Backup and Synchronization of Data

Most of you have probably heard me preach a 3-2-1 backup strategy in the past.   This means 3 copies of your data (including the original), 2 different forms of media, and 1 copy in the cloud.  *I want to make one exception.  There are some computer users out there (including a couple of you) who use their computers as an internet machine only.  You don’t store significant photos or documents.  In these situations, I suggest a backup hard drive only or perhaps no backup mechanism.  If you are in this boat, you simply need to get your operating system (Windows or Mac) back up and running should your computer crash.   Depending on the age, you might even accomplish this through a new computer. 

Most of you have an external hard drive connected to your computer.   On the Mac, you are typically using the built in Time Machine application to facilitate your backups.  For most of my Windows clients, I have set up Macrium Reflect (a Windows application despite the “Mac” in its name). 

You likely use an online service to “back up” your files as well.  You have probably heard of names like Carbonite, Crash Plan, Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive, and Google Drive.  We have to group these services into two categories:  online backup services and file synchronization services.  Carbonite and Crash Plan are true backup services.   They will also save files you have deleted on your computers in their online systems for a period of time.  The backup services are a “set it and forget it” options.  You just set them to back up all of your documents, photos, music, and videos (generally the default option).  They are priced starting at about $60 a year for one computer with multi computer plans available.   Think of a backup service as a one way arrow.

Dropbox, One Drive, iCloud Drive, and Google Drive are examples of file sync services.  You will put certain folders of documents, and perhaps photos, and perhaps even music or videos in your master folder for that service.  You may choose to include just a subset of your total collection of files.   That folder then gets synced to your account in the cloud.  Your Dropbox, One Drive, iCloud Drive, or Google Drive account can then get synced to your your other computers, iPad, iPhone, or Android device.  If you make changes on one device such as an addition or deletion, those changes will be synchronized across all of your devices.  These file sync services can be VERY convenient for accessing your key files on the go.  All 3 services offer free options which would be excellent for storing a fairly large quantity of documents.   Paid options exist when more storage is required.   Think of a file sync service as one arrow on top of the other, each pointed in the opposite direction.

If you have documents and photos that you can’t afford to lose and need to access them on multiple devices the chances are good that you will employ both an online backup and file synchronization service.   You may choose to use one or the other.  I just want you to have the options and know the distinction so you can be informed technology consumers.