July 3, 2012

Your hard drive will crash

Photo by Marcin Barłowski — www.sxc.hu
Several writing buddies have suffered computer crashes lately, and I feel their pain. We all have horror stories about writing a great scene or story that later disappeared in a hard drive crash. In my case, an entire short story vanished into the ether because when we restored from the backup, it wasn’t there. The backup hadn’t been run between the time I wrote the story and the time of the hard drive crash.

Hard drives are mechanical and like other mechanical goods they WILL fail -- it is just a matter of when. A good hard drive will last up to 10 years -- I've even seen a few little engines that kept chugging longer than that with some TLC -- but most fail after about 5-10 years.

The best approach is to have redundant backups: one local and one in the cloud. If one fails, you can use the other. And yes, I have a horror story about the failure of the backup drive. Drive Savers can help if your data is truly mission critical, but their service is so pricey you may find (as we did) that it’s less expensive to pay people to re-do the lost work than to pay Drive Savers to recover it.

Ideally, you want something automated that backs up continually. Microsoft’s Backup and Restore and Apple’s Time Machine will do this. You just need a honkin’ big external drive to connect them to.

There are a variety of online backup solutions available. I use CrashPlan because it was recommended by someone I trust, and got good reviews in the magazines I follow.

But external drives and service plans come with a price tag, and most writers are on tight budgets. If you don't need to back up your whole computer and just need a place to store your Word documents, a flash drive will work for your local backup; I've seen them at office supply stores for as little as $10. Dropbox rocks for cloud backups, and it's free for 2 GB, which is hard to exceed if you're only storing Word files. And if you store your working files (not just copies) to Dropbox, they will be backed up constantly.

Automated backups are best. If you don’t have them, put a system or procedure in place to help remind you to back up your current work at the end of each session. Or even hourly. This is an area where you really can’t afford to do things by halves.

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