I am a pack rat by nature. Luckily I learned some very good organizational skills in school as a child, so I am an organized pack rat. Like any skill, my organization style evolved over time. I learned a few hard lessons about the importance of backing up work either as a hard copy, on disc or multiples of both. I got religion when my computer crashed the night before a term paper was due and I thought I lost everything. It all worked out, but I never again took for granted the reliability of any one device for storing information.
Traveling Through the Digital Time Machine
I graduated college in 2002 and looking back, it is amazing how much changed in technology since then. My music was still on CD, Instant Messaging was cool, I was taking photographs with a film camera and digital video was in its infancy. I always kept a paper hard copy of things as my backup to what was on my computer. I also backed things up to floppy disk (oh yeah!) and eventually CD in case the computer crashed.
Now, ten years later, I practically live off my computer. Photos, music, videos are all there. All my communications are digital. Written content is sent via the internet or transferred between computers via a thumb drive. I have not completely kicked the habit of the paper backup for some things, though the need for it and practicality of it has dwindled. Now, it is all about the almighty hard drive and I have plenty of them.
How Many Hard Drives Does it Take to Backup a Computer?
I keep very little on my computer’s internal hard drive. I like knowing the data has not left the building when sending the computer out for repair. So I have an external drive that I use as my working drive for things like office files and graphic design projects. Video still gets its own external drives. I also have digital media assets such as photos, stock footage, music and graphics that I keep on yet another drive. Then there is my backup drive.
Why 5 hard drives you ask? Just remember digital media is my living. I generate a lot of files in working versions and backups and rarely delete anything. The average person will not need the kind of storage I’m packing. But the answer to the question is simple. Hard drives fail. Failure occurs from poor manufacturing, age and just plain old bad luck. That is nothing new. It’s that simple fact of life that caused me to keep paper hard copies of my college papers at all critical stages….just in case. Now that a paperless future is on the horizon how do we protect ourselves from loss of precious data?
Not all of my hard drives are accessed on a daily basis. Some of my drives are dedicated for very specific uses and only turned on when I am working on projects that require the data they store. So they are not getting the daily wear that the other drive does. My main operational drive, the one I live off of, is on daily and therefore takes the most wear and tear. That is the drive I back up to another hard drive.
The average user will have 2 drives. The first drive would be the main operational drive for daily use. The second would be of at least equal capacity to the first and serve as the backup. Depending on how much data you generate and how long you choose to keep it you may want a 3rd drive for archives. This would be a bit different than your backup to your main drive. This would be for items you rarely access but need to maintain (older photos, financial and medical records, old work files, etc). So your main drive stores active files. Your backup serves to backup your main drive and your archive drive stores inactive items…just in case.
Accessing Your Backup Data
The monkey wrench in this intricate system of backing up the backups is the ability to access the data off an external drive if a computer fails. A Mac will read what is on a Windows formatted hard drive but a Windows computer will not read what is on a Mac formatted hard drive. If your computer fails you need a temporary solution that will read your hard drives.
In the case of power outages (tropical storm Irene, 2011; Hurricane Sandy, 2012) you’ll want to keep critical files on a thumb drive. The drive draws power from the computer, it is portable and if you keep it formatted as Fat32, it can be read by Windows or Mac.1
Yes, I am a packrat by nature, a digital media producer by trade and mistrusting of the technology by experience. The average person really only needs 2 external drives at any time and maybe a thumbdrive or two for day-to-day use. Whatever technology you put in place to store your data the most important thing is to have a routine for regularly backing up your data.
1. Keep your files to under 4GB. A Mac will read a FAT32 drive formatted for Windows but will not allow files sizes to exceed 4GB.
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