Part of being prepared for emergencies is having good computer backups thus making sure your data is safe through a disaster.  Loosing irreplaceable financial records, important documents, and even digital pictures can be devastating and heartbreaking.

While this site is primarily about preparing for natural and manmade disasters, computers are also susceptible to hard drive failure, viruses, and even loss or theft, thus creating your own personal computer disaster.  As an IT professional, I have personally seen countless people lose critical data due to all of these issues.

Recently a friend asked me if I could recover the information from his computer.  His one-year-old son had pulled the laptop off the couch and it had crashed to the floor.  Now the computer would not turn on.

Disaster Survival Guide - Backup

We attempted several rescue procedures, but ultimately we were unable to recover any of the data on the computer.  All of it was lost.  The recent pictures from the birth of their new baby girl, gone forever.  His master’s thesis paper and associated research, all gone.  (Although, fortunately he had already turned in his thesis.  Had the accident happened a couple months earlier the loss would have been particularly devastating.)

Even a minor fall, such as the one my friend’s computer experienced, can cause a complete loss of data. More obviously, disasters that involve floods and fires can cause you to lose your data.

There the two basic options for backing up your data.  You can backup your data to an external device or online.

External Device Backups

You can backup your files to an external hard drive or flash drive by simply copying files to the device.  This method is generally quick for large amounts of data and is fairly easy to perform.  However, I find it generally unreliable because you have to remember to perform the backups.

Like a new-year’s resolution exercise program, most people start out doing well but quickly forget about performing manual backups.  They are one of those things that you know are good to do but have a hard time motivating yourself to do when it may be years before you actually need to use the backup.

Another problem with this type of backup is that if your house burns down or floods you will lose your backup as well as your computer.  Keeping the backup off site is a solution to this problem, but that creates even more inconvenience and further reduces the likelihood that you will in fact have a current backup when you really need it.

Online Computer Backups

Because backing up your data using an external device is fraught with problems, I use an online backup service.

These services store a copy of all your important files in a secure location somewhere on the internet.  They automatically search your computer each day for any new or changed files and then upload them in the background.  You never know the program is running, but all your files automatically get backed up.

If you have a lot of files it may take a bit for the initial backup to complete, but subsequent backups normally only take a few minutes.  If you ever need to restore your files to a new computer it will take some time to download them, but this can be done in the background as you don’t need all your files immediately.

Disaster Survival Guide recommends Carbonite online backup services

I recommend Carbonite’s online backup services.  They offer unlimited storage space for your files, are secure, and do an excellent job of backing up your files. There is 15-day free trial if you want to try it out before you buy. They are simply the easiest and best online backup service I have found.

Just do me a favor and do something.  I don’t want to hear yet another story about somebody who lost all their files because they didn’t have a backup.  Online backups are easy, cheap, and automatic.  There is no excuse when you consider the value of your data.