed me when my laptop did become unavailable.
It has either a quirk or a bug where newly created folders are not picked up by the synchronisation process (unless you remember to go in and manually tick the new folder). Which meant that my newly created folder for some new freelance work was not picked up, and was therefore absent when I plugged the USB stick into a borrowed PC to keep working. To be fair, it’s more for tranporting your email inbox around than for use as a back-up system.
Luckily at the last minute I had used a second spare USB drive to manually grab the needed files off the laptop, just in case – and of course, I could have got the files from Mozy (if I had managed to remember my log-in details, stored so securely on my now-absent laptop…)
Other disadvantages include that you have to remember to do a back-up (I’m supposed to do it daily, and end up doing it maybe twice a week), that again, storage space is limited, and that USB drives, like any other harddrive, can wipe suddenly. You can also lose them.
Thirdly, once per week, I do a full back-up to an external harddrive. This picks up all the files that Mozy and my geek stick get, as well as the big stuff – new music, videos and photos. Since they don’t change very often, I won’t lost much if something were to happen. On the downside, it’s a physical hard-drive stored near the laptop, so theft or fire could wipe both out. That’s a pretty big downside when I think about everything I could lose in that event. Even without catastrophe, physical harddrives fail.
Another issue that came up when I was without my laptop was compatibility issues. I’m on the new Word – docx. The PC I was borrowing only had the old Word – doc. Microsoft have been kind enough to provide a free add-in for the old Word to allow it to read docx…except I was on a workplace PC that would not allow exe download and install without administrator permission, which had to come from an IT Dept located halfway around the world. I was just lucky that in this case that I was working in doc format since my employer also is still in the old format.
You can see that despite having a three-fold system, I still have gaps in my armour – but I only realised that when I went without my laptop. For writers, when you need to work every day, just preserving files is not enough – you also need to be able to keep working.
Turn off your main working computer and pretend it isn’t there. How are you going to keep working? Is there a different computer you can use? If so, go use it – stick in your back-up drive or CD or however you do it. Can you get to your files? Can the borrowed PC manage the format? What if you use specialised software like InDesign or drawing programs? Think properly about what you need to do, and test to see if your system can handle it. If it can’t, make adjustments.
My main adjustments so far have been to download the Microsoft compatibility patch and add to to the USB stick, just so I at least have it handy (it doesn’t mean a PC will be set to allow me to install it, of course). I’ve added my Mozy username and a password hint to the USB stick so that I can more readily access my files on the remote Mozy server; I think Mozy is stronger than the USB stick as a solution for being able to keep on working. I’ve also started storing my external hard-drive separately from the laptop – this is a temporary solution. Ultimately, I will probably upgrade to the Mozy unlimited plan. There’s not much I can do right now about losing access to my specialised software…but once this laptop needs replacing, I will keep it as a spare for temporary use if the new laptop goes down. It will already have the software I use, and Mozy or the USB stick will transfer my relevant files.
No system is entirely foolproof, but by simulating a computer loss, you can at least test your system out.