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Best way to back up data

Best way to back up data
19 February 2017

WE live in an information age, which means we have lots of electronic data — documents, images, audio files, video files. These are usually kept on our computer hard drive or on an external hard drive.

The problem is that computers can crash and external hard drives can fail. And yes, I’ve had both happen to me. A few years ago, I even stored some data by burning them on DVDs. And guess what, some of those DVDs became unreadable with the passage of time. So, it seems there is no reliable way to store our precious data.

I’m not being facetious when I use the phrase “precious data”. I have pictures of friends and family that are invaluable. I have music that’s really hard to find that I can’t afford to lose. I have video clips of judo competitions that are no longer available online.

A few years ago, on the advice of a friend, I spent quite a lot of money buying Drobo storage devices. They can best be described a “smart hard drive”. Actually it consists of several hard drives stacked together but they appear on your computer as one big hard drive. The beauty of this system is that if a particular unit of hard drive is starting to fail, you will get a warning and you can replace that particular unit without have to manually migrate data from that unit to the rest. The proprietary system has a lot of redundancy built into it.

All of that sounds great on paper but after a while, I found so many of my hard drive units starting to fail, it became very expensive to keep buying new units to replace them. I got really fed up but the last straw was when my entire stack started to fail. This wasn’t supposed to happen with a Drobo but it was happening to me. And Drobos are much, much more expensive than your standard hard drives.

Fed up, I abandoned this system and decide to just to do triple back-ups of my data. So, I would store a particular set of data — say my entire music collection — onto an external hard drive. I would then do a back-up of that hard drive. Then, I would do another back-up of it. I would have to be extremely unlucky to have three hard drives all fail on me.

I would check my hard drives from time to time and whenever I discover one was starting to malfunction, I would quickly get a new hard drive to replace it. Needless to say, this was an extremely cumbersome and expensive way to back up my precious data.

About a year ago, I tried to find an online solution. There are several storage solutions that allow you to upload your data to the “cloud” — basically external servers maintained by the service provider.

Many of those solutions are rather expensive as they charged by the Terabyte (I had many Terabytes of data).

They also tended to have cumbersome uploading requirements. For example, there was one service I tried which was reasonably priced but it only allowed uploads from my computer hard drive. If I wanted to upload data from an external hard drive, I’d have to pay extra. So, if I wanted to save money, I would have to transfer data from my external drive to my computer’s drive and then upload it to the cloud.

The problem is that a computer’s hard drive is usually not that big. Mine is one Terabyte, which might sound like a lot but I have several Terabytes of data to upload. A cloud storage solution that was cumbersome and expensive won’t work for me. So, I abandoned the cloud approach and stuck with my triple back-up system of storing data on three external hard drives, for safety.

Last month, I discovered Amazon Drive. I knew all along that Amazon had storage solutions but for a long time this was really meant for companies. To my pleasant surprise, it now has a solution for individuals too.

Amazon Drive costs US$59 (RM262) per year and it offers unlimited storage. That’s right, there is no limit to how much you want to store. How can it afford to offer such generous capacity? I guess most people don’t have multiple Terabytes of data like I do and will not use up so much capacity. (I’m an outlier as I easily have over a dozen Terabyte of data that I want stored).

When I first came across it, I felt this sounded too good to be true and if it were true, it would be the answer to my storage prayers. Amazon offers a really generous three-month trial period where you don’t have to pay anything, so there was no hesitation on my part.

There are two ways to upload data onto Amazon’s cloud drive. One way is through the web, which is rather slow. The other way, the faster approach, is to dump the data into an Amazon Drive app installed on your computer desktop and it will sync automatically.

Once everything has been uploaded, transfer the data into another folder which you can create through its web interface. Once all that data is in the new folder, remove the data from the Amazon drive app so that there’s more space to put in more data to be synced.

At first I did not know this and simply removed the data from the app without first transferring it to another folder via its web interface. To my dismay. I found all the data also missing from the cloud.

Since I started using the service, I’ve been gradually uploading judo videos to my Amazon Drive — some 6.2 Terabytes worth of judo videos, and I’m not even done yet. I figure it will take me quite some time to transfer all my judo videos. Then I’ve got my home videos, my documentaries, my music collection, my audiobooks, my photos and so on. I have no doubt the total amount of data stored will be in the dozens of Terabytes and it will probably take me several months to gradually upload them all. But once done, I will have my data very securely stored.

Some of the potential hazards of using cloud storage include something going wrong and your data going missing. Or someone might hack into the system and steal your data. Another danger is that the business goes under and along with it your service (and data). Well, I’m confident that none of these things would happen with Amazon Drive.

Firstly, Amazon’s cloud service is so robust and secure that the Pentagon uses it. Secondly, Amazon isn’t about to go bankrupt anytime soon.

So, I feel pretty safe about storing my data with Amazon. And at US$59 per year, it’s a bargain, especially for someone like me, who has tonnes of data. But even if you don’t have anywhere as much data to store as I do, at that price it’s a really viable option for those who want to store their precious data in the cloud.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com.

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